*Mike Varden, Michael D. Higgins, Johnny Fean and Stephen Travers at the opening of G4 Ennis Guitar School in 2011.

TRIBUTES continue to be extended to Johnny Fean, the lead guitarist with Horslips.

Johnny died peacefully at his Shannon home in Moy Park surrounded by his family with his funeral mass held last Thursday at Mary Immaculate Church, at the age of 71.

He has been described as a guitarist who stood shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world.

In a statement, his bandmates Barry Devlin, Charles O’Connor, Eamon Carr and Jim Lockhart said they were “deeply saddened” with his death. “For well over 50 years Johnny was our best friend, our creative collaborator, our guitar hero. Johnny wasn’t only one of the greatest guitar players ever, he was also the sweetest man in rock and roll. His immeasurable talent won him countless supporters throughout the years. We remain his biggest fans. He devoted his life to music and we’ll be forever thankful that he did”.

Horslips were formed by drummer Eamon Carr, multi-instrumentalists Jim Lockhart and Charles O’Connor, and bassist Barry Devlin in 1970, with Fean joining two years later. They are regarded as founding fathers of Celtic rock, with hits including Dearg Doom and Trouble with a Capital T.

Fean played on all ten of the band’s albums, including landmark works Dancehall Sweethearts and The Book of Invasions.

He spent his childhood in Shannon and Garryowen, his father worked in Shannon Airport. The banjo, mandolin and harmonica were some of the other instruments played by Johnny.

During an interview with RTÉ Lyric in 2013, he recounted, “I was very lucky living in Shannon because there were a lot of American families there with sons and daughters going into their teens. The music they were listening to in 1962, they actually brought the LPs and singles over to Shannon and I got to hear The Supremes and Tamla Motown possibly before anybody in Ireland”.

In his late teens, Johnny played in local group Sweet Street, who supported John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers in Cork, and country rock band Jeremiah Henry in 1970.

Speaking about joining Horslips, he recalled, “In 1970 I was playing the tenor banjo and I was learning quite a number of tunes and I was very much getting into the Irish traditional thing as well as having the guitar. Jeremiah Henry did a festival in Ballyvaughan the summer of 1972 and Horslips were topping the bill. That day, Horslips got to hear me playing and by the end of the summer they were looking for a guitar player and Charles O’Connor came down to my house in Shannon. I wasn’t in, but he left his phone number and a couple of days later I went up to Dublin and called into Jim Lockhart’s house on James’s Street. We just started to play and by the end of the evening he said would you like to join the band. I’d said I’d love to”.

Fean and Carr also founded the Zen Alligators in 1980 before the break-up of Horslips the same year. The pair also played together in Host, which also featured O’Connor.

Johnny also played with former Miami Showband bassist Steve Travers in The Johnny Fean Band and had been playing again with Horslips on and off since 2009 on comeback tours featuring his brother Ray on drums. The band recently released a boxset entitled More Than You Can Chew.

Ennis historian, Ollie Byrnes told The Clare Echo, “Horslips first came into our lives about 1970 when they were the house band on a television programme called Fonn. This was a huge break for the band as, at that time, Ireland had only one television channel and this gave them national prominence. The Ballyvaughan Peace Festival staged on the weekend of 3rd and 4th July 1971 is a great memory of carefree times. It was here that Horslips first saw Johnny Fean play. At that time, he was with a group called Jeremiah Henry and they subsequently invited him to join them. He brought his tremendous musical gifts of guitar and banjo playing to the group.

“Horslips became a regular band at Paddy Con’s Hall, The West County Inn and Gort throughout 1972/73. I remember them playing things like Johnny B Goode, Southern Man and I Saw her Standing There. Their classic debut album ‘Happy to Meet, Sorry to Part’ came out in December 1972. Johnny Fean’s passing was a big shock to us all. His funeral mass was a celebration of his life. After returning home from Shannon, I put on a complete compilation of Horslips recordings. Johnny Fean never played an unnecessary note. He kept it brief and subtle, just like other great guitarists including Mick Taylor, George Harrison, Danny Kirwan and Peter Green”.

Johnny is deeply missed by his heartbroken family, wife Maggie, brothers Donal, Shearie and Ray, sisters Gail and Corna, sisters-in-law, brothers-in-law, Horslips band members Barry, Jimmy, Charles and Eamon, nephews, nieces, extended Horslips family, neighbours and his many friends.

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If you’re here, you care about County Clare. So do we. Did you rely on us for Covid-19 updates, follow our election coverage, or visit The Clare Echo every week for breaking news and sport? The Clare Echo invests in local journalism and we want to safeguard its future in our county. By becoming a subscriber you are supporting what we do, will receive access to all our premium articles and a better experience, while helping us improve our offering to you. Subscribe to clareecho.ie and get the first six months for just €3 a month (less than 75c per week), and thereafter €8 per month. Cancel anytime, limited time offer. T&Cs Apply. www.clareecho.ie.

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