Tributes paid to ‘The Bard of Cullybackey’ John Kennedy who has passed away aged 91

John Kennedy received an MBE in 2006

JOHN Kennedy, a musician and singer known as The Bard of Cullybackey, has died at the age of 91.

He was born on August 31, 1928 in the Craigs, near Cullybackey, and was one of four children.

His first job at 14 was with Fraser and Haughton, a local dye linen factory, and he later joined Northern Ireland Electricity, where he worked as a labourer until his retirement at 65.

He was a gifted musician, and early in his musical career he teamed up with the outstanding fiddler Hughie Surgenor, playing at a wide range of local socials and dances.

He was skilled at playing many different instruments, including the flute and fife, the banjo-mandolin and the tin whistle.

He was at home in many different settings, whether fifing on The Twelfth, Lambeg drumming or instructing marching bands.

He also taught dance at Dunloy and Portglenone Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (CCE) classes which also provided lessons on a range of instruments associated with traditional music.

He was the founder of Craigs Accordion Band in 1974 and won many awards for his singing and playing.

These included a number of All-Ireland titles, including at a championship in Clonmel in 1994, just a year after his retirement from his day job.

He also featured in 2007 at the Smithsonian Folk Life Festival in Washington DC.

In the early years of his retirement, John Kennedy began composing tunes and setting the words of local poets to music.

His life story – John Kennedy: Together in Time – was published by the Lough Shore Traditions Group in 2001.

In a foreword, John Moulden wrote: ‘John Kennedy is an ordinary man… who has worked with his hands for almost all of his life.

‘He is an extraordinary man too, a lifelong musician on whistle, fife, flute, banjo-mandolin, and accordion.

‘A teacher of music, a singer of old songs, a maker of songs; a lilter, a composer of tunes, a storyteller-and a maker of flutes.

‘He has enormous knowledge of the songs, the music, the singers and the players of his area.

‘He knows how the tunes were used. He knows what they mean to the people.

‘He has played in flute bands on the 12th July, and he has travelled to Wexford to sing songs from Ulster.

‘He is uncompromisingly himself, a passionate musician first and foremost, and he has won the respect of all who know him, in all the aspects of his musical life.’

John Kennedy was awarded an MBE in 2006 for his services to music in Northern Ireland.

His eldest grand-daughter Mrs Shirley McCudden said: “My grandfather loved a yarn, and he told stories all the time of where he had been and what he had done.

“There was never a dull moment. He loved the tin-whistle and he never went out without one.

“He was a lovely grandfather, and we all loved him.

“He will be sorely missed,” the Belfast Telegraph reports.

Mr Kennedy is survived by his wife Moyra, his sister Jean, now 97, his children Annie, Mary and Russell, and the wider family including seven grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.

He is predeceased by his sister Annie. His brother Robert emigrated to Australia in 1949.

His funeral took place today at Logan’s Funeral Home, Ahoghill, followed by interment in St Andrew’s Parish graveyard, Rasharkin.

The following notice appeared on the website:


Kennedy, 13th October 2019, peacefully at Hospital, John (MBE), late of Camphill Care Home, formerly of Tober Park, Cullybackey, dear husband of Moyra, loving father of Annie, Mary and Russell, cherished grandfather and great grandfather.

Funeral service in Logan’s Funeral Home, The Diamond, Ahoghill on Wednesday at 12.00noon. Interment afterwards in St. Andrew’s Parish Graveyard, Rasharkin.

Family flowers only please, donation in lieu to Camphill Patient Comforts Fund c/o Logans Funeral Services, 12 The Diamond, Ahoghill BT42 1JZ.

Will be lovingly remembered by his sorrowing family, sister Jean, Annie’s partner Jim, daughter in law Karis and the entire family circle.




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