John Tunney grew up in Letterkenny and comes from a long line of west Ulster traditional singers, including his father, the legendary Paddy Tunney, and his famed grandmother Brigid Tunney. John has been singing songs from the repertoire of his extended family for over fifty years and has recently released an album – The Immigrant: A Stone on the Cairn of Tradition – which features many of these alongside new, previously unrecorded songs, in traditional style, written by himself and his father.
He has also been writing songs from as far back as the early 1980s. While a good proportion of these are written in Irish traditional style, most belong in other genres, from folk to pop and even rock.
John took his primary degree in History and German at NUIG, where he also studied for an MA in history. His masters thesis was entitled From Ascendancy to Alienation: Donegal’s Protestants 1880-1932. More recently he completed a PhD in Heritage Studies under the supervision of Dr Mark McCarthy of GMIT and Prof. Lillis Ó Laoire of NUIG. The focus of this work, entitled From Hearth to Heritage: The Histories, Genealogies and Transmissions of a Local Traditional Song Repertoire in an Irish Border Community, c. 1800-1955, was the genesis and transmission of the remarkable song repertoire that developed in three adjoining townlands in the Donegal-Fermanagh hill country from the 1820s down to the 1950s.
Growing up in a multi-generational family of traditional singers, John has always been passionate about the living culture of Irish traditional song as a manifestation of Ireland’s intangible heritage. Indeed, heritage has been the focus of all his career choices, and he has worked as a genealogist, heritage consultant, and museum exhibition designer before joining Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology Galway as a lecturer in Heritage Studies in 2000. His current research interests include the Irish song tradition (especially the repertoire of the Donegal-Fermanagh borderlands), memory and the construction of identity, museology – especially exhibition design, and the Orange Order.