Obituary: Andrew Mac Donagh, aka DJ Fork, Cork music stalwart  

Largely raised in Mallow, as a DJ and graphic designer, Mac Donagh was associated with the Mother Jones Flea Market, the Donkey's Ears, and Sir Henry's, among other venues 
Obituary: Andrew Mac Donagh, aka DJ Fork, Cork music stalwart  

The late Andrew Mac Donagh, aka DJ Fork. Picture: Murphykie

The death has occurred of Andrew Mac Donagh, aka DJ Fork, a much-loved and hugely-influential veteran of the Cork music scene. Involved in many aspects of the city's nightlife through the decades, he was probably most familiar behind the decks in various venues playing his trademark mix of soul, funk and reggae.

Andrew, 55, passed suddenly on Saturday, July 24, at his recently-opened Salvagem antiques shop on MacCurtain Street. That street and its environs had featured prominently in his life for many years. Before lockdown and the opening of Salvagem, he had been involved in the Mother Jones Flea Market in the old Thompson's Building for several years.

In the 1990s, that same former-bakery had also hosted the offices of Frontline, the promoters that Andrew had been involved with who ran events at Nancy Spains and other venues. 

He had even gained early pirate radio experience with the short-lived Radio Dross based at the Thompson's Building in the early 1990s (he'd later have a regular slot on the seminal Radio Friendly). Andrew's own home in recent years was nearby on Richmond Hill where he tended his garden, and enjoyed the views of the city's north side.

Undoubtedly a proud Cork man, he had actually begun life in Dublin in the 1960s. When his father Ian got a job as a salesman for the Nix paint company, the then eight-year-old Andrew joined his slightly older sister Sandra and his mother Pat in a move to Mallow. 

It was a location that provided good access to the road networks his father needed to travel on for work. After primary school, Andrew attended Ashton in the city for his Inter and Leaving Certs, commuting by a combination of train and bike.

Andrew's talents for drawing were apparent from an early age, so it was little surprise that he chose a course as an architectural technician in the Regional Technical College (later CIT, now Munster Technological University).

Andrew Mac Donagh (aka DJ Fork) on right, with Joe Kelly on Hadden's Lane next to Sir Henry's in the 1990s. Picture: Noel Butler
Andrew Mac Donagh (aka DJ Fork) on right, with Joe Kelly on Hadden's Lane next to Sir Henry's in the 1990s. Picture: Noel Butler

Around this time, he was also developing his love of music, and had formed friendships with a crew from Passage West who were at the heart of Cork's burgeoning reggae scene.

Like many others of that era, Andrew ended up taking the emigrant trail to the UK around 1988. Thousands of young Irish were being driven out by lack of opportunity at home, but the other side of that narrative was there was a lot of fun to be had in London. Particularly if you were a music-lover like Andrew.

Based in Brixton at a time when the UK capital's scene was really popping in the pre-house era, Andrew was a regular at reggae events in south London, attended the Notting Hill Carnival, and sometimes spent weekend nights at cutting-edge clubs such as the Wag in Soho, and the parties of the alternative art innovators Mutoid Waste Company. Much of his income as a draughtsman would also be spent in record shops such as the legendary Honest Jon's on Portobello Road.

Ultimately, however, he fell out of love with the tower blocks and urban grind of the big city, and decided to return to Cork.

Home again, his already-full record shelves were further supplemented by regular stock sent by pals who had stayed in London. For Andrew and his close friend Mark Ring, it was a natural step to start Djing, with early opportunities being provided by Isaac Bells bar on Patrick's Quay.

When Mark's father took over the Donkey's Ears pub, the pair migrated, and that Union Quay venue – also run by Mark's sister Michelle – became a mainstay of the emerging new music scene. Mark attained the DJ moniker of Donkeyman, while Andrew's early tag was Sloppy.

The term 'sloppy' was applied by discerning music fans - and sometimes consumers of less-than-legal substances - to drinkers and messy people who weren't tuned into the buzz at the new, music-focused events. Andrew playfully adopted the name as, while never sloppy himself, he just preferred a pint.

Joe Kelly – local promoter of Live At St Luke's and other venues – recalled how Andrew's subsequent 'DJ Fork' moniker originated in the early 1990s as a tongue-in-cheek take on the name of the German electronic duo Jam & Spoon. Like many good nicknames, it started as a bit of laugh but ended up sticking for a lifetime.

Fishing dance music fanzine in 1992, showing  Andrew's advert for the Donkey's Ears, and the fine list of events on offer in Cork on a Thursday night. 
Fishing dance music fanzine in 1992, showing  Andrew's advert for the Donkey's Ears, and the fine list of events on offer in Cork on a Thursday night. 

