Exploring Margaret Barry’s magical story

PUBLISHED: 18:30 14 August 2017

Gillian Horgan as legendary Irish folk singer and banjo player Margaret Barry in 'She Moved Through The Fair'. Picture: Paul Strange.

Gillian Horgan as legendary Irish folk singer and banjo player Margaret Barry in 'She Moved Through The Fair'. Picture: Paul Strange.

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She Moved Through The Fair – Friday night’s FolkWeek presentation at the Manor Pavilion – initially sounded more likely to be educational than entertaining.

Gillian Horgan and Luke MacLeod played a variety of roles in 'She Moved Through The Fair' - the story of Irish folk singer and banjo player Margaret Barry. Picture: Paul Strange. Gillian Horgan and Luke MacLeod played a variety of roles in 'She Moved Through The Fair' - the story of Irish folk singer and banjo player Margaret Barry. Picture: Paul Strange.

Billed as ‘The Legend of Margaret Barry in Music, Words and Song’, it seemed to promise more for the music historian than the average folk fan, which might explain why it played to a less than full house.

This was a pity, as the show was in fact a funny, poignant and informative journey through the life of Margaret Barry, the legendary Irish folk singer and banjo player known as ‘The Queen of the Gypsies’.

Narrated by its co-creator, veteran music writer Colin Irwin, the action followed Barry’s journey from her birth in Cork in 1917, through her years as a street performer, her discovery and subsequent world fame, to her death back home among her family in 1989.

In the absence of Irwin’s creative partner Mary McPartlan, Barry’s distinctive singing style was ably recreated by Cathy Jordan of Dervish, while actress Gillian Horgan gave a sympathetic portrayal of Barry and the other women in her life – her mother, daughter and granddaughter – as well as friends and fellow performers.

Luke MacLeod played a variety of roles in 'She Moved Through The Fair' - the story of Irish folk singer and banjo player Margaret Barry. Picture: Paul Strange. Luke MacLeod played a variety of roles in 'She Moved Through The Fair' - the story of Irish folk singer and banjo player Margaret Barry. Picture: Paul Strange.

The male roles – Barry’s supporters, including folk researcher Alan Lomax and her musical partner, fiddler Michael Gorman, as well as interviewers and celebrities – were played with great enthusiasm and versatility by Luke MacLeod.

Barry’s life was part of a much bigger story, in which poverty forced an entire generation of Irish men and women to emigrate to England and the USA, taking their music with them. The background projection of historical images underlined this context, building atmosphere for the onstage action.

Musicians Lisa Knapp (vocals, autoharp, banjo, guitar, violin) and Gerry Diver (guitar, violin, banjo) supplied an authentic backing for Jordan’s renditions of Barry’s best-loved songs, gleaned from overheard folk songs, records and the radio and transformed by her own genius.

Highlights included classics The Factory Girl, The Flower of Sweet Strabane and The Galway Shawl, and the show ended with an affecting rendition of She Moved Through The Fair that faded from Jordan’s voice into Barry’s own. Magic.

Cathy Jordan of Dervish (left) and Lisa Knapp in 'She Moved Through The Fair' - the story of legendary Irish folk singer and banjo player Margaret Barry. Picture: Paul Strange. Cathy Jordan of Dervish (left) and Lisa Knapp in 'She Moved Through The Fair' - the story of legendary Irish folk singer and banjo player Margaret Barry. Picture: Paul Strange.

Delia Pemberton

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