"The Meetings of the Waters in Avoca will always be my home, but it’s good to be able to bring a little bit of Ireland to America through my woodworking, music and now my art."
As a young lad, Ian Byrne, used to wander the hills and valleys of Avoca, a small village located near Arklow, County Wicklow, Ireland. In fact, his dad, grandad and uncles all worked in the Avoca Copper Mines. His family lived in a white two-story home nestled amongst the green hills in an area known as The White Bridge.
“I know those rivers and valleys like the back of my hand,” Byrne said.
The picturesque town is described by Irish poet Thomas Moore in the song “Meeting of the Waters,” where two rivers meet and flow into each other, forming as one. Moore wrote, “there is not in the wide world a valley so sweet.”
Byrne left the “valley so sweet” in 1987 with his American wife, Kathy, and their one-year old son, making their new home in Kansas City, Mo., to pursue his American dream. Through hard work his dreams came true, yet the rhythm, sounds and sites of the Meetings of the Waters were always close to his heart.
The Irish Woodworker
Byrne learned his woodworking craft by working at his father’s side in Ireland and earned an apprenticeship at the age of 16.
“I’ve been working with wood since I was a lad, taught by my dad. He was a drilling engineer and geologist in the Avoca caves and did woodworking as a hobby,” Byrne said.
Upon moving to Kansas City, Byrne began a woodworking business by doing small remodeling jobs and eventually opened his own shop, Byrne Custom Woodworking, Inc., in 1990. He started when a friend let Byrne borrow half of his double-car garage to house his first shop. Today Byrne’s shop is in a 30,000-square-foot space with a staff of more than 20.
Byrne builds everything from ornate cabinets to plantation shutters to one-of-a-kind furniture, kitchen rebuilds, and much more. His Irish heritage is evident in his work. For example, using only chisels and hammers, infinity knots and Celtic crosses are hand-carved in his pieces that he says he modeled after stone tombs in Ireland.
Byrne’s craft is found in homes throughout the United States, such as in Texas, Kansas, Missouri and Colorado, as well as internationally in countries like Spain and Ireland. His woodwork can be seen in Irish pubs and in Catholic churches throughout North America, too.
“I’ve got a lot of sawdust underneath these nails,” Byrne said.
Lead Singer of the Celtic Rock Band, The Elders
Byrne may be an Irish woodworker by day, but at night he’s a Celtic rocker. Byrne is the lead singer of the The Elders, who have been together since 1998. They have a passion for music rooted in Americana and Celtic folk rock.
The Elders’ toe-tapping songs feature story lines with vibrant narratives that explore history, legends, and true-life experiences. The band’s mesh of styles, textures, and soaring vocals have become its trademark.
The band travels nationwide and throughout Europe playing over 100 shows a year. In addition, they have traveled to Ireland with almost 150 fans for a 10-day tour every year, making their 16 trip to Ireland in October 2018.
Recently, though Byrne and the lads will be hanging up their instruments -- the band made a decision at the beginning of 2018 to retire at the end of the year after years of a hectic touring schedule.
The Expressionist Painter
Most recently, Byrne’s revisited a former passion – painting. He plans to work on his art more after the band’s retirement and is making his art his new career.
“I love it. I love exploring the use of colors with the oils and acrylics,” Byrne said. “I want to spend more time with family and enjoy my woodworking and also focus on my painting.”
Just like in his woodwork and in his music, Ireland is never far behind. For example, Byrne’s painting called “Irish Sea” displays moving colors of golds, greens and orange. “Thatch” features greens and golds weaving like the thatch roofs found in towns throughout his native country.
“The Meetings of the Waters in Avoca will always be my home, but it’s good to be able to bring a little bit of Ireland to America through my woodworking, music and now my art,” Byrne said.
* KCPT, Kansas City’s public television station, will feature a documentary called “Celtic Connection” on Byrne, following him to Ireland and in Kansas City and will feature show one of his final concerts. The show will focus on the connection to his Celtic roots in his woodworking craft, his music and in his art. The documentary will air in the fall/winter of 2018.
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