Margaret Barry

Margaret Barry (1917–1989) was an Irish Traveller, traditional singer and banjo player.

Margaret Barry
Birth nameMargaret Cleary
BornJanuary 1st 1917
Cork, Ireland
OriginCounty Cork, Ireland
Died1989 (aged 7172)
Lawrencetown, County Down, Northern Ireland
GenresTraditional Irish, Sean Nós
Associated actsMichael Gorman


Barry became a well-known name on the London folk scene in the 1950s, with her distinctive singing style and idiosyncratic banjo accompaniment.

Born Margaret Cleary in Cork into a family of Travellers and street singers, she taught herself how to play the zither banjo and the fiddle at a young age. At the age of sixteen, after a family disagreement, Margaret left home and started performing as a street musician.

In the early 1950s she moved to London. With her flamboyant delivery and idiosyncratic banjo-playing, Barry became well known in the pubs and clubs of Irish London, where she was frequently accompanied by the fiddler Michael Gorman. Barry's singing and banjo playing became a major influence on the younger generation of ballad singers in Ireland and the UK, including Luke Kelly.

One song for which Barry is particularly noted is "She Moved Through the Fair". Asked by an interviewer, Karl Dallas, whether she had learned it from her family or from other Travellers, she replied cheerfully, "Oh, no. I got it off a gramophone record by Count John McCormack".

The accompanying book to the Topic Records 70 year anniversary boxed set Three Score and Ten lists Her Mantle So Green as one of the classic albums[1]:16 and The Factory Girl from Street Songs and Fiddle Tunes of Ireland with Michael Gorman is track 9 on the third CD in the set.

Singer/songwriter, Tim O'Riordan, wrote a song in celebration of Barry, The Heart of the Song( for Margaret Barry) and recorded it on the album Taibhse in 2018.

At the RTE Radio 1 Folk Awards in 2019 Barry was inducted into the Hall of Fame by American singer Peggy Seeger.[2]


  • 1957 Street Songs and Fiddle Tunes (with Michael Gorman) Topic 10T6
  • 1959 Songs of an Irish Tinker Lady Riverside RLP 602
  • 1965 Her Mantle So Green (with Michael Gorman) Topic 12T123
  • Queen of the Tinkers Top Rank 25020
  • The Hills of Donegal Washington WV 731
  • Irish Songs and Tunes (with Michael Gorman) Folkways 8729
  • She Moves Through the Fair Folktracks 60-070 (cassette)
  • 1967 The Blarney Stone (with Michael Gorman) Transatlantic XTRA 5037
  • 1976 Ireland's Own Outlet SOLP 1029
  • 1994 Her Mantle So Green (with Michael Gorman) Topic TSCD474
  • Come Back Paddy Reilly Emerald GEM 1003
  • Travellin' People from Ireland (with Pecker Dunne)

See also



  • Pohle, Horst (1987) The Folk Record Source Book; 2nd ed. p. 22 (for discography)
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