Leo Brennan the Music Man of Gweedore

Posted by The Skibbereen Eagle | June 23, 2016 0

They say when somebody as talented as Leo Brennan dies after four score and ten years then a library dies with them. Sad as the passing of Leo is we can take comfort in the fact that his musical library and love of the Gaelic language has been preserved by his family, and then some. I first encountered Leo and his family when I was very young and they played at a charity fundraiser as “The Brennan Family” in the long gone Clerys’  Ballroom in Dublin. With Leo out front on the accordion it  is remarkable to think this family group contained Moya Brennan, Eithne (Enya) and four members of Clannad, all of whom had learned music literally at their father’s knee.

Leo Brennan who passed on his musical talent and knowledge to Enya, Moya Brennan and their Clannad siblings has died. A popular musician in his own right who spent years touring with The Slive Foy Dance Band, Leo Brennan was famous throughout his county of Donegal. He died yesterday at his Gweedore home, aged 90. He was surrounded by his all of family in his final days. Enya and her siblings Moya, Pol and Ciaran Brennan, who became household names with Clannad, often credited their father for the role he played in their international success.

Leo was born into a showband family and progressed naturally into a career as a musician and entertainer. During the showband era, he was not only a singer but played the accordion and saxophone. When that musical phase – along with its dance halls – disappeared from Ireland, he settled down as a publican with his and his equally musical wife Máire ‘Baba’ in Meenaleck, Crolly, Gwedore, (Gaoth Dobhair) in the  Donegal Gaelteacht (Irish speaking area). Crolly_-_Leo's_Tavern_Signleo-s-tavern

From 1968, Leo’s Tavern (Tábhairne Leo) became a destination for nightly entertainment with much of the live music being provided by the Brennan family. Honing their own skills there, his children soon followed in his footsteps with Enya, Moya and Clannad emerging as musical forces. Gweedore is a loose collection of six villages in the shadow of Mount Errigal and has a distinctive Gaelic culture and tradition which along with its wild scenery on the Atlantic attracts many visitors and students to its Irish Colleges. Leo’s Tavern was always a gathering point both for natives and visitors drawn by Leo’s ebullient personality and the quality of the music.  EnyaObit

The tavern was celebrated during the 2005 Errigal Arts Festival at which Leo and Baba were awarded the Freedom of Donegal by Donegal County Council on 14 July among Donegal members of both Seanad Éireann and Dáil Éireann. The special series of concerts in the days before and after the civic reception, called Oidhreacht (Irish for Legacy), featured Leo and Baba’s daughters Moya, Brídín, Enya, Deirdre and Olive performing during an invitation mass at St. Mary’s Church in Derrybeg where Baba has choirmaster for over four decades. A jazz concert was held, featuring Pól Brennan, Paddy Cole and their bands. The majority of the events were televised for Irish language television channel TG4 and Ireland’s state broadcaster, RTÉ. Leo’s Tavern celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008 and held a three-day celebration. A concert featuring Clannad, Brídín Brennan, Deirdre Brennan, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh and Manus Lunny was also held, with music from Leo himself. clannadenyalp

Leo is survived by his wife Máire ‘Baba’ Brennan and children Moya, Ciarán, Pól, Deirdre, Leon, Enya, Olive, Bartley and Brídín. His funeral Mass will take place at St Mary’s Chapel in Derrybeg at noon on Friday.



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