seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of Bill Whelan, Musician & Composer of “Riverdance”

Bill Whelan, composer and musician, is born in Limerick, County Limerick, on May 22, 1950. He is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The result, Riverdance, is a seven-minute display of traditional Irish dancing that becomes a full-length stage production and spawns a worldwide craze for Irish dancing and Celtic music. It also wins him a Grammy. Riverdance is released as a single in the UK in 1994, credited to “Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.” It reaches number 9 and stays on the charts for 16 weeks. The album of the same title reaches number 31 in the album charts in 1995.

Whelan also composes a symphonic suite version of Riverdance, with its premiere performed by the Ulster Orchestra on BBC Radio 3 in August 2014.

Whelan is educated at Crescent College, University College Dublin and the King’s Inns. While he is best known for his Riverdance composition, he has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. As a producer he works with U2 on their War album, Van Morrison, Kate Bush, The Dubliners, Planxty, Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane, Patrick Street, Stockton’s Wing and fellow Limerickman Richard Harris.

As an arranger and composer, Whelan’s credits include:

  • The Spirit of Mayo, performed by an 85-piece orchestra in Dublin‘s National Concert Hall and featuring a powerful Celtic drum corps and a 200 strong choir and choral group Anúna.

In theatre, Whelan receives a Laurence Olivier Awards nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s H.M.S. Pinafore. He writes original music for fifteen of W. B. Yeats‘s plays for Dublin’s Abbey Theatre and his film credits include Dancing at Lughnasa (starring Meryl Streep), Some Mother’s Son, Lamb (starring Liam Neeson) and the award-winning At The Cinema Palace.


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Birth of Singer-Songwriter Van Morrison

Sir George Ivan Morrison, best known as Van Morrison, Northern Irish singer-songwriter, instrumentalist and producer, is born on August 31, 1945 in Bloomfield, Belfast, Northern Ireland. He is the only child of George Morrison, a shipyard electrician, and Violet Stitt Morrison, who had been a singer and tap dancer in her youth.

Known as “Van the Man,” Morrison starts his professional career when, as a teenager in the late 1950s, he plays a variety of instruments including guitar, harmonica, keyboards and saxophone for various Irish showbands, covering the popular hits of the time. He rises to prominence in the mid-1960s as the lead vocalist of the Northern Irish R&B band Them, with whom he records the garage band classic “Gloria.” His solo career begins under the pop-hit oriented guidance of Bert Berns with the release of the hit single “Brown Eyed Girl” in 1967. After Berns’ death, Warner Bros. Records buys out his contract and allows him three sessions to record Astral Weeks (1968). Though this album gradually garners high praise, it is initially a poor seller.

Moondance (1970) establishes Morrison as a major artist, and he builds on his reputation throughout the 1970s with a series of acclaimed albums and live performances. He continues to record and tour, producing albums and live performances that sell well and are generally warmly received, sometimes collaborating with other artists, such as Georgie Fame and The Chieftains.

Much of Morrison’s music is structured around the conventions of soul music and R&B, such as the popular singles “Brown Eyed Girl,” “Jackie Wilson Said (I’m in Heaven When You Smile),” “Domino” and “Wild Night.” An equal part of his catalogue consists of lengthy, loosely connected, spiritually-inspired musical journeys that show the influence of Celtic tradition, jazz and stream of consciousness narrative, such as the album Astral Weeks and the lesser-known Veedon Fleece and Common One. The two strains together are sometimes referred to as “Celtic soul.”

Van Morrison has received six Grammy Awards, the 1994 Brit Award for Outstanding Contribution to Music, and has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In 2016, he is knighted for his musical achievements and his services to tourism and charitable causes in Northern Ireland.

(Pictured: Van Morrison performing at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on January 26, 2015 | Image: Getty)


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Birth of Enya, Singer & Songwriter

Eithne Pádraigín Ní Bhraonáin, singer, songwriter, musician, and producer better known professionally as Enya, is born into a musical family in Dore, Gweedore, County Donegal on May 17, 1961.

Enya’s father, Leo Brennan, is the leader of the Slieve Foy Band, an Irish showband, and runs Leo’s Tavern in Meenaleck. Her mother, Máire Brennan (née Duggan), who has Spanish roots, is an amateur musician who plays in Leo’s band and teaches music at Gweedore Community School. Her maternal grandfather, Aodh, is the founder of the Gweedore Theatre company.

Enya begins her music career when she joins her family’s Celtic band Clannad in 1980 on keyboards and backing vocals. She leaves in 1982 with their manager and producer Nicky Ryan to pursue a solo career, with Ryan’s wife Roma Ryan as her lyricist. Enya develops her distinct sound over the following four years with multi-tracked vocals and keyboards with elements of new age, Celtic, classical, church, and folk music. She sings in ten languages.

