One afternoon in the late 60’s, Jimi Hendrix appeared on the popular afternoon programme, The Mike Douglas Show. Douglas asked Jimi “What’s it like to be the best rock guitarist in the world?”. In a humble tone Jimi responded with “I don’t know, you’ll have to ask Rory Gallagher.”
Rory Gallagher was born in Ballyshannon, Co. Donegal on 2nd of March 1948. His mother, Monica, moved with her two boys to Cork in 1956. Rory and his brother Donal were encouraged to pursue music as both of their parents were musically inclined, and at the early age of 9 Rory received the present of a guitar from his parents.
It was not until his days of attending North Monastery School where Rory really developed an interest in the rock-n-roll greats like Buddy Holly and Muddy Waters. Growing up in Cork city, Gallagher bought his famous Fender Stratocaster electric guitar from the iconic Crowley’s Music shop on Merchants Quay in 1963. He bought this guitar for £100. Crowley’s location would move to MacCurtain Street (now Son Of A Bun) a decade later and grow into a hive of inspiration for Rory and other Cork musicians like him.
After his days in North Mon, Gallagher began playing after school with Irish show-bands in the early 60’s. One particular band was The Fontana. They toured Ireland and the United Kingdom. In 1966, Gallagher returned to Cork with the aim of forming a band. When word of his rock-n-roll lifestyle reached his teachers at Christian Brothers he was dealt an abusive punishment, and subsequently uprooted to St. Kieran’s College on Camden Quay.
Rory’s brother Donal said that in the early days and even before The Fontana, Rory played around Cork and throughout the area now known as The Victorian Quarter. Donal stated in an interview with The Irish Times that Rory jammed with a band called The Axills at a place named The Cavalier Club, which was at the back of the Old Munster Hotel on Coburg St, where The Ashley Hotel operates today.
In the mid 60’s, Cork’s music scene had been developing rapidly, seeing the visit of The Rolling Stones to The Savoy as the defining moment for the time. There were also many other exciting and attractive venues at the time and Donal ended up being a DJ for a new club on Leitrim Street. When Rory returned from touring Ireland & the UK with The Fontana, he formed the band Taste. This new band used to play The Cavern on Leitrim Street, at Donal’s invitation. On Rory’s membership card for The Cavern it showed that his address was 27 MacCurtain Street – at the heart of The Victorian Quarter. These sets of gigs and performances across other Cork venues would be a massive step towards stardom for Rory in his career.
Rory’s career is steeped in Cork history from playing gigs in Arcadia, and the generation defining show at City Hall in the 1970’s- to even his Opera House performance in 1987. However, the neighbourhood that would go on to become The VQ, was where Rory could always be found. Living, working, and playing in the Bridge St/Patrick’s Hill & Coburg St/Leitrim St area made him a legend in his own time. His grandmother even owned a pub on MacCurtain Street, where he would hang around often.
Rory has had such a huge impact on the people of Cork that there was even an online petition launched by a number of fans that were urging Cork City Council to consider naming the Mary Elmes Bridge after the highly acclaimed guitarist.
Although Rory died in 1995, his music still lives 25 years later- on a national and international level. Modern day guitarists from Slash to Johnny Marr credit Rory as an influence, and he is still celebrated in the community that helped raise him. Rory will be forever regarded as the son of Cork and his legacy will be carried on through generations.