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


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Birth of Dolores Keane, Folk Singer & Actress

dolores-keaneDolores Keane, folk singer and occasional actress, is born on September 26, 1953 in the small village of Sylane, near Tuam, in rural County Galway. She is a founding member of the successful group De Dannan, and has since embarked on a very successful solo career, establishing herself as one of the most loved interpreters of Irish song.

Keane is raised from the age of four by her aunts Rita and Sarah Keane, who are also well-known sean-nós singers. She starts her singing at a very young age, due to the influence of her musical aunts. She makes her first recording for Radio Éireann in 1958 at the age of five. This early start sets her on the path to a career in music. Her brother, Seán, also goes on to enjoy a successful music career.

In 1975, Keane co-founds the traditional Irish band De Dannan, and they release their debut album Dé Danann in that same year. The group gains international recognition and enjoys major success in the late 1970s in the United States. She tours with the band and their single “The Rambling Irishman” is a big hit in Ireland. In early 1976, after a short two-year spell, she leaves De Dannan and is replaced by Andy Irvine, who records live with the band on April 30, 1976, during the 3rd Irish Folk Festival in Germany. Soon thereafter, she marries multi-instrumentalist John Faulkner, with whom she subsequently records three albums of folk music.

Keane lives and works in London for several years with Faulkner before they move to Ireland in the early 1980s. They work on a series of film scores and programmes for the BBC and form two successful bands, The Reel Union and Kinvara. During this period she records her first solo album, There Was a Maid in 1978. This is followed by two other releases, Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (1979) and Farewell to Eirinn (1980), which gives credit to Faulkner. In the mid-1980s she rejoins De Dannan and records the albums Anthem and Ballroom with them.

Keane turns her attention, once again, to her solo career in 1988. It sees the release of the eponymous Dolores Keane album. Her follow-up album, A Lion in a Cage (1989), features a song written by Faulkner called “Lion in a Cage” protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. It serves as Keane’s second Irish number one and she performs the hit at the celebration of his release. This exposure expands her reputation and popularity worldwide. A new facet is added to her career when she plays the female lead in the Dublin production of Brendan Behan‘s The Hostage. The opening night is attended by Mary Robinson, the President of Ireland at the time.

In 1992, Keane is among the many female Irish singers to lend their music to the record-smashing anthology A Woman’s Heart. The album goes on to become the biggest-selling album in Irish history. A Woman’s Heart Vol.2 is released in late 1994 and emulates its predecessor in album charts the world over. Also in 1994, a solo album, Solid Ground, is released on the Shanachie Records label and receives critical acclaim in Europe and America.

In August 1995, Keane is awarded the prestigious Fiddler’s Green Hall of Fame award in Rostrevor, County Down, for her “significant contribution to the cause of Irish music and culture.” In that same year, she takes to the stage in the Dublin production of John Millington Synge‘s The Playboy of the Western World. She contributes to the RTÉ/BBC television production “Bringing It All Back Home,” a series of programmes illustrating the movement of Irish music to America.

In August 1997, Keane goes to number one again in the Irish album charts with a compilation album with her most loved songs. And another studio album, Night Owl, is released in 1998. It sees her returning to her traditional Irish roots and it does well in Europe and America. Despite a healthy solo career, she goes on tour with De Dannan again in the late 1990s, where she plays to packed audiences in venues such as Birmingham, Alabama and New York City.

Keane puts an end to recording and touring in the late 1990s, due to depression and alcoholism, for which she receives extensive treatment. As of June 2014, she is given the all clear after suffering from cancer.

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Birth of Tom McBride, Ireland’s King of Country Music

tom-mcbrideTom McBride, Irish country, traditional, easy listening singer, guitarist, and saxophone player best known as Big Tom, is born in Castleblayney, County Monaghan on September 18, 1936. He is affectionally known as “Ireland’s king of country music.”

