The Dubliners Biography

Biography :: c_b_014

Band Members

John Sheahan
Barney McKenna
Eamon Campbell
Sean Cannon
Patsy Watchorn

Former members:
Ronnie Drew
Luke Kelly
Ciaran Bourke
Jim McCann
Paddy Reilly

Current Label

Celtic Airs Records

The Dubliners, initially known as "The Ronnie Drew Ballad Group", formed in 1962 and made a name for themselves playing regularly in O'Donoghue's Pub in Dublin. The founding members were Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna. The change of name came about due to Drew's unhappiness with the name, coinciding with the fact that Kelly was reading Dubliners by James Joyce at the time.
Drew spent some time in Spain in his younger years where he learned to play Flamenco guitar, and he accompanied his songs on a Spanish guitar. Drew left the band in 1974 to spend more time with his family, and was replaced by Jim McCann. He returned to The Dubliners five years later, but left the group again in 1995. Ronnie Drew died at St Vincent's Private Hospital in Dublin on 16 August 2008 after a long illness. Paddy Reilly took Drew's place in 1995. Some of Drew's most significant contributions to the band are the hit single "Seven Drunken Nights", his rendition of "Finnegan's Wake", and "McAlpine's Fusiliers".
Luke Kelly was more of a balladeer than Drew, and he played chords on the five-string banjo. Kelly sang many defining versions of traditional songs like "The Black Velvet Band", "Whiskey in the Jar", "Home Boys Home"; but also Phil Coulter's "The Town I Loved So Well", Ewan MacColl's "Dirty Old Town" and "Raglan Road", written by the famous Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh. Kavanagh met Kelly in a pub, and asked him to sing the song.
In 1980, Luke Kelly was diagnosed with a brain tumour. Occasionally Kelly was too ill to sing though he was sometimes able to join the band for a few songs. While on tour in Germany he collapsed on stage. When Kelly was too ill to play, he was replaced with Sean Cannon. He continued to tour with the band until two months before his death. Kelly died on January 30, 1984. One of the last concerts in which he took part was recorded and released: Live in Carré, recorded in Amsterdam, Netherlands, released in 1983. In November 2004, the Dublin city council voted unanimously to erect a bronze statue of Luke Kelly. Kelly is buried in Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin.
Ciarán Bourke was a singer, but he also played the guitar, tin whistle and harmonica. He sang many songs in Irish ("Peggy Lettermore", "Preab san Ól"). In 1974 he collapsed on stage after suffering a brain hemorrhage. A second hemorrhage left him paralyzed on his left side. Bourke died in 1988. The band did not officially replace him until his death.
Barney McKenna is a renowned tenor banjo and mandolin player. In The Dubliners' stage shows he sings sea shanties and love songs to minimal instrumental accompaniment.John Sheahan and Bobby Lynch joined the band in 1964. They had been playing during the interval at concerts, and usually stayed on for the second half of the show.[citation needed] When Luke Kelly moved to England in 1964, Lynch was taken on as his temporary replacement. When Kelly returned in 1965, Lynch left the band and Sheahan stayed. According to Sheahan, he was never (and still has not been) ever officially asked to join the band. Sheahan is the only member to have had a musical education.

Share | Last updated on 7th Jul 2010

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