Passing over renowned folk singer is ‘end of an era’

Renowned bard Sarah Ann O'Neill
Renowned bard Sarah Ann O'Neill

THE Coalisland community is mourning the death of one its best known bards, Mrs Sarah Ann O’Neill at the age of 93.

Beloved wife of the late John O’Neill. she was the loving mother of Charlie, Joe, Margaret, Elizabeth, Hugh Pat, Kathleen, Brigid, Eugene, Noelle, Eileen, Bernie and the late John.

Her death is also mourned by her sisters Teresa (Mclaughlin), Mary Ellen (McGuinness), Rosealeen (Campbell), brother Paddy and large family circle.

Sarah formed a legendary singing partnership with her brother Geordie Hannah, who passed away in 1987.

Although as performers they had a scant recorded output, their 1978 LP On the Shores of Lough Neagh showcased their talents as Ireland’s finest singers.

As well as singing songs learned at festivals all over Ireland, their repertoire was firmly rooted in the songs of their locality (the countryside around Derrytresk).

Her death has been described as ‘the passing of an era’.

Sarah’s neice Kathleen said there were few places in Ireland where she had not performed.

“Sarah was renowned all over Ireland for her singing talent. She was a remarkable woman and a gifted performer. Up until a few years ago, she was still active in the folk scene and was an integral part of local cultural events such as the anniversary celebration of her brother Geordy’s contribution to folk music.

“She had a vast knowledge of traditional music, and fortunately she was able to hand on this legacy to her grandchildren Cathal O’Neill and Teresa Hughes, in particular.

“Her house was a mecca for traditional music, and would have been always full of visitors from all over the North.

“Not only were there TV programmes made on her singing career, she was also officially recognised by the Comhaltas for her contribution to traditional music.

“She enriched all our lives with her memorable songs.”

Musical and cultural organisations have paid tribute to Sarah. Derrytresk Fir an Chnoic and the Coalisland and Clonoe Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann have extended their sympathy to the entire family circle. The local Comhaltas branch described her as ‘an esteemed honorary member’.

Her funeral will take place today, Monday, at 10.15am from her daughter Eileen’s residence, 89 Derrytresk Road, for 11.00am Requiem Mass in St Patrick’s Church, Clonoe.

Burial will follow in the adjoining cemetery.