With a career spanning over five decades, McBride starts his career in 1966 as the frontman of the Irish showband Big Tom and The Mainliners. In 1980, suffering from a fear of flying, he undertakes a sea voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to record his Blue Wings album in Nashville, Tennessee.

In 2000, McBride undergoes a vocal cord nodule operation on his throat. On July 8, 2005, a plaque is erected by the local community in his home village of Castleblayney. In November 2006, he suffered a sudden heart attack at the age of 70, which puts doubt into whether he will ever tour again with his band.

On February 1, 2008, McBride begins a 12-date tour of Ireland after doctors give him the all clear. On March 24, he performs at Castlebar‘s TF Ballroom’s final farewell night but reportedly takes ill on stage during the performance.

On 25 May, McBride performs for the closure night of the Galtymore dance hall in Cricklewood, London. He is the headline act at London’s Irish Festival on July 27 and headlines the Claremorris Dance Festival weekend on November 23.

In July 2009, K-MAC Records announces more dates in Ireland for Big Tom and the Mainliners which commences in August. From August 14 to September 13, McBride runs a successful tour of Ireland with large attendances to venues. The highlight is the Glencarn Hotel in his hometown Castleblayney where the concert is packed to capacity. The tour ends in Ennis with fans travelling many miles to see McBride and the band. Two days after the end of the tour the band’s trombone player and vocalist Cyril McKevitt dies of a heart attack.

In 2010, McBride announces an extensive series of tour dates. From 2011 until his death in Drogheda, County Louth on April 17, 2018, McBride and his band continue to perform with sporadic appearances.

In June 2016, McBride becomes the inaugural artist to be inducted into the Irish Country Music Hall of Fame.


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Birth of Maura O’Connell, Singer & Actress

maura-oconnellMaura O’Connell, singer and actress known for her contemporary interpretations of Irish traditional music, strongly influenced by American country music, is born on September 16, 1958 in Ennis, County Clare.

Born into a musical family, O’Connell is the third of four sisters. Her mother’s family owns Costello’s fish shop in Ennis where O’Connell works until music becomes her full-time career. She grows up listening to her mother’s light opera, opera, and parlour music records. Her father’s interest leans towards the rebel ballads. Despite the presence of classical music in the house, O’Connell gets very involved in the local folk club scene and together with Mike Hanrahan, who later fronts folk rock outfit Stockton’s Wing, they perform a country music set, as a duo called “Tumbleweed.”

O’Connell attends St. Joseph’s Secondary School in Spanish Point from 1971 to 1974, where she takes part in the school choir. She is also a member of the “Cúl Aodha Choir”, led by Peader Ó Riada, that sings at the funeral of Willie Clancy in 1973.

O’Connell begins her professional musical journey during a six-week tour of the United States in 1980, as vocalist for the traditionally-based Celtic group De Dannan. The following year, she is featured on the band’s landmark album, The Star Spangled Molly, which becomes something of a national phenomenon in her homeland. However, not long after joining the group she becomes very interested in the experimental roots music of America’s New Grass Revival when the bands’ paths cross. She moves to the United States in 1986, settling in Nashville, Tennessee. There she meets progressive bluegrass pioneers Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, with whom she works on most of her records.

O’Connell records her first solo album in 1983, however, it does not make any impact in Ireland or in the United States. She receives a Grammy Award nomination for her 1989 album, Helpless Heart, which is her first record released under Warner Bros. Records. Real Life Story (1990) and Blue is the Colour of Hope (1992) register a move toward a pop synthesis. Her versions of “Living in These Troubled Times” and Cheryl Wheeler‘s “Summerfly” become standout tracks on the 1993 album A Woman’s Heart, on four all-female overseas tours and on the 1994 follow-up album in her homeland. A Woman’s Heart Vol. 2 features her heartfelt renditions of Nanci Griffith‘s “Trouble in the Fields” and Gerry O’Beirne’s “Western Highway.” After numerous albums heavily inspired by American newgrass music, she returns to her Irish roots with the 1997 release Wandering Home.

