Ómós: John Dwyer

John Dwyer

The death has been announced of the outstanding fiddler and composer, John Dwyer – originally from Castletownbere in Co. Cork and most recently residing in New Ross, Co. Wexford. The organisers of the annual festival held in his honour in Waterford City since 2012 announced the news yesterday (August  18).

It is with great sadness and regret that we bring you the news of John Dwyer’s passing. A gentleman in every imaginable way, he was absolutely adored by the local and wider music communities. His humble and unassuming ways endeared him to many. One of his most loved qualities was his encouragement of the younger generation. John loved spending time with younger musicians and would frequently return from a festival up the country telling us all about the new pals he had just met. He had a real zest for life and lived it to the full right up until his unfortunate illness last October. It was our honour and pleasure to have had John as a central part of his very own festival here in Waterford and we vow to continue on in his memory for years to come. His tunes will be played and the memories will be shared… Our thoughts and condolences go out to John’s family tonight, in particular his daughters Karen and Ann and his sons Richard, Seán and Brian.

John Dwyer Festival, Waterford
John Dwyer at the heart of the music (Photo: John Dwyer Festival).

Born in 1933, John came from a very musical family – though largely self taught as a fiddler. Both his parents played accordion while his father, John senior, also played the fiddle in a style similar to the east Galway fiddler, Paddy Kelly. His father gave John his first (and perhaps only) lesson at the age of 11. “He taught me one tune by air, not from notes,” explained John,” and I worked away on my own then, after that, I didn’t trouble him any more.” Three of John’s siblings, Richard, Michael and Finbarr played the accordion  – with the latter widely acclaimed as a composer as well as a player. Indeed Finbarr and John were jointly awarded the Gradam Ceoil TG4 as Composer of the Year in 2010. (For the video of the awards ceremony, see https://tg4.ie/en/player/play/?pid=5667103285001&title=Gradam%20Ceoil%20TG4%202010&series=Gradam%20Ceoil%20TG4&genre=Ceol&pcode=333230).

Many of the tunes written by John and Finbarr have been absorbed into the living tradition and are frequently heard in sessions around the world. Among John’s most distinctive and popular tunes are John Dwyer’s Reel, The Fall of Dunloy and The Catha Mountains.  Joining the Garda Síochána in 1955, John moved to Dublin, where he quickly got involved in the Church Street and Pipers’ Clubs and was soon enjoying the musical companionship of performers like Tommie Potts, John Kelly, Joe Ryan, Sonny Brogan, George Rawley, Bill Harte, John Clarke and Jack Derwin. He was a member of the Shannonside Céilí Band from the late 1950s and subsequently played  with the legendary Castle Céilí Band. Following his transfer to New Ross in 1973, John Dwyer began to mix with local musicians around Waterford and South Wexford. When Clare concertina player Edel Fox moved to Waterford nine years ago, the local traditional music scene received a healthy stimulus which led, among other things to the launch of the annual John Dwyer Festival – a three-day event that brought many of the country’s leading players to Waterford for workshops, recitals and sessions with Dwyer at the heart of it all.

Until his stroke last year, John was regularly seen in venues around the country performing in concerts and sessions. Apart from Edel Fox, John Dwyer had befriended a number of other younger musicians in recent years, including Siobhán Peoples and Lia Byrne, who has written a thesis on Dwyer’s compositions for Maynooth University.

John Dwyer, 1933-2020: Rest in peace

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