Everyone needs a little shake around every now and then. It’s good for the soul to be tipped upside down and given an unexpected makeover. De Barra’s pub in the pretty West Cork town of Clonakilty is a classic example. A hundred years ago, this was a straightforward grocery bar with a bakery and storehouse to the rear. The Republican leader Michael Collins probably nipped in for a loaf of bread back when he was a young lad living locally. Fast forward to 1974 when Eileen Barry, the daughter of the house, married a heavyweight boxer from Portlaoise and the whole show went leftfield.
Bobby Blackwell became a boxer because his father had been a boxer before him. Indeed, his father managed the Irish boxing team during the 1940s when it counted such golden-gloved greats as Johnny Caldwell, Harry Perry, Fred Teele in its ranks. Bobby hung up his boxing gloves in 1975, had a stint at plumbing and moved to Clonakilty in 1980 to see what he could do with his in-law’s pub. ‘It was just a country pub until Bobby introduced the music’ says Eileen. Bobby has always loved music and he passionately believed that music would be the saving grace of the pub. Twenty-seven years later, you would be hard pressed to find a venue in Ireland with a more genuine enthusiasm for first-rate music than the de Barras Folk Club. ‘There’s Carnegie Hall, The Royal Albert, Sydney Opera House – and then there’s de Barra’s’, said Christy Moore. Christy is one of many well-known musicians who found the mellow, unassuming ambience of de Barra’s perfectly suited to their ambitions.
The instant one enters the pub, the musical ambience envelops. The wall, stage left, is covered in flutes, fiddles, bodhráns, pipes and saxophones. Unlike most rock cafes, these instruments have a very real history. The uileann pipes were played by a Tullamore piper at the Chicago World Fair in 1893. The mandolin criss-crossed Ireland for four years with Paddy Keenan and The Bothy Band. The fender jazz bass guitar belonged to the late Noel Redding, the former Jimi Hendrix bassist and a celebrated resident of Clonakilty. Redding also presented Bobby with the gleaming double platinum record of ‘Are You Experienced’, the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s psychedelic debut album.