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Leeds Irish YouTube singing star Bernard Davey dies having battled homelessness and health problems

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Bernard Davey was a talented singer (Picture: LIHH)

A TROUBLED but talented Irishman in Leeds whose incredible rendition of Summertime became a YouTube sensation last year has died.

Brian ‘Bernard’ Davey, known as The Belfast Child in a nod to his home city, passed away before Christmas over the weekend of December 11-12.

His body was discovered by a member of the local council in the sheltered housing where he had been living.

Many will remember Bernard from his sensational YouTube video, which you can watch by clicking here, that went viral last year.

It featured him dueting with busker Jonny Walker who joined him on guitar for a rendition of the Gershwin jazz classic Summertime.

“As a busker, I spend a lot of time on the streets and had seen this man many times over the years, but didn’t know he was singer, and, as the years had gone by, his health and well-being seemed to have worsened a great deal,” said Mr Walker at the time.

The pair’s duet was caught on camera and has since been viewed over two million times.
News of Bernard’s his untimely death at the age of 66 was announced today as tributes were paid to the Northern Irish man whose personal struggles belied his incredible voice and musical talent.

Battling poor health, alcohol problems and homelessness throughout his life, Bernard was a well-known character in the West Yorkshire city – both for his singing abilities and his commitment to the Irish community.

He has once been a successful singer on the Irish and folk scene. He had also worked as a shop fitter and on building sites in Britain and Europe.

He recently featured on Radio 4’s 50th anniversary update on the Cathy Come Home documentary, which launched the homeless organisation Shelter.

Bernard, who was a father-of-two and had been married twice, was also one of the cast of the ITV Harry’s Game series in 1982 featuring in a music session.

Over the years he had been under the care of Leeds Irish Health and Homes (LIHH), who had provided regular support to him over the last 18 years.

Ironically, the Irishman had been one of the protagonists in forming the organisation in the early 1990s when he was in a better state of health.

“Like many people who endure mental health difficulties, life is never simple,” said Ant Hanlon, LIHH CEO.

“Like far too many other Irish men and women easily do, Bernard found himself treading a path of poor mental and physical health, propped up by alcohol and displacing himself from society, often with nowhere to turn. LIHH were a place he came to in his time of need.

“The Leeds Irish community alongside his family have spoken very highly of the support that LIHH provided over the years, particularly managing to keep supporting him when support seemed well-nigh impossible due to his lifestyle and conditions.”

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Bernard became a YouTube sensation

Born in Belfast on April 9, 1950, Bernard, who had been wheelchair bound for the last two years, passed away in a council flat last month.

His death has been ruled as inconclusive by a coroner, most likely dying as a result of poor health finally taking its toll.

“He was a tough character,” Mr Hanlon said describing how Bernard’s demons had sadly kept him from realising his true potential.

“He was so talented, proud. He was a dynamic and enigmatic character,” he added.

Described as a loveable rogue, there are now hopes to release some of Bernard’s music using recordings of him singing over the years.

“He was a gifted folk singer and could, and many a time did, silence a noisy Irish pub with his haunting renditions of Carrickfergus and the like,” said LIHH’s Shelagh Dixon.

Stories have this week emerged about the Irishman’s kindness to others with one highlighting his paradoxical nature.

One Leeds University student who remembered meeting Bernard said: “He asked me for a quid one time, I said ‘I’m skint’ and so he gave me a tenner and said ‘God bless’.”

Bernard Davey’s death comes at a time when funding at Leeds Irish Health and Homes is most vulnerable.

The recent loss of two major contracts providing housing and health support will see a third of its income disappear after March.

“The generosity of the Irish community who recognise the unique service we provide here in Leeds becomes much more important to us each year,” CEO Mr Hanlon added.

“They know that their donations go to help people who really struggle with life, are lonely and poorly and provide them with warmth, care and independence through our care, culture and community ethos.”

Bernard Davey’s funeral arrangements are yet to be announced but will take place in Leeds, where he is also due to be laid to rest.

If you would like to support Leeds Irish Health and Homes by making a donation or fundraising email [email protected] or call 0113 2625614. You can also donate here by searching Leeds Irish.

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Siobhan Breatnach
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Siobhán Breatnach is the Editor-in-Chief of The Irish Post. You can follow her on Twitter @SBreatnach

2 comments on “Leeds Irish YouTube singing star Bernard Davey dies having battled homelessness and health problems”

  1. óg Bodaich

    He was a lovely man, with an amazing voice, the city is missing an angel. Goodnight godbless big fella

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  2. Caralinda Quinlan

    Bernard was a friend of 30 years, he always sang well and he used to pop into Leeds market to say hello to me.
    He will be missed. he was a larger than life character, but could always make you laugh.
    Bye until we meet again Caralinda and family x

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