When the annals are chronicled Paddy Berry's name will be there

By The Echo Newspaper

Paddy Berry is one of the country’s best-known and most respected ballad singers. The affable Drinagh-man has countless friends in every nook and cranny where traditional entertainment is to the fore. He is an old-stager, with more craft than anybody who ever flew on a broom - it was hard to believe that Paddy could be hoodwinked, but the unexpected was cutely executed at the Riverside Park Hotel, Enniscorthy, last Thursday night.

Paddy was cajoled into thinking that he was appearing at the Riverside Park Hotel to sing for a ‘group of Americans’, only to find it was ‘a friendly hoax’ and instead of being a guest performer, he became the star of the show with the spotlight turned on him in front of an enthusiastic crowd that had gathered to mark his 45 years as a successful and dedicated member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann.

A surprising but ever smiling Paddy Berry, relishing every moment, was escorted from the door to the stage by the members of Drinagh Mummers laced with similar performers from other parts of the county, while Brigid Sinnott played an appropriate tune on the accordion.

Already waiting were his family, wife Mary, daughter Áine and sons Pádraid, Ciarán and Micheál, all understandably harbouring ‘slightly guilty’ consciences having endured the enormous pressure of keeping a big secret from their hero. But it was all in a good cause.

This was Paddy Berry’s big night. An opportunity to pay tribute to a man that everybody loved - the organising committee of Pádraig and Brigid, Niall Wall and Tom Murphy, in association with family members met many times to bring the plan to fruition.

Pádraig Sinnott acted as ‘fear an tí’ and kept the show flowing very smoothly with humour and brevity. One after another he called upon those who were honoured to pay tribute to Paddy.

Jim Berry a loving brother, offered some insight into Paddy’s background, growing up, playing football, singing songs, and as Jim kept speaking, an audience was struggling to inhale the oxygen of this man’s unappeasable energy.

‘Tonight with some lovely forward thinking by Comhaltas they have decided to compliment Paddy on his 45 years of membership and holding many high offices in that organisation’, stated Jim.

‘Paddy as a growing lad had a saxophone - which is a story in itself - he had a clarinet, he had a melodeon, he had a mouth organ; he had a jew’s harp, and of course, he had a gramaphone, but better still he made music out of jam jars and bottles by putting a certain amount of water in them, so he could get the scale on them, so that is the sort of singing and music atmosphere that he grew up from’.

Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ard-Stiúrthóir Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, speaking ‘as Gaeilge’ and in English said that it is always a good idea to pay tribute to someone while they are still with us and in good health.

Labhrás said that Paddy has ‘always been an inspiration, an inspiration to his fellow singers, but particularly for younger singers as well’. He said that Paddy was always looking ahead and always has a vision and anytime he has criticism, it is always constructive.

‘During the Seanad elections we drove around Wexford, and as we travelled and met people, I realised the great standing he has in this country’.

Paying tribute to the organisers for honouring Paddy, Labhrás said he was particularly intrigued by the manner in which it was kept a secret - ‘that was a fair achievement’.

‘I have always had great time for Wexford and I have always had great time for Paddy Berry as well’, stated Labhrás, who recalled the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann of 1967 held in Enniscorthy and names like Denis O’Connor, Con Delaney and Seán Óg Doyle in Enniscorthy, and Michael Leacy in Gorey.

‘My wish for Paddy and his family’, declared Labhrás ‘is that they have health and happiness for many years to come, but I can say this, that no matter when the annals of Comhaltas will be written or read, Paddy Berry will have a particular place in this story and it could not be otherwise’.

Senator Ó Murchú made a special presentation to Paddy on behalf of the Ard Comhairle - a clock that showed the time in America, Australia, Ireland and Wexford!

Cllr Carthy pointed out that Paddy Berry has played a very prominent part in reviving the ancient tradition of mumming in Co Wexford during the 1998 commemorations. ‘Mumming was at a very low ebb at that time and I never thought I would live to see six or seven sets of mummers perform and I was really overjoyed on that occasion’.

A number of presentations were made to Mary Berry (Paddy’s wife) and to Paddy. There was a general good atmosphere during the function.

Celtic Roots put on a special presentation that was enjoyed by all, and to fulfil an enjoyable occasion a number of Comhaltas performers took to the stage to make sure that the Paddy Berry tribute continued into the early hours.