19 June 2019

'The North began' - Ireland's first bluegrass festival, Nov. 1990

The title of Eoin MacNeill's epoch-making 1913 article is appropriate to introduce the following historic document. Many thanks to John Kinsella for a facsimile of a feature published in the Donegal News on 3 November 1990. John draws attention to some familiar names, and recalls that the festival subsequently 'ran for six or seven years in a few small pubs in Donegal. Nice memories.'

Donegal News feature is transcribed faithfully below; none of the BIB's editorial conventions have been applied, apart from the correction of one typo.


McGinley's Bar, Letterkenny, is the venue for a major celebration of Bluegrass Music on the week-end of November 15th to 18th.

The first North-West Bluegrass Festival, sponsored by Budweiser, promises to be a fabulous non stop session with the best of Irish Bluegrass talent.

Special guests of the Festival will be the Dublin based Texas Kellys, featuring Jimmy Kelly, late of Sackville String Band, on banjo, Steve Wickham, formerly of the Waterboys, on fiddle, one time "In Tua Nua" member, Paul Byrne, on drums, Frank Gleeson and Alan Johnston on guitars, with Martin O'Keefe on double bass. They play McGinley's on Saturday night, November 17th.

Donegal's own, The Whunbushes, open the Festival on Thursday night and close it again on Sunday.

Other features include the Wild Duck Bluegrass Club, who meet once a month in the Wild Duck Bar, Portglenone, on the shores of Lough Neagh. This dedicated gat[h]ering of musicians from all over the North and Donegal represents some of the finest Bluegrass talent in the country. The Club will meet in McGinley's Bar on Friday night, November 16th, and Saturday afternoon, November 17th.

Derry guitar players, Frankie Robinson and Ray Jordan, have brought music from the Foyle to the very heartlands of Bluegrass on their regular tours Stateside. They play McGinley's on Sunday afternoon, November 18th, and will be joined by friends and neighbours.

McGinley's, 25 Lower Main St., Letterkenny, Co. Donegal, and the Wild Duck, 93 Main St., Portglenone, Co. Antrim, shown in recent photos

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