Enya’s first projects as a solo artist include soundtrack work for The Frog Prince (1984) and the 1987 BBC documentary series The Celts, which is released as her debut album, Enya (1987). She signs with Warner Music UK which grants her considerable artistic freedom and minimal interference from the label. The commercial and critical success of Watermark (1988) propels her to worldwide fame, helped by its international top 10 hit single Orinoco Flow. This is followed by the multi-million selling albums Shepherd Moons (1991), The Memory of Trees (1995), and A Day Without Rain (2000). Sales of the latter and its lead single, Only Time, surge in the United States following its use in the media coverage of the September 11 attacks. Following Amarantine (2005) and And Winter Came… (2008), Enya takes an extended break from music. She returns in 2012 and releases Dark Sky Island (2015).

Enya is known for her private lifestyle and has yet to undergo a concert tour. She is Ireland’s biggest selling solo artist and second overall behind U2, with a discography that has sold 26.5 million certified albums in the United States and an estimated 80 million albums worldwide, making her one of the best-selling music artists of all time. A Day Without Rain (2000) remains the best selling new age album with an estimated 16 million copies sold worldwide.

Enya has won several awards throughout her career, including seven World Music Awards, four Grammy Awards for Best New Age Album, and an Ivor Novello Award. She is nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe Award for May It Be, a song she writes for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001).


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Birth of U2 Bassist Adam Clayton

adam-claytonAdam Charles Clayton, Irish musician best known as the bass guitarist of the rock band U2, is born in Chinnor, Oxfordshire, England, on March 13, 1960.

Clayton is the oldest child of Brian and Jo Clayton. His father is a pilot with the Royal Air Force, who moves into civil aviation, and his mother is a former airline flight attendant. When he is 4 years old his father works in Kenya as a pilot with East African Airways. Clayton regards this as the happiest period of his childhood. In 1965 the family moves to Malahide, County Dublin, where Clayton’s brother Sebastian is born. The Clayton family becomes friends with the Evans family, including their son, David, who later becomes a fellow U2 band-member with Clayton.

When he is eight years old Clayton is sent to the private junior boarding Castle Park School in Dalkey, Dublin, which he did not enjoy because he is not particularly sports orientated. At age 13 he enters the private St. Columba’s College secondary school in Rathfarnham, Dublin. Here he makes friends with other pupils who are enthusiastic about pop/rock music. It is here in the school band where Clayton plays the bass guitar for the first time.

Clayton later changes school to Mount Temple Comprehensive School in Dublin, where he meets future bandmates, Paul Hewson (aka “Bono“) and Larry Mullen Jr., and is reunited with his childhood friend David Evans (aka “The Edge”). In September 1976, Mullen puts an advert onto the school’s bulletin board seeking other musicians to form a band. The original band is a five-piece band known as “Feedback,” consisting of Bono, The Edge, Mullen, Dik Evans, and Clayton. The name is subsequently changed to “The Hype,” but changes to “U2” soon after Dik Evans leaves the band. Clayton stands in as the nearest thing that the band has to a manager in its early life, handing over the duties to Paul McGuinness in May 1978.

In 1981, around the time of U2’s second, spiritually charged October album, a rift is created in the band between Clayton and McGuinness, and the three other band members. Bono, The Edge, and Mullen have joined a Christian group, and are questioning the compatibility of rock music with their spirituality. However, Clayton, with his more ambiguous religious views, is less concerned, and so is more of an outsider, until Bono’s wedding to Alison Hewson (née Stewart), in which Clayton is the best man.

Clayton makes international headlines in August 1989 when he is arrested in Dublin for carrying a small amount of marijuana. He avoids conviction by making a large donation to charity. Clayton also has alcohol problems, which come to a head on November 26, 1993, when he is so hung over that he is unable to play that night’s show in Sydney, the dress rehearsal for their Zoo TV concert film. Bass duties are fulfilled by Clayton’s technician Stuart Morgan. After that incident, however, Clayton gives up alcohol.

In 1995, after the Zoo TV Tour and Zooropa album, Clayton heads to New York City with bandmate Mullen to receive formal training in the bass as until then Clayton has been entirely self-taught. Bono says of Clayton’s early bass playing, “Adam used to pretend he could play bass. He came round and started using words like ‘action’ and ‘fret’ and he had us baffled. He had the only amplifier, so we never argued with him. We thought this guy must be a musician; he knows what he’s talking about. And then one day, we discovered he wasn’t playing the right notes. That’s what’s wrong, y’know?”

In 2011 Clayton becomes an ambassador for the Dublin-based St. Patrick’s Hospital‘s Mental Health Service “Walk in My Shoes” facility.

Clayton and U2 have won numerous awards in their career, including 22 Grammy Awards, including seven times for Best Rock Duo or Group, and twice each for Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Rock Album.