By Pet O’Connell
“A colourful character, incredibly exuberant, he spent his life teaching people about the set dancing and the music of the area he loved.”
The death of Timmy McCarthy, a London-born butcher who became an unlikely champion of music and dance in Cork and Kerry, has brought floods of tributes for a “legend and a one-of-a-kind gentleman” affectionately known as ‘Timmy the Brit’.
One of Cork Folk Festival’s founders and driving forces, Timmy found his inspiration in the Sliabh Luachra tradition he first discovered in Dan O’Connell’s pub in the Cork-Kerry border village of Knocknagree.
William ‘Hammy’ Hammond, who followed in Timmy’s footsteps as folk festival organiser, said: “His legacy is reviving and bringing to prominence about 14 traditional Irish sets. Some of them were definitely gone and Timmy and Dan O’Connell and others helped to revive those.”
He also leaves a “legacy of music in the city”, added Hammy, “in the founding of the folk festival, and that has continued as a very vibrant festival”.
In later years, he said accordion player Timmy became the event’s “spiritual director”. The 39th Cork Folk Festival next month will honour his memory. “We’re a bit shell-shocked, but there will definitely be a tribute to Timmy at the festival.”
Timmy’s gift for connecting and enthusing musicians saw him form the Folk Fáinne, a nationwide association of clubs. He organised events at Cork’s “set-dancing nightclub”, the Sráidbhaile on the Grand Parade.
For years he ran a Cork and Kerry set-dancing weekend, spreading his love for the area’s music and dance to audiences in France, North America, and Russia, teaching in Sardinia, Austria, Bavaria, and Norway.
The son of Cork City parents who emigrated to England, Timmy was orphaned by the age of nine and taken into the care of religious orders, for which he had nothing but praise.
Making the move back to Cork, where his English accent earned him his nickname, he worked as a butcher, spending his free time teaching the set dances he researched and revived.
He told the Irish Examiner how his love of dance began: “A woman called Eily Buckley saw me sitting down and she took me up and threw me round the floor. I didn’t know what the hell had happened to me, but that was the Sliabh Luachra set, and it changed my life.”
Deeply moved by a concert in his honour this year, he said: “When I see the line-up for that concert... people know me as Timmy the Brit, but they were the people that made me feel I’m home, I’m Irish. I’m just overwhelmed. I’ve had a fabulous life and this is an amazing, gob-smacking tribute.”