George Furey: “Making music gives us something to do and a meaning to life”

Half a century of music making

The Fureys will perform at Belfast's Waterfront Hall on January 5, 2024

The Fureys music has been a soundtrack to the lives of fans the world over for almost half a century.

Huge international ambassadors for Irish folk music, they enjoy standing ovations wherever they play, from London’s Royal Albert Hall to the Carnegie Hall in New York.

Despite being in their 70s Eddie and George are still performing and loving “what they’ve always done”.

Just last month they completed a 17-gig tour of Holland and in January they will showcase their timeless classics, such as When You Were Sweet 16, I Will Love You, Leaving Nancy and From Clare to Here, to audiences at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.

No strangers to the city, they often combine their visit with busking on the streets – as they did recently during a stint Belfast’s Great Victoria Street bus station, with their earnings being given to the NI Air Ambulance.

George and Eddie Furey perform at the Great Victoria Street bus station in Belfast. The folk legends arrived to entertain shoppers and commuters. PICTURE: Mark Marlow (Mark Marlow)

“I just love walking around Belfast and meeting people, it’s like a second home to us. I’ve had many Guinness in The Crown bar and even played a round of golf with Fred Daly at Balmoral Golf Club,” recalls George, who has been busking since he was a child.

“Myself and my late brother Paul used to go to Croke Park and sneak in over the wall into the Railway End. In those days you could walk all around the stadium and we used to do so playing our accordions and collecting a few bob.”


The four Furey brothers - Eddie, George, Paul and Finbar - were born into a family of settled Irish travellers and grew up in the Dublin suburb of Ballyfermot, immersed in traditional music.

Their father Ted was an accomplished fiddle player, while their mother Nora played the accordion.

The band has existed in many guises since 1974. Finbar left in 1996 to pursue a successful solo career and their brother Paul died following routine surgery in 2002. When their long-time collaborator, Davey Arthur, suffered a stroke in 2014, Eddie and George kept going.

“It’s not really work for us. Making music gives us something to do and a meaning to life.”

I ask George if they have anything special planned next year for celebrating the band’s 50th anniversary.

“When I wake up in the morning and pull the covers down and see daylight it’s a big celebration. We are getting to an age in life where we treasure every day,” jokes the 72-year-old, who just under 10 years ago required life-saving heart surgery after becoming breathless on stage.

He says the experience has made him “grab every opportunity of life” and whilst there is talk of a golden anniversary album, they are also contemplating doing a sea shanties album.

“We’ve made lots of albums over the years, so it’s picking the right one to do. There were certainly loads of songs written about the Irish fisherman who even went fishing in Newfoundland.

“We would need a good video behind us, and I don’t see me going out on the Atlantic,” laughs George, recalling how in the past he used to catch mackerel with the late Liam Clancy.

From making Irish stew in the former home of David Bowie whilst nursing a hangover to hanging out with Bob Dylan in New York and a failed attempt to put a potato up the exhaust of Derry musican Phil Coulter’s car, the Fureys back catalogue is only matched by the many stories and yarns they share.

“Phil Coulter produced our Steal Away album. We recorded it in Oxfordshire and people used to think we were drunk every night because we would go and have a sing song and a couple of pints at this hotel in Chipping Norton owned by a Limerick man.

Read more:

The Fureys – ‘Belfast is like a second home’

Clannad’s Moya Brennan: First lady of Celtic music on faith, family and Harry’s Game

“It was our rehearsal. The next morning when we went into the studio we’d never have a hangover, but had the songs ready to go. It worked a treat.

“The comedian Ronnie Barker had an antiques shop right beside the hotel and would join us. Music certainly helped us meet people over the years,” he recalls fondly.


Joe Dolan, Philomena Begley, Tom O’Connor, Chris Rea, the Chieftains, Pete Seeger, Tom Paxton, Liam Clancy and Sean Maguire are just a few of those who have joined The Fureys for their spontaneous music sessions, each one with a story begging to be told.

For their Belfast concert, Eddie and George will be accompanied on stage by their talented band of musicians, featuring a diverse range of instruments including flute, keyboards, guitar, banjo, bodhran and accordion.

“It’s not really work for us. Making music gives us something to do and a meaning to life.”

“We know each other so well it’s like telepathy on stage,” says George, whose desire to bring a smile to audience faces motivates him to keep performing live.

“Audiences always want the hits, such as The Green Fields of France and The Red Rose Café - I was looking up the other day how many songs we do that have colour in them,” ponders George, who loves new generations listening to and playing their music.

During the concert the brothers will be joined on stage by students from Glengormley School of Traditional Music.

Musicians playing on the streets of Belfast
Eddie and George Furey with musicians from Glengormley School of Traditional Music.

Formed 20 years ago by Ray Morgan, the school is a cross-community space for those interested in learning traditional Irish music and instruments.

“It’s great to play with and encourage the young musicians. They will do a few tunes and a couple of songs with us,” adds George who recently welcomed his fifth grandchild.

The little girl is the first child of his son Anthony, who followed in his father’s footsteps playing in bands such as The Young Folk and Elgin. “The Fureys are starting to fill out again,” he beams.

And the secret to The Fureys enduring success?

“We are the same on stage as we are off stage. What you see is what you get.”

Despite enjoying UK chart success and an appearance on Top of the Pops, George has one ambition yet unfulfilled - a collaboration with Bruce Springsteen.

“He has been a great influence and written great songs. He puts his whole heart into his concerts.”

With four Irish gigs next May – perhaps there is still time for his dreams to come true.

The Fureys play Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on January 5. Tickets are available at www.waterfront.co.uk