Lives Remembered

John McKenna: Respected Armagh businessman and talented musician

John McKenna was a well-known businessman and musician in Armagh

JOHN McKenna, a well known Armagh businessman and old time band musician, leaves a lasting legacy.

From the townland of Ballybrocky on the outskirts of the city, John first started growing and selling mushrooms in 1960.

Together with his Co Tyrone-born wife Celine, he expanded to small premises in Dawson Street, Armagh.

In 1980, after years of hard work, he then opened his new factory, J F McKenna Ltd, on Cathedral Road.

The family-run company now supplies products for the mushroom, horticulture, pig and poultry industries and has an international customer base.

Although he retired in 1997, the business still relied heavily on John’s experience and expertise.

He was known as a fair employer who appreciated hard work and when he passed away many former and current employees were on hand to assist in any way they could.

Music was also very much to the forefront of John’s life.

This was hardly surprising given that his mother, Teresa, was a sister of the nine McCusker Brothers of céilí band fame, which John played with on occasion from an early age.

The McCusker Bros Ceili Band: (from left to right) Barney, Brendan, John, Tommy, Kevin, Benignus, Vincie, Francy and Malachy.

At the tender age of 12, his proficiency on the fiddle saw him chosen to play live from Belfast on a BBC radio broadcast.

He was also an accomplished piano player but it was for the piano accordion that he became best known.

John played with many céilí and old time bands at a time when the music was a vibrant part of the Irish social scene. They included The Round Tower (Tullysaran), The Jim Daly Céilí Band (Coalisland), The Comac Brothers (Donaghmore) and The Bluegrass Country Céilí and Old Time Band (Armagh).

The Bluegrass Country Bandshow in 1967 at the Ballymacscanlon Hotel

With The George McSweeney band (Warrenpoint) he also played live on Radio Eireann in Dublin.

And it was while travelling with The Clancy Brothers in the early 1960s that he met Celine Quinn, from Gortnagarn in Pomeroy, at a venue in the Rock.

The Clancy Bros Ceili Band pictured in 1960

John’s talent was much in demand and he played carnivals and dance halls all over Ireland, and toured Irish centres in Birmingham, Manchester, Wolverhampton and London.

In 1978, he formed the popular country and Irish old time band The Nashville Ramblers and they toured the east coast of America as The Armagh City Ramblers.

The tour included large venues in Philadelphia and New York and ended with an outdoor performance at Peekskill Mountain Park on the banks of the Hudson.

In December 1997 John moved to Rostrevor where he and Celine enjoyed good health throughout 20 years of retirement.

He continued to play his beloved piano, coming into his own with occasional get-togethers with family and friends, and also passed on his love of music to his children and grandchildren.

John McKenna passed away peacefully aged 80 on July 24 surrounded by his family.

His large funeral at St Patrick's Cathedral, Armagh bore testimony to the fact that not only was he well respected as a businessman, but he was a friend to many throughout Ireland and further afield.

John is laid to rest beside his much-loved and missed son Cormac in St Patrick’s Cemetery, Armagh.

He leaves behind his devoted wife Celine and children Brendan, Stephen, Sharon and Leonne, his son in-law Olly, daughter in-laws Julie and Kelly, and his grandchildren Mallaidh, Cormac, Annie, Eabha, Sean, Elli, Conor, Jack, Cormac and Matthew.

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Lives Remembered