To my mind, there are three men who put modern Ireland on the map. There’s James Joyce, with his scribblings of a city in disrepair; there’s John Hume, who spent his life campaigning for peace throughout Ireland; and there’s Rory Gallagher who typified the proclivities of a rockstar in flush success.
He was a guitar player who inspired millions, from Andy Partridge’s shrill guitar licks to Slash’s barrelling guitar solos. In his interview with Far Out , Queen songwriter Brian May claimed that Gallagher gifted him his “sound”, a style of guitar effect he still uses to this day.
But Gallagher always belonged to Ireland first and foremost, and the country has gone out of its way to honour its musical export in a variety of different manners. Because before there was Bono before there was Bob Geldof and before Phil Lynott got going, Gallagher flew the flag for Ireland.
Gallagher died in the 1990s, just before his rise to a more celebrated status. He was being regarded as an icon, but since his death, he has gone on to become a legend as strong and as enduring as Cu Chulainn and Queen Maeve of Ulster.
Ranking the Rory Gallagher locations in order of greatness:
5. St. Oliver’s Cemetery, Cork
If you’re like me, you’ve gone to see Jim Morrison‘s grave in Paris, and like me, you’re dying to see Rory Gallagher’s grave, in an attempt to serenade the guitarist with a rendition of ‘Bad Penny’. Gallagher is buried at St.Oliver’s Cemetery in Cork, the county that taught him how to play his instrument with the finesse and ferocity it required. Like Phil Lynott, Gallagher’s grave is a popular spot for visitors to frequent, many of them singing to the guitarist.
Yes, this sounds like a snippet from Spinal Tap, but that’s the effect Gallagher, Lynott and Morrison had on their fans, giving them icons that inspired them to create music of their own. And as a pilgrimage, it points to the direction of rock, as Gallagher fans focus on the importance of the restfulness of the graveside in question. Where it leads to from there is up to the visitor or pilgrim in question, but the grave is as peaceful as it is powerful to visit. But if you do want to sing to your hero, do remember that there are other mourners visiting their loved ones, so a bit of decorum is expected.
4. North Monastery School, Cork
It all begins at school. The school gave Gallagher his footing in education, and although they weren’t directly responsible for his success- it was hard graft and commitment that got Gallagher to where he wanted to go in life – it was the school that anchored the fledgeling musician. It being a school, it was also the place where he learned to harness his voice, a practice that is common in Irish schools. Indeed, U2 was founded in a secondary school in Dublin, prompted by an advert Larry Mullen Jr. put up on the walls.
The Catholic school can be found in Cork, and proudly steers its city in a number of interesting directions. Gallagher is far from the only luminary to have graduated from its grounds: The Tudors very own Jonathan Rhys Meyers also attended the academy. Hurling superstar Seán Óg Ó hAilpín is another alumnus, as was Jack Lynch, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) of the country from 1966 to 1973. But Gallagher is the most notable musician who walked the halls of the academy.
3. Rory Gallagher Corner, Dublin
In Dublin’s fair city, where the streets are so pretty, there is a corner dedicated to its favourite guitarists. The street corner is only minutes away from Leinster House and the Ha’penny Bridge, meaning it’s in the musical part of the city. Dublin is justifiably proud of its legacy as a musical harbour, as whole streets are dedicated to singing ballads of the city and country in question. And Rory Gallagher’s name hangs over a street, uniting the two disparate strands through music and mirth, in an effort to bring some musical harmony to the roads.
The street corner is also fitting, because the last gig Gallagher played was at the Temple Bar Blues Festival, and holds sentimental value for those old enough to remember the guitarists’ fiery performances. There were rumours that Cork Airport might re-name itself after the guitar player, much like Liverpool honoured The Beatles with John Lennon Airport, but that might well be fanciful notions that hold little value to the musician’s influence. This street shows his presence as a busy, hungry guitar player, performing on the streets of Europe’s most out and out musical city. And in Dublin’s fair city, where the streets are so pretty, there is a plaque for a guitar player.
2. Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney
Rory Gallagher and Gerry McAvoy were photographed onstage at the Gleneagle Hotel, Killarney in the 1980s. The two men looked spirited and energetic, clearly invested in the power of the moment. The Gleneagle Hotel has long been a popular spot for singer-songwriters to perform at, throwing themselves into the power and presence of the music in one of Munster’s more likeable jaunts. The acoustics in the region holds an intimacy and power that stems from the tight, taut sonics that shimmer throughout the building, creating a more immediate form of music.
Gallagher was never a man for longwinded speeches, so the focus was always on the music in question. The Gleneagle Hotel would never have expected anything less from the guitarist, as it frequently hosts musicians who are light on words, but heavy on instrumentation. And in the presence of a garrulous crowd, the bands tend to play with added vigour and excitement. Judging by the duo’s reactions to the cheers, they must have enjoyed the attention, the focus, the purpose and the precision of the venue at hand. And what a thing for the hotel to boast, an evening with Rory Gallagher?
1. Rory Gallagher Statue, Ballyshannon
Yes, this triumphant statue can be found in Ballyshannon, Donegal. Gallagher grew up in Cork, but he was born in Ballyshannon, which is why both counties have fought for his legacy. Personally, I think Cork can claim the musician, but Ballyshannon can say the man was theirs. This is why it’s only fitting that they should have put up a statue in his memory, recognising what Ballyshannon brought to him, and what he brought to Ballyshannon. There’s something decidedly humble about the statue, which likely explains why so many people take photographs with the emblem. Like Gallagher, many of them grew up in working-class families, so his statue stands as an example to live up to.
The music was always based on honesty, driven by an urge to push his music to great peaks. “The thing about Rory is that even when we did a slow blues like ‘I Wonder Who’, he would never lay back on it,” bassist Gerry McAvoy attested. “Rory would always say, ‘Muddy Waters – whenever he sang something like ‘I’m A Man’, it was never laid back.’ It was up there!” If Rory Gallagher could push himself to such great heights, then why can’t the rest of us? The statue of Rory Gallagher is Ireland’s Statue of Liberty.