Northern Ireland news

'Grace' busker John Garrity still singing despite ongoing abuse

John Garrity busks in front of a large crowd in Belfast city centre
Mairead Holland

A BUSKER who was attacked in Belfast city centre for playing the Irish ballad Grace has said he is still receiving verbal abuse from the same woman.

John Garrity (28) received dozens of messages of support from both sides of the community after a video of the unprovoked attack in July was shared on social media.

In it, the woman could be heard shouting "Up the UDA" before kicking over the singer's microphone stand and other equipment.

Since then, the Co Tyrone man's following has continued to grow, with hundreds watching his performances in the city centre.

But he said the same woman has hurled insults at him on at least three occasions since, the last being on Saturday when he was playing outside McDonald's in Donegall Place.

"She marched past roaring at me," he said. "She stands on the other side of the street and shouts things but doesn't come over. I won't let it put me off. I have to ignore her."

And while Mr Garrity continues to sing Grace, which he describes as a "love song which is part of our history", he admits the attack has had an effect on him.

"You just never expect it to happen," he said. "I'm from the country and we're not into aggravation. Now, I am constantly thinking 'is that person okay with me singing this?' or 'is someone going to do something?' It puts your guard up.

"A lot of good people contacted me after the incident in July. People were messaging me from both sides of he community, and from as far away as Kerry.

"The video did get my name out there, to people who hadn't heard it before, and I still get people coming up to me every day and talking about what happened. "

At the time, Mr Garrity was praised for keeping his cool in the face of the onslaught, with online messages telling him to "keep singing".

He also posted up a message on his Facebook page, saying of the song: "It's part of our history which can't be unwritten. I have respect for everyone. Even if we all don't agree on the past there is no excuse for this."

Grace tells the story of 1916 Rising leader Joseph Plunkett and Grace Gifford who were married in Kilmainham jail in Dublin shortly before his execution for his part in the rebellion.

It is a favourite of rock legend Rod Stewart who has recorded a cover version.

Last year he claimed he was banned by the BBC from performing the Irish ballad 'Grace' on Chris Evans' Breakfast Show as it was 'anti-English'.

Mr Garrity, a former taxi driver who decided to go into music full-time just last year, plays once a week at the Blackbird in Derry and busks in other UK cities including Manchester and Leeds.

He is also part of a two-piece band, The 2 Johnatones, with fellow band member Jonathan Cariaga from Buenos Aires in Argentina. The pair met by chance one night in Belfast and have been gigging together ever since.

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