Nowadays, it can be hard to imagine how difficult it was to access the type of music that Andrew played in those early DJ sets. Few of those tracks were ever heard on mainstream Irish radio, where even the 'alternative' sounds of Dave Fanning et al were firmly rooted in white guitar music.

You also couldn't buy the records in Irish shops, but the London connections ensured Cork was plugged into a vibrant world culture.

Andrew and a handful of others were the local representatives at the vanguard of a new movement in the international music, where DJs and club culture would move in on territory traditionally held by rock bands. Their sets in bars or one-off events would help forge the tastes that Cork became known for by the early 1990s.

Far from 'killing music', as the industry slogan claimed, home taping was hugely important in spreading the love of these niche sounds. C90 compilations proliferated. Indeed, this writer remembers jumping on a Slattery's bus to London in 1989 with a freshly-recorded Mac Donagh cassette in my Sony Walkman featuring lots of reggae/hip-hop crossover from the likes of Boogie Down Productions and Shinehead.

Fittingly, several of Cork's subsequent generation of DJs and musicians paid tribute to Andrew this week for both his generosity of spirit and his influence on their music tastes. Among them was Stephen Grainger, aka Stevie G – himself now a mentor to a new generation in Cork's music scene – who recalled being a teenager “pestering” Andrew during his Friday residency in the back bar of Sir Henrys, and broadcasting his first pirate radio session with him.

By the early 1990s, Andrew had veered more towards graphic design than architecture, and had decided a 9-5 office job wasn't for him. Eschewing what would have been a decent career path – even in that recession-ravaged era – he was an early adoptee of what would later become known as the gig economy. DJ slots, designing flyers and posters, printing t-shirts, labouring, etc. Just doing his own thing.

It wasn't always steady or lucrative, but being his own boss suited him and he had the enterprising nature and strong work ethic to keep him ticking over. Since the turn of the century, he'd also been involved in architectural glass and furniture restoration. Truly a man of many talents. 

 Paul McDermott recalls working with Andrew when promoters Frontline expanded to take a lease on the full open-plan top floor of the Thompson's building in the 1990s. “Andrew just looked around this huge space and planned it all out,” says McDermott. “He turned it into an incredible space with offices. He did it all himself, threw up stud walls, doors, plastering, painting etc. All the while smiling.”

While the economy chugged along in pre-Tiger Ireland, one of the upsides was that you didn't need a huge income to rent in centres such as Cork. In the mid-1990s, Andrew lived at the since-renovated Cahergal House near the Glen. 

Back then, the somewhat ramshackle old home had become known as Yum Yum Manor, after the Nancy Spains dance club run by one of the housemates. A quirky, creative hub of sorts, other inhabitants included Kevin Barry, before he went on to become a writer of note. 

The Christmas tree was left in place until well into the summer, and the beans-and-sausage diet typical of lads' houses of the time would occasionally be supplemented by fresh wild salmon courtesy of a resident fly-fisherman.

Andrew was also a lover of comic-book culture, and Cork's first dance music fanzine, Fishing, featured his story, Short Assassin. He also dipped into music production for a track on the Southern Fried compilation in 2000.

Left, an image from Andrew Mac Donagh's comic strip in the Fishing dance music fanzine in 1992; right, Andrew's design for an Ian Brown poster that the singer took umbrage with.
Left, an image from Andrew Mac Donagh's comic strip in the Fishing dance music fanzine in 1992; right, Andrew's design for an Ian Brown poster that the singer took umbrage with.

Later, one of his designs would even draw the ire of Ian Brown. A year after serving a prison sentence for an air-rage incident, the ex Stone Roses singer was doing a soundcheck in Sir Henrys when he spotted that the poster for the gig had an airplane as part of the cheeky design.

“Brown went ballistic and threatened to pull the gig,” Paul McDermott recalls. “Philip [O'Connell, promoter] had to plámás him and tell him the plane was a subtle 'F**k you' to the authorities, etc. Hilarious!” Thankfully, Brown eventually came around and the gig went ahead.

Of course, amidst all his adventures and achievements, for Andrew nothing surpassed the birth of Madeleine, the child he had with Róisín in 2006. For those of us who'd ask about her when we bumped into Andrew in town through the years, his trademark smile would beam even wider as he'd talk about his beloved daughter.

Father, music-lover, taste-maker and all-round lovely guy – Suaimhneas síoraí dá anam.

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