Horslips, the Irish Celtic rock band regarded as the “founding fathers of Celtic rock,” disbands on October 12, 1980. The name originates from a spoonerism on The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse which becomes “The Four Poxmen of The Horslypse.”
Barry Devlin, Eamon Carr and Charles O’Connor meet when they work at the Ark advertising company in Dublin. They are cajoled into pretending to be a band for a Harp Lager commercial but need a keyboard player. Devlin says he knows a Jim Lockhart who would fit the bill. The four enjoy the act so much that they decide to try being proper rock performers. They join guitarist Declan Sinnott, a colleague of Eamon Carr’s from Tara Telephone and, briefly, Gene Mulvaney to form Horslips (originally Horslypse) in 1970.
The band goes professional on St. Patrick’s Day 1972 having shed Mulvaney and released a single, “Johnny’s Wedding”, on their own record label, Oats. Declan Sinnott leaves soon after, primarily due to his annoyance at the group appearing in an advert for Mirinda orange drink. He is replaced by Gus Guest briefly, then Johnny Fean.
Following the release of six studio albums between 1972 and 1977, the ever ambitious band tries to make it in the United States. In 1977 they produce Aliens, about the experience of the Irish in nineteenth-century America, which includes very little folk music. The Man Who Built America (1978), produced by Steve Katz of Blood, Sweat & Tears and The Blues Project fame, concerns Irish emigration to the United States and is commercially their most successful album. The heavier sound does bring some acceptance in America but they lose their folk base and their freshness. Short Stories, Tall Tales (1979) is their last studio album and is panned by the record company and critics alike.
At a time when The Troubles are at its peak, Horslips plays gigs in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland without prejudice and are accepted everywhere. Their last recordings are from live performances at the Whitla Hall at Queen’s University Belfast in April and May 1980. A few months later, on October 12, 1980 they play their final gig in the Ulster Hall. They make no public announcement. They simply give an encore, The Rolling Stones‘ song “The Last Time,” and the final act is Charles O’Connor throwing his mangled fiddle into the audience. Ten years after they formed, they disband.
Although Horslips has limited commercial success when the band is playing in the 1970s, there is a revival of interest in their music in the late 1990s and they come to be regarded as one of the defining bands of the Celtic rock genre. There have since been small scale reunions including appearances on The Late Late Show and RTÉ‘s Other Voices. The band reforms for two Irish shows in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast and the 3Arena in Dublin at the end of 2009, and have continued to play shows since then.