The Harland diaspora
Self portrait  by Dermod

Dermod Kennedy Harland

b.29 August 1963, Dryburn Hospital, Durham.

d.3 March 1997, Belfast.

Being the youngest of the five boys Dermod was brought up in a much less regimented way than his older brothers.


He was educated at Sherburn Primary School, Durham, and then at Fullerton House and Methodist College Belfast (Methody).


Two of Dermod’s ink drawings

In 1994 he was awarded one of the Belfast Telegraph’s Entertainment Media and Arts  Awards when he was presented with the bronze plaque with the title  “Jazz  Musician of the Year”. He played with Van Morrison, who was also present to accept an award from his native city of Belfast.


In the summer of 1996   he presented a wonderful concert with his friend, Peter Corry, celebrating the life and music of  Jimmy Kennedy  (1902 - 1984). This was a magnificent  family occasion because this world famous composer was Dermod’s mother’s  first cousin. So the rafters of the hall in Portstewart rang with the old favourites like “South of the Border”, Teddy-bears’ Picnic” and “Red Sails in the Sunset”.


Read Dermod’s Eulogy

The artistic and musical talents of both the Harland and Kennedy families seemed to coalesce in his young frame. As a first-form student at Methody John Anderson selected him to perform the title role in his production of “Oliver” in 1976. After leaving school he played the lead role of Felix in  the Harberton Players’ production of “The Odd Couple”. By 1985 he had developed great skills as a saxophonist and was  the lead tenor sax with the Irish Youth Jazz Orchestra. He also developed great talent at painting and drawing and passed the Foundation Course year at the Belfast College of Art. He has real difficulty in choosing a career. But in the end his love of music won the day.

While still at MCB Dermod started attending the BP Club for weekly sessions with other jazz musicians. Although very much his senior, these old professionals like George Mullen guided his career. George Kerr wrote that :
“Dermod Harland remained faithful to the soft bop style of Charlie Parker, which he played with absolute melodic integrity - lyrical, articulate and with a poignant elegance.”

Dermod played in a variety of bands in Northern Ireland and further afield. These included Otis and the Elevators, The John Anderson Big Band, The Apex Jazz Band and several smaller groups. In 1987 he took his own quartet to the Belfast  Festival at Queen’s; there Humphrey Lyttleton featured him as a guest with his orchestra



Later  that year Dermod was back at the Festival playing with  Louis Stewart, the Dublin-based guitarist. Then, on 30 October 1996, he was to play in a memorable gig with George Masso, the Californian trombonist, and the other members of the Charlie Burton Quartet. It  was the last of his recordings., (Sources 14). Visit Dermod’s Music  for examples.

From  the age of 21, Dermod had to cope  with Diabetes Mellitus, a disease which has plagued his  family since his great-grandmother’s day. A life governed by regular insulin injections and equally regular meals  is difficult enough for one with a steady organised occupation - but it proved very testing indeed for a jazz musician, with a propensity to smoke too many cigarettes and  drink far too much whisky.

He lurched along between a series of hypoglycaemic attacks.. There was a sense of inevitability about it, and, indeed, one last fatal hypo caused him to drown in his bath on 3 March 1997.  His body was not discovered until three days later when his father returned home from a holiday in Australia  - a terrible waste of a wonderful talent.