Barney McCaffrey celebrated through song in Eganville

EGANVILLE – There have been many different things said about local musician and activist Barney McCaffrey over the years, but one thing is for sure; no two people have the same view of this very unique individual.

At the Eganville Community Centre on August 2, a special tribute concert was held in honour of McCaffrey who passed away in January, after suffering a stroke on New Years Day at 77 years of age.
Born in New York City on July 15, 1934, McCaffrey was raised by an Irish father and a Polish mother and learned to play the accordion at a young age.
After spending some time in the U.S. Navy in the 1950’s, McCaffrey met his wife Patricia in 1962.
Marrying in 1964, the couple later came to Barry’s Bay, as he found work as a supply teacher at Madawaska Valley District High School.
On a bitterly cold day in January, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Wilno, many of McCaffrey’s family, friends, supporters and allies attended his funeral.
Many of those same characters were in attendance at the tribute concert on August 2, where nearly 200 people showed up.
Artists from all over the Valley region contributed their own unique song styles, traded stories and fondly remembered their lost friend and cohort.
In memory of the generosity of McCaffrey, attendees of the event were charged a general admission fee, with any donations accepted and put towards the Stone Fence Theatre.
McCaffrey’s various musical works were on display and available for concertgoers to purchase.
Ish Theilheimer, a close and personal friend of McCaffrey, hosted the evening with help from Ambrose Mullin, introducing each act, and letting the audience know the connection that every performer had to McCaffrey during his lifetime.
Among the acts was legendary fiddler Peter Dawson who has spent most of his varied musical career in the Pembroke region.
Growing up in the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, Dawson began learning the violin when he was five-years-old.
Progressing deeper into music, Dawson later gained some notoriety with the Wheeling Jamboree Radio Station, (WWVA) in West Virginia, USA. Dawson was taken on board as a staff fiddler, and toured the United States and Canada with a multitude of country and bluegrass acts. During his stint with WWVA, Dawson also performed at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.
Having run a musical instrument store in Pembroke for many years called The Music Loft, Dawson remembers the colourful McCaffrey visiting his store from time to time.
“He used to come into the store when I had the store from 1971 to 1989. He was one of the first people I met. He had just come to the area from the States at the time. Barney had an old army outfit on as he was with the military in the States for a number of years. He used to wear the army get-up and he was dirty as all hell,” he said.
Dawson also recalls a certain odour that used to linger along with McCaffrey’s presence when he frequented the store.
“He smelled like a goat. He told me that he had three or four goats on his farm and he didn’t realize that they couldn’t take the cold of the winter. So when the first winter came, he lost a few as they froze and so he kept the rest of them in the house all winter. So I’d always say that he smelled like a goat, and oddly enough, he even looked like one too with that beard,” he said.
Overall, McCaffrey’s life and devotion to music and true art have been an inspiration to Dawson.
“We’ve been great friends. He wrote some crazy songs but he was one of a kind, for sure. He was totally devoted to music. Money meant nothing to him. He died a pauper in a pine box. I mean at his funeral, he was in the crudest pine box I’d ever seen. It was just a few pine boards knocked together. But that’s the way he wanted it and that’s the way he lived,” Dawson added.
Story continued in the August 8 issue of The Valley Gazette.