Timmy 'The Brit' McCarthy gets the wake he always wanted

By Anne Lucey

House private, it was not. The wake of Timmy “The Brit” McCarthy — musician, set dance teacher, folk revivalist, and much loved character — was held not just in the old-fashioned public way of the Cork-Kerry border region, but in a public house, leaving recent trends for privacy far behind.

The Mills Inn, Ballyvourney, where 73-year -old Timmy led many a session for more than 30 years, and to where he was a regular visitor from his nearby home in Direenauling, fulfilled a promise and hosted his remains last night.

Inn owner Don O’Leary said Timmy had approached him about two months ago.

“He wanted a traditional Ballyvourney wake, and to be laid out in the Mills. I said I’d look after it for him, ” Don said.

For hours they came to view the corpse in a wicker coffin in a function room, to say good byes spoken in the rich Irish of Muskerry to the London-born Irish butcher.

A poster of the 2018 Cork Folk Festival was placed in his coffin along side a single red rose. 

His brokenhearted partner of 33 years, Rhona, was among the chief mourners.

The late Timmy, enchanted by the tradition of the region, and dismayed at its extinction, taught them to dance the dying sets of the border area, which extend beyond any county bounds, and reach back into the Gaelic world.

Not only did he revive the dance and music but he succeeded in bringing it to an international audience, mourners recalled.

A steady line of mourners formed a queue to pay their respects to Timmy ‘The Brit’ McCarthy at the Mills Inn, Ballyvourney.
A steady line of mourners formed a queue to pay their respects to Timmy ‘The Brit’ McCarthy at the Mills Inn, Ballyvourney.

Timmy’s close friend, the uileann piper Dan O’Callaghan from nearby Kilnamartyra, began touring with Timmy in the 1980s. He told how Timmy had brought the steps back from the dead.

“It was almost gone and he was the first to call the set, name the moves and video it in order to save them,” Dan said.

Others spoke of his mission to save the culture.

“He said there was more Irish music and set dancing in London than in Ireland in the late 1970s and his mission was to change that,” recalled Dave McMahon, who was introduced to set dancing and box playing by Timmy and who arrived from Bavaria, where he organises Irish music concerts and events.

“Timmy’s dream was to play Bavarian music, which he said touched his soul. He used to say the only different between Bayerisch and Irish is a B,” said Dave.

Other mourners last night included the local sean nós singer Nell Ní Chróinín. Among the politicians were the MEP Liadh Ní Riada and Aindreas Moynihan TD as well as former senator Brendan Ryan.

Diarmuid McCarthy, the local undertaker from Ballymakeera who directed mourners, said Timmy’s coffin was the first of its kind in the area.

Mourners sipped pints and spoke fond memories of the dead man and a trio of Mike Galvin on the guitar, Dan O’Callaghan on the uileann pipes and Jerry McCarthy on the box played in the early stages. The music was set to continue late into the night in the region where the wake of Caoineadh Airt Ui Laoghaire inspired one of the greatest laments.

Cúil Aodha composer Peadar Ó Riada yesterday reached back into the tradition to pay his respects. Ó Riada, who knew Timmy for 40 years, said: “Mo léan is mo mhairg ár Laoch Timmy the Brit ar lár. Fear misniúil, mánla, meacánta gan cnámh mí-mhúinte ina chorp ach é igcónaí ag ginniúint dea thoil is grá ina chomhluadar.”

Timmy’s fame spread to many far distant shores but his heart was with Rhona and Doirín Aluinn, Peadar also said, adding that dance was his Heaven.

Timmy helped found the Cork Folk Festival in 1979, and co-founder of the Cork event, chairman Jim Walsh, was among the first to arrive with a large wreath, shortly after 5pm.

Jim Walsh of the Cork Folk Festival and former senator Brendan Ryan.
Jim Walsh of the Cork Folk Festival and former senator Brendan Ryan.

Among the chief mourners yesterday was his son Tony, who lives in Brittany and who is also a musician. He said his father was getting the old style wake he very much wanted.

Timmy is survived by his partner Rhona, son Tony, daughters Susan and Niamh and their mother Clair, and grandchildren.

Cremation will be at The Island Crematorium at 3pm where Cor Cúil Aodha will perform, led by Peadar Ó Riada.

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