Celtic musicians tune up for greenest day of the year

Brendan D’Arcy performs with Failte on March 24 in the Turret Room. From left, D’Arcy, Christine Storey, Justine Cook, Kyle Cook and Tessa Catton. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson

Brendan D’Arcy remembers a time when virtually no one played Irish music in Sarnia.

How times have changed.

“When I first moved here in the ‘70s I met two other Irish musicians, but they lived in Forest,” he said. “John Ross and Ed Bobington became good friends. We met in our living rooms every week and played.

“But there was no one else playing Irish music,” D’Arcy said. “I was so desperate for it that I’d bring people from Detroit and Toronto to play.”

Luckily – and being Irish is all about luck, apparently – D’Arcy later found more local musicians interested in Irish music. They’d meet weekly at Charlie Parker’s downtown and then Cupper’s Cove.

They came to be known as The Irish boys.  At least, that’s what the crowd at Cupper’s Cove downtown called them.

“We sure didn’t name ourselves,” said D’Arcy who has played guitar and sung vocals since his teen years. “We were far from being boys.”

It was no coincidence the Newfoundlanders at Cupper’s Cove loved Irish jigs.

“Newfoundland was practically founded by Irish immigrants,” said D’Arcy. “So many came after the famine in 1845. The Newfoundland music and the accent are interchangeable, they’re so Irish.”

Those weekly gigs grew increasingly popular and new people picked up the fiddle and flute.

In 2007, the Bluewater Ceili Band started after D’Arcy attended the Celtic Roots Festival in Goderich and met several local musicians.

Five of them formed a ceili band and began playing at Two Amigos. Within weeks, there were 12 of them performing jigs and polkas.

“We were packing the place,” he recalled. Others joined and later played at Jack Doyles when there was an open jam.

“It morphed into a monster,” D’Arcy joked.

But it’s a monster he loves, playing his favourites like Four Green Fields and The Town I Love So Well.

While working full time as a technologist at Imperial Oil, he became a part of numerous bands. The ceili spawned Failte, a five-piece group. Another band, Keltara, grew from there. Both continue to play out regularly.

“The Irish have a reputation for being fun loving and having a great time,” said D’Arcy. “I think that’s why it’s so popular.

“You just can’t sit still when you hear the music.”

Occasionally, one of his groups performs at a local retirement home.

“To see the older ones respond to the music…it just touches me,” he said.

D’Arcy currently plays in three local Irish bands. The interest in Irish music is so high that at least 40 musicians play regularly in Sarnia these days. With St. Patrick’s Day approaching, March is the busiest time of the year.

“I’m usually playing one to two gigs a month,” D’Arcy said. “But I’m playing six in March.”

He’ll be on hand to perform for the Esso Retirees and a local retirement home.

He’ll also attend the Point Edward Ex-Serviceman’s Association on March 22 for the monthly ceili held every fourth Friday. Sometimes as many as 12 musicians come out.

On St. Paddy’s Day, March 17, D’Arcy will play with Keltara at the Twisted Arm. Keltara performs again at the Lawrence House Centre for the Performing Arts on March 31 at 3 p.m.

D’Arcy will also be at the Lawrence House on March 24 from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. to play with Failte, which is Gaelic for ‘welcome.’

Sarnia’s strong Irish presence includes several other bands, like the Celtic Hillbillies and The Kitchen Party Band. There’s also two local schools of Irish dance.

“I think there’s a great love for Irish music because it was banned many years ago in Ireland,” D’Arcy said.

“Irishmen could be put to death for playing it at one time, so I think we have a different kind of respect for it.”

The Arts Journal reflects Sarnia’s vibrant cultural life. Contact cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca with your ideas.