‘DeBarra’s celebrates 30 years of music’ – Southern Star article 2013

It’s 30 years since De Barras Folk Club in Clonakilty began hosting live music. In that time it has earned such renown that you might just wonder if Christy may even have understated things a little. Long-standing associations with Mr Moore himself, Noel Redding (the Jimi Hendrix Experience) Paddy Keenan (The Bothy Band) and folk hero Roy Harper have served as the cornerstones of this nothing-short-of-legendary music venue’s reputation.
Back in the 1970s, when Bobby Blackwell, a plumber from Portlaoise, met and married Eileen Barry from Clonakilty (Eileen was working in the AIB in Abbeyleix at the time), they hadn’t really anticipated that before long they’d end up back in Clon running the Barry family pub. Certainly nobody could have predicted that the cosy West Cork establishment would go on to take its place amongst the great music venues of the country, and perhaps the world.
The premises, which has been in Eileen’s family for generations, had been closed for some time when, in the early 1980s, the couple proposed that they would re-open it. Indeed, while they may have occasionally toyed with the idea of running a pub in the past, they now found themselves in a situation where realising this dream became something of a necessity. The plumbing trade was feeling the pinch of recession, and with two children in tow, the time had come to take the plunge. Today Bobby looks back with a hint of incredulity at how that decision changed everything. ‘I never thought in my wildest dreams it would become what it is today. All we ever tried to do was feed our family, that’s how it started.’
The idea of introducing regular live music in the bar and ultimately a dedicated ‘folk club’ came about in 1983 after piper Paddy Keenan and some other local musicians, including Noel Redding had started to play there occasionally. While this had undeniable appeal to the Blackwells as business-people, it really struck a chord with them as music lovers. The first incarnation of the folk club was situated upstairs, and subsequently brought back downstairs after the pub was extended.
Ray Blackwell – Bobby and Eileen’s eldest son (they have four children in total – Ray, Elaine, Brian and Eva), now looks after the day-to-day running of the bar as well as booking acts into the folk club. ‘First and foremost, De Barras is a pub.’ Ray points out. ‘It’s a focal point in the community – it’s in the middle of the street and pubs in general always have been focal points in the community. It grew into a music venue, and that’s the way we always look at it.’
He explains why he thinks De Barras became so popular as a venue with both musicians and punters. ‘All I can say is, this is our house – we treat the musicians like guests in our house and we want to make them feel comfortable. If you have a musician who is in good form, then they’re going to have a good gig, which results in a happy, satisfied audience. There’s so much love for music in this place – from the staff who work here, to the people who come to the gigs – it’s palpable. The musical history is woven into the walls. I like to think that musicians and audiences alike feel that when they come here.’
Further evidence of the Blackwells’ personal connection to music and indeed the musicians who grace the De Barras stage is apparent when Bobby speaks about Christy Moore and the late Noel Redding. ‘Christy Moore’s shows here are always special to me. I have been a fan of his all my life and through the folk club we became friends with him and his family. I would consider his brother Andy to be one of my best friends. Then of course there was Noel Redding. I became very friendly with him when he first started playing here 30 years ago. That was in the very small lounge of the bar, long before we added the folk club. Those were special times. Noel went on to play a weekly residency here nearly every Friday without fail for almost 20 years! Anytime he was away on tour or out of the country he would send us a postcard. These are still among my most treasured possessions – I must have nearly a hundred of them!’
It’s worth bearing in mind that even though De Barras is referred to as a ‘folk club’, this doesn’t necessarily mean that it is exclusive to ‘folk’ music per se. Ray again: ‘Well Louis Armstrong once said something to the effect of “All music is folk music – I ain’t never heard a horse sing a song.” That to me really does some it up. We’re fortunate that the audiences in De Barras have been amazing over the years. Regardless of the kind of music, you see a lot of the same faces in the folk club. If something is good enough, it doesn’t matter what it is. We certainly feel that West Cork has that discerning audience – people know what’s good no matter what genre it is. There’s no doubt that De Barras wouldn’t be what it is without that audience hunger to hear new music. You could be the best musician in the world, but you need a venue and you need an appreciative audience. That’s when the magic happens – when the three of those things combine.’
Despite the myriad ‘big names’ that have played there, the De Barras ethos is rooted in the recognition of local talent. ‘We’re always looking for new musicians and we love seeing local musicians playing here,’ states Ray. ‘70% of the musicians that play here are local and it’s great seeing young people from the community coming up through the ranks. We’re so privileged to be part of this amazing musical legacy here in West Cork. We’re very conscious of that, and we don’t take it for granted. The music industry has changed and there’s no doubt that music houses around the country are feeling the effects of the economic climate – but once you have integrity and passion, that’s half the battle.’

Heres the link: http://www.southernstar.ie/News/De-Barra-Cloch-na-gCoillte-celebrating-30-years-of-music-24072013.htm