As the new millennium approaches, O’Connell signs with Sugar Hill Records in late 2000 and begins working on her seventh album. Instead of working with her longtime producer Jerry Douglas, she has Ray Kennedy produce Walls and Windows, which is released in 2001, and features an eclectic collection of songs, including work by Kim Richey, Van Morrison, John Prine, Eric Clapton and Patty Griffin. Her 2004 album, Don’t I Know, contains musical textures added by everything from fiddles, to clavinets, to lap steel guitar and B-3 organ.

Naked With Friends (2009) is O’Connell’s first a cappella album. Guest vocalists include Mary Black, Paul Brady, Moya Brennan, Jerry Douglas, Alison Krauss, Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh, Tim O’Brien, Dolly Parton, Sarah Dugas, Kate Rusby and Darrell Scott. The album is nominated for a Grammy Award.

In addition to her solo work, O’Connell has collaborated with a number of Celtic, folk, pop and country artists, including Van Morrison, Brian Kennedy, Moya Brennan, Mary Black, John Prine, Jerry Douglas, Tim O’Brien, John Gorka, Béla Fleck, Robert Earl Keen, Dolly Parton and Shawn Colvin. She has also sung background vocals for a number of artists, including Van Morrison’s 1988 project with The Chieftains, Irish Heartbeat and Stockton’s Wing on Take A Chance.

Aside from the music world, Martin Scorsese casts O’Connell, scruffed up for the role, as an Irish migrant street singer in his 19th-century epic Gangs of New York, released in 2002.

O’Connell announces the end of her solo career in 2013.


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Birth of Francis O,Neill, Music Collector & Police Officer

francis-oneillFrancis O’Neill, Irish-born American police officer and collector of Irish traditional music, is born in Tralibane, near Bantry, County Cork on August 28, 1848. His biographer Nicholas Carolan refers to him as “the greatest individual influence on the evolution of Irish traditional dance music in the twentieth century.”

At an early age O’Neill hears the music of local musicians, among them Peter Hagarty, Cormac Murphy and Timothy Dowling. At the age of 16, he becomes a cabin boy on an English merchant vessel. On a voyage to New York, he meets Anna Rogers, a young emigrant whom he later marries in Bloomington, Illinois. The O’Neills move to Chicago, and in 1873 he becomes a policeman with the Chicago Police Department. He rises through the ranks quickly, eventually serving as the Chief of Police from 1901 to 1905. He has the rare distinction, in a time when political “pull” counts for more than competence, of being re-appointed twice to the position by two different mayors.

O’Neill is a flautist, fiddler and piper and is part of the vibrant Irish community in Chicago at the time. During his time as chief, he recruits many traditional Irish musicians into the police force, including Patrick O’Mahony, James O’Neill, Bernard Delaney, John McFadden and James Early. He also collects tunes from some of the major performers of the time including Patsy Touhey, who regularly sends him wax cylinders and visits him in Chicago. He also collects tunes from a wide variety of printed sources.

O’Neill retires from the police force in 1905. After that, he devotes much of his energy to publishing the music he has collected. He dies in Chicago, at the age of 87, on January 28, 1936.

In 2000, a life-size monument of Francis O’Neill playing a flute is unveiled next to the O’Neill family homestead in Tralibane, County Cork. The monument, and a commemorative wall are erected through the efforts of the Captain Francis O’Neill Memorial Company.

In 2008, Northwestern University Press issues Captain O’Neill’s Sketchy Recollections of an Eventful Life in Chicago, a non-musical memoir edited by Ellen Skerrett and Mary Lesch, O’Neill’s great-granddaughter, with a foreword by Nicholas Carolan of the Irish Traditional Music Archive. Carolan himself writes a musical biography of O’Neill, A Harvest Saved: Francis O’Neill and Irish Music in Chicago, which is published in Ireland by Ossian in 1997.

In August 2013, the inaugural Chief O’Neill Traditional Music Festival takes place in Bantry, County Cork, just a few miles from Tralibane. The 2013 event marks the centenary of the publication of O’Neill’s Irish Minstrels and Musicians. The event has taken place annually since.


