Music — Shannachie

Sometimes you're the pigeon, sometimes you're the statue.

Shannachie’s Patrick Heffernan and Patrick Keane bring their shenanigans to Blackbird Books and Café on Sept. 24

By Jody Reese & Seth Hoy

Patrick Heffernan and Patrick Keane aren’t your average Irish musicians. Or then again, maybe they are.

But these two plonkers do more than just tap the horse’s hoof or play patty-fingers.

Heffernan and Keane form a band they call Shannachie, which is a Gaelic word for  storytelling, or “bullshitting” as Heffernan says.

Shannachie plays traditional Irish pub songs that involve singing, shenanigans, hand-clapping, foot-stomping and more importantly, you. Where there’s singing, clapping and beer clinking, the Irish are usually nearby.

Shannachie will perform on Friday, Sept. 24 at Blackbird Books and Café at 7:30 p.m.

“We try to involve the audience in all that we do,” Heffernan said. “We have a pretty wide range of stuff including childrens’ songs like “The Unicorn” with hand motions. We often pass out sheet music so the audience can sing the chorus with us. We say ‘clap your hands, sings along, kiss your neighbor and try not to slur your verbs.’ ”

In 1995, both Patricks met at The Wild Rover in Manchester when a mutual friend held an Irish jam session. At the time, Heffernan was a one-man show writing his owns songs to sing and play on the guitar. A week later, Keane met with Heffernan to talk about forming a band.

“Keane told me that he played the bass and asked if that was of any help. I said, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that?’ He now plays the banjo as well as the bass and some other bad habits. We’ve been playing together ever since.”

Patrick Heffernan is second-generation Irish and Keane is first. Heffernan and Keane grew up listening to their parents and grandparents sing and play traditional Irish music.

“I learned two-thirds of what I know from my grandparents. My grandmother was a piano teacher and my whole family was music-lovers. My grandmother and mother played as much as they could for friends who would come over to hear them,” Heffernan said.

“In those days, radio was the only real form of entertainment,” Heffernan continued. “We had a piano in the parlor and it used to provide hours of entertainment for us. My grandparents sang songs they knew from Ireland—and my father was a cop, how much more stereotypically Irish can you get?”

But it wasn’t always “Danny Boy” for Heffernan. He may have been playing Irish music since childhood, but he started as a little drummer boy playing Dixieland and jazz at the age of 13.

A member of the Musicians Chamber, Heffernan played wakes and weddings whenever he could to keep busy. It wasn’t until the ’60s, he said, that Irish music found popularity.

“I was born in the ’40s, so through the ’50s you could play what people thought was Irish music once a year on St. Patrick’s Day. It wasn’t until the Clancey Brothers and Tommy Makerm in the ’60s that Irish music started to be rediscovered in this country—and lucky for us that popularity has stayed,” Heffernan said.

Dixieland music, according to Heffernan, and Irish music are much the same kind of music. Born out of the Appalachians, country music was created by the Appalachian settlers, namely people from the British Isles.

“First of all, you have to credit the Irish for taking the most annoying instruments and putting them in the same band: the accordion, the tin whistle and the banjo,” Heffernan said.

“I’m influenced by country music a lot since Irish and country are really the same music. It’s the same three chords and tells a story—if it were any more, we’d never be able to remember it.”

The songs Shannachie plays, however, may not be the traditional Irish music people expect.

The first song Heffernan ever wrote was called “She broke my heart, so I broke her jaw.” Another song called “If I had to live my life over” was amended to “If I had to live my life over, I’d live it over a bar.”

Some might find Shannachie’s interpretation sacreligious to the old isle of Eire, but they have fun telling stories through music and involving the audience.

“There’s a certain pathos we adhere to,” Heffernan said, “A lot of these songs should never have been written. Take the song ‘The way life is’ for example. A friend of mine came over one day with a needlepoint his wife had done. It said, ‘Sometimes you’re the pigeon and sometimes you’re the statue.’ I thought, ‘Now there’s a story there.’”

A few songs have even landed Heffernan in a heap of trouble.

Heffernan’s son was engaged to a girl named Maureen on Heffernan’s wedding anniversary. Since he didn’t know any Irish songs about Maureen, he came up with some lyrics in the car on the way to a gig.

When he arrived he wrote down the lyrics and performed the song. Everyone enjoyed the song, including his wife, who asked, “How come you’ve never written a song about me?”

But ten years and three CD’s later, Shannachie is still entertaining the masses with their shenanigans all over New England. Even though Heffernan spent much of his life as an information security engineer, he has never left the music.

Be prepared to clap, stomp, kiss your neighbor and meet Shannachie with same energy and enthusiasm as they meet the crowd.

“I always liked the music as did Patrick,” Heffernan said. “It was the first job I ever had and it will be the last. I can finally play the music I love and get paid for it.”

For more information on Shannachie or for CD and tour date information, visit

—Jody Reese & Seth Hoy  

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