DUNEDIN – Hailing originally from his native Dublin, Ireland, Noel Cooney delights in presenting Irish music as well as entertainment to audiences wherever he goes.
The Irish balladeer has been singing since his youth.
“I have always been interested in music,” Cooney said. “Especially folk music.”
He found himself a part of The Woodland Trio for more than two years at an early age. Following a stint with that folk group, he went solo, hosting and performing in appearances throughout the Emerald Isle.
“The Woodland Trio just decided to go their separate ways,” Cooney said.
Cooney then joined The Cantons, another folk outfit. The group recorded two albums, toured and enjoyed success.
After four years with The Cantons, though, Cooney was ready to follow a different path: He decided to pursue a career in acting. A member of the Irish Actors Equity, Cooney appeared in a number of Irish and English television programs and commercials. He even landed a part in the 1981 film “Excalibur,” a retelling of the legend of King Arthur.
Then, Cooney shifted gears once again.
“I came to the U.S. to pursue a solo career,” Cooney said.
Cooney, who had a friend in Huntsville, Ala., followed his heart and left Ireland to settle in America.
“I left Ireland in 1980,” Cooney said. “I always was fascinated by America.”
His acquaintance in Alabama set him up with a bartending job – but that quickly led right back to entertaining a captive audience.
The ensuing years were filled with touring and performing to appreciative crowds in a variety of venues, including the Irish pub at Universal Studios. He also played Limerick Junction in Atlanta and Mulvaney’s Irish Pub, Church Street Station, Orlando.
For Pinellas County residents, though, it’s hard to imagine Cooney in any setting other than Flanagan’s Irish Pub, 465 Main St., Dunedin.
From its earliest days on Dunedin’s Main Street, Cooney has been a fixture at Flanagan’s.
A regular performer at the pub since 1993, about 12 years ago he became co-owner with his wife, Trina.
“I met my wife in Flanagan’s and we dated for several years,” Cooney said. “The opportunity came up several times before we decided to buy into the pub.”
Nestled in the heart of downtown Dunedin, Flanagan’s is a popular destination for anyone with a taste for Celtic culture. The establishment boasts a quaint, relaxed atmosphere, a tasty selection of traditional Irish food and a variety of a great selection of domestic and imported beers. Patrons will find Guinness, Harp, Bass, Magners Irish Cider and several others on tap.
Dunedin’s village-like atmosphere undoubtedly appealed to the native Irishman – known locally as “The Once and Future King of Dunedin.” Still, the city’s charm wasn’t the main determining factor when Cooney finally decided to settle down.
“My wife, Trina, is the reason why I moved to Dunedin,” Cooney said. “It has been a very successful move for me. The town is Scottish-based but they enjoy an Irish atmosphere.”
The oldest town south of Cedar Key, Dunedin prides itself on its rich Scottish heritage. Its coastal location and its history as one of Florida’s pioneering seaports and trading centers reminds Cooney of his own hometown.
“The town I lived in, Dun Laorie, is on the water like Dunedin,” Cooney said.
Dun Laorie, a seaside town south of Dublin, serves as a major port of entry and has one of the largest harbors in Ireland. “It is a small town but does not have a small town feel,” Cooney said.
Climatologically speaking, of course, it took Cooney a while to get used to Florida’s sweltering heat.
“The weather is very different,” Cooney said. “It’s much hotter and it rains more in Ireland.”
When Cooney’s performing at Flanagan’s, it doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold, clear or cloudy: The pub always fills up with spirited patrons looking forward to good food, catchy tunes and interesting tales.
“As long as the people enjoy listening to me entertaining, it’s like a new night every night,” Cooney said.
Every time he takes the stage, Cooney encourages his audience to be active participants in the performance. He welcomes requests and feedback and embraces their musical kinship as they sing along to some of the rollicking refrains.
For Cooney, playing music is less an occupation and more a labor of love. The best part of touring and performing is, according to Cooney, touring and performing.
“It’s traveling,” Cooney said, “and all the different people you meet.”
Cooney has three CDs to his credit. His first, “I Once Loved A Lass” features some of the favorites of his many followers.
His most recent CD features familiar songs such as “The Black Velvet Band,” “Starry, Starry Night” and “The Unicorn Song.”