World renowned blues and rock guitarist, singer and songwriter"
by Michael McHugh
The first question that everybody asks is how Rory came to be born in Ballyshannon. Donal is happy to explain.
"My father was Danny Gallagher, who came from Derry, while my mother Monica is a Cork woman. The war was just over, or the Emergency as it was known in Ireland. My father had joined the Free State Army. Coming from Derry, or old Tyrconnell, he got transferred down to Cork. That is where he met my mother.
My father was a musician himself and ran a dance ceili band, which was called the Inishowen Ceili Band. So Rory obviously inherited the music genes. Then, after the war, my parents moved up from Cork to Ballyshannon, where my father worked on the Erne hydro-electric scheme".
Donal recalled being shown by his mother on another occasion where they lived in Ballyshannon, but his knowledge was that the premises were subsequently demolished. In 1995, this writer revealed that the location was above a shop that once formed part of a row of houses opposite what is now Heiton's Hardware Store.
Afterwards the family moved to Derry, where Donal himself was born in 1949. Later his mother returned to Cork with the two children.
By the time Cork beckoned, Donal himself had already started school and Donal believes that Rory was seven or eight at this stage, and already into music.
So Donal agrees that the family resided in the NorthWest for a longer period than many had believed.
"There was a whole feel for the North West, which was why Rory always came back to the North as well, and had a passion to play there".
What did the unveiling of the plaque mean to the Gallagher family then?
"To me, I am so taken aback by it, we are in the very room that he would have been in, when an infant. It's mixed emotions for me particularly with his fifth anniversary coming up this week.
I know that Rory was so proud of being from Ballyshannon. He also had a great empathy with the Donegal musicians, for example Noel and Padraic from Clannad."
Donal remembered on another occasion, that Rory was playing in Sligo, but quietly slipped up to Donegal for a few days and to come back to the place where he was born, in as unobtrusive a way as possible.
"I think he just liked the whole idea of the geography of Ballyshannon as well. You've got the Atlantic, you've got the lakes and it is a lovely sort of bridge to the North West." Donal recalled.
Five years on
Five years on and with the benefit of hindsight, Donal was asked what he felt made his brother stand out from the crowd in terms of his musical talent.
"I think very simply that he had a vocation to be a musician and took it extremely seriously and to his detriment, if you like. He had this total commitment and that was 24 hours a day.
He set absolutely everything else aside and I saw that from an early stage even through the teenage years. I was going off to parties and he was going off to work. He just did not let anything interfere with his career or playing ability".
Donal also agreed that his brother could have been a much higher profile individual within the industry, if he had tried to magnify the persona surrounding him, as most of his friends and family described his unassuming disposition.
"Working at the management end with Rory could be very frustrating. You could see opportunities or you could see that everybody else was inflating their sales figures or what they were up to and what they were doing. But Rory in his own quiet way was selling more records and playing bigger venues, but wouldn't make a big splash or ballyhoo about it", he said.
How would Rory like to have been remembered?
respect springs to mind, total and absolute belief in what he was doing
and didn't change. I know that there were opportunities and pressures from
record companies regularly.
Whether it was the promise of a fortune, just to wear tight leather trousers or whatever the fashion of the day was, or to make a heavy metal album, he never yielded to those temptations", Donal explained.
But what was it that brought him in the direction of the guitar, and later the electric guitar?
"My earliest memories of it was Rory trying to describe to his parents the instrument that he had in his head that he wanted. Guitars were not such a common instrument then and this was even before Roy Rogers. He was the first one on a global basis that people associated the guitar with, oddly enough.
Rory started making it up with a round cheese box with a ruler and some elastic and saying -"it's like that but bigger". I remember then my father had a pal, a musician, Charlie McGee, and he had a guitar. I recall my father bringing him down to the house and saying to Rory -"is that what you're talking about?" So my mother then bought him a kind of guitar through the mail order, more like a ukulele with four strings, which he sort of developed on, but it was more of a toy than an instrument and then at that point we had moved back down to Cork.
When we got to Cork, there was a music shop near where we lived, and my parents bought him a wooden guitar, which is still there believe it or not. He never looked back basically".
Donal admitted that he had been to Donegal many times and recalled that in the summer of 1995, just after his brother had passed away, he made a quiet trip back to Ballyshannon, as he felt he owed it to him.
"On his character side he identified very much with the Donegal character - quiet, nicely spoken, would do anything for you, very friendly, the home is everything. Donegal was relaxed, wild with its beauty and it is a collage of everything that Rory was".
After Rory got the guitar he quickly picked up the rudiments of the instrument. He then wanted to gain some stage experience.
"So he would do the usual circuit, the churches, social functions, school halls, talent contests - anything to get on the stage was Rory's thing", according to his brother.
"At that time there wasn't a lot of music around for a guitar, or a nine year old boy to play - maybe "Four Legged Friend" by Roy Rogers, or maybe a Lonnie Donegan song, but he would soon run out of material.
He was always trying to get me to play. It was either some instrument, or as a drummer, whatever they were stuck for. Then the two of us used to sing together, because he liked the Everly Brothers, so then I started to do the harmonies on the Everly Brothers, so then at the end of Rory's set I'd be brought on for two or three numbers to pad it out a bit,......until one night I got fired by him!
Donal joked that he had a row on stage long before Liam and Noel (Gallagher of Oasis fame), and I came off the worst, but later Rory went to play in the likes of Germany to see if he could "make it happen" with the showbands of the time, and places such as Spain.
He particularly tried to pick up some gigs in the American bases in Europe as he felt that with their background of R&B and blues, there would be an opening for his kind of music". After much perseverance and a later move to London with Taste, his career took off.
The best had yet to come
Finally, Donal was asked what would have been the best part of Rory's career. He admitted that this was probably the most difficult question of them all to answer honestly.
"I personally feel that the best had yet to come unfortunately. If all factors were taken into account and his health being the primary one, he was maturing as an artist, maybe in the genre of Muddy Waters whom he highly respected, and had held their own, despite things like age or the like.
Others talk of the Isle of Wight gig, or his tenure with Taste or even when he was voted the world's top musician in the Melody Maker Poll of 1972 - they were milestones, but I feel that there was still much more that he wanted to contribute to music", he concluded.
*** So there you have it. It is not the full story by any means, but it is a small insight into a man who continues to win new plaudits with his unique style of musical craftsmanship, despite his tragic death in 1995. Having met with Donal Gallagher, Rory's brother, I can say that Ballyshannon has every right to celebrate the birthplace of one of the 20th century's greatest musical geniuses of the guitar - Ballyshannon born and Donegal proud.
Donalís genial manner and genuine heart felt gratitude of last weeks' ceremony is testament to the fact that Rory's affinity with this county was more than just a historical footnote, in that he was born here.
be many things that Rory Gallagher will be remembered for. This week we
have simply recalled his Donegal connection and hope that many new generations
will come to appreciate his talent.
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