You will get more than just music from Donal O’ Shaughnessy when you go see him play at McGrath’s Irish Pub this Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. It is a show filled with jokes, stories and both Irish and Folk music. He appreciates when you sing along or even get up on stage and sing with him but don’t try heckling him because he’s too quick! Though he doesn’t mind a heckler if they’re not too drunk. The last time at McGrath’s a young lady was not enjoying one one of his stories and asked him to pick it up. Seamus, one of his fans, said “Oh no.” O’ Shaughnessy had his way with her, so to speak, and the lady ended up asking the bartender if he could please get him to stop, to which the bartender replied, “You stepped in it.” O’ Shaughnessy likes that he gets the support of the staff, as well. I saw him for the first time last month and cannot wait to see him again. He is a really nice guy and our interview was more like a fun conversation with a friend. This is his ninth year performing for McGrath’s and he has become good friends with Murray and crew. He said, “That’s a family up there. I’ve never seen anything like it in all my travels. It’s so unique and welcoming. You know exactly what you’re going to get as soon as you walk in there.”
When you walk in to see O’ Shaughnessy, you won’t want to leave or have the show end—that’s how entertaining he is. He had me cracking up on one of his original songs named after an “overzealous” local law enforcement officer. He said he had to write the song after hearing all the stories about him. Whenever he plays it here, he say that it gets people’s attention. I can attest to that because it definitely got mine. He is also known for his version of an old Irish drinking song called “The Barley Mow.” In the original song, it would toast anyone that had anything to do with brewing the beer, delivering the beer or serving the beer. One night he was playing locally, which for him is Upstate New York in the Binghamton area, to about fifteen people. Somebody shouted, “Hey it’s John’s birthday, put him in the song.” So he did; and then someone else asked. Since he knew everyone in the place, by the end of the song he had put everyone in it. It turned into a big toasting song for him with everyone’s name. He next performed it at a post-wedding party, and encountered a couple who met because of his song. They didn’t know each other’s name but learned it when he went around the room getting names. They’re now married! They asked him to explain to their family at this party how it happened. He said, “I didn’t know anyone’s name there, but I went around and did it with about 20 names and then thought, ‘Son of a gun, I can do this.’ So I started doing strangers and low and behold, I’ve done over 100 people I don’t know. I can only remember them on a short term basis, it’s the freakiest thing. There’s no technique, I think it’s out of fear (laughing). It’s a great way to get the room together.” He now knows of 14 marriages that are attributed to that song.
This Friday will mark O’ Shaughnessy’s 21st anniversary of being a professional musician. He remembers the date because it’s Elvis’ birthday. He didn’t start until he was in his mid-30s. He was working as a registered nurse at a maximum security prison, and was his church’s organist. A local Irish performer in town who had so much work approached him at church one day and asked if he would like to play Irish music for a living. He said, “I’d love to but I have a couple problems. I can’t sing, I don’t know any songs and I don’t play any of the instruments.” He said, “Don’t worry, I’ll help you get the work.” He went to O’Shaughnessy’s house and sat down and played for two hours. He recorded the songs and gave him some to learn. That was it! O’Shaughnessy taught himself how to play guitar and the fiddle, saying that he just plays by ear. He mostly just plays guitar at his shows, but will occasionally bring the fiddle. He also plays harmonica and the bodhran.
O’ Shaughnessy really enjoys playing at McGrath’s. “The best part about that room is it’s a listening room. It’s almost magical that when people come in there, the majority of the time they will sit and listen and applaud. They’ll clap along and sing along and listen to the jokes. You don’t have to fight to get their attention for the most part. It makes my job so much easier. I realized a long time ago that I am not the best singer or musician in the world and that’s why I tell jokes.”
He really just wants people to have a good time.
“It’s not about me. I don’t want the evening to be about me. Let the people have a good time and make them feel special in some sort of way and play their requests. I do a thing that if I know your name and you walk in the door, I do a spontaneous thing and say hey everybody here’s so-and-so and I’ll just say hello to people as they come in the door because I want to thank them for coming out. Without an audience I don’t have a job. I’ve always been over the top appreciative of people who take the time and money to come out and see my show. The biggest compliment that I ever get is people telling me they haven’t laughed like that in a long time so that’s my goal—to have some laughs.”