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Birth of Singer Larry Cunningham

larry-cunninghamLarry Cunningham, Irish country music singer, who is one of the leading figures of the Irish showband scene in the 1960s and 1970s, is born in Clooneen, Mullinalaghta, County Longford on February 13, 1938. He is regarded as a “trailblazer” and “legend” in the music industry.

Cunningham grows up in the townland of Clooneen in a farming family of seven children. After leaving school at the age of 16 he goes to England and works as a carpenter, playing Irish traditional music and gaelic football during his spare time. In 1958 he returns to Ireland. Still working as a carpenter, he soon joins the part-time Gowna-based Grafton Showband, but leaves it in 1961 to become fully professional as the lead singer of the Mighty Avons, based in Cavan. That band initially specialises in covers of Jim Reeves songs and similar country material.

The band’s first taste of fame comes when they are supporting Jim Reeves during the Irish leg of his European tour in 1963. When Reeves walks off the stage during a concert in Lifford in protest at the poor condition of the supplied piano, the Avons, as they later become popularly called, takes over and entertains the crowd, to much subsequent publicity and acclaim.

In December 1964, Cunningham and the Mighty Avons have a Top-10 hit with the song Tribute to Jim Reeves, which also enters the British charts and is played on Top of the Pops, both firsts for an Irish artist, which further boosted their career. Their major hit is Lovely Leitrim in September 1965, which stays at number one in the charts for four weeks. As well as regularly touring Ireland to large crowds, the Avons make many appearances on television, and often played in Britain, the United States, and other places.

In late 1969, Cunningham leaves the Mighty Avons and merges with Edenderry band The Fairways to form Larry Cunningham and the Country Blue Boys, leaving Gene Stuart to front the Avons. He continues having success with his new band, but after his marriage to Beatrice Nannery in February 1972 he gives up regular touring in favour of occasional concerts and recording. He continues to have top-10 hits until the mid-1970s, and still performs occasionally for the remainder of his life. In recent years, audio and video compilations of his music have been released, as well as a biography.

Larry Cunningham dies in Dublin on September 28, 2012, following a lengthy illness. Among those to pay tribute are U.S. country singer Robert Mizzell who says, “I am so saddened to hear of the passing of country legend Larry. I admired his talent and quick humour. My thoughts are with his family, friends, and the fans who loved the big deep voice that rattled the radio waves.”


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Birth of John Sheahan, Musician & Composer

John Sheahan, musician and composer and the last surviving member of the definitive five-member line-up of The Dubliners, is born in Dublin on May 19, 1939. He joins The Dubliners in 1964 and plays with them until 2012 when The Dubliners’ name is retired following the death of founding member Barney McKenna.

Sheahan goes to school at the local Christian Brothers in Marino, Dublin, where he receives his first musical education, learning the tin whistle. When he is about twelve years old he begins to take an active interest in music and soon he transfers the musical knowledge gained on the whistle to a fiddle he finds lying around at home. Enthusiastically supported and encouraged by his parents, he attends the Municipal School of Music in Dublin where he studies classical violin for more than five years.

During this time he continues to maintain his interest in Irish traditional music, which sometimes leads him to improvise on the classics by putting in a few embellishments. His improvisions ultimately lead to the development of his unique style, gaining him a number of awards at various féiseanna. His interest in American bluegrass fiddle music must also have influenced his style, as can be heard in tunes like Flop Eared Mule, recorded with The Dubliners in 1968, 1969 and 1983.

Sheahan plays with a number of bands around the country until he meets The Dubliners in the early 1960s. At that time, the group is formed by Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna, Ciarán Bourke and Luke Kelly. He joins the band in 1964, together with Bobby Lynch. Both musicians have been playing during the interval at concerts and usually stay on stage for the second half of the show. When Luke Kelly moves to England in 1964, Lynch is taken on as his temporary replacement. When Kelly returns in 1965, Lynch leaves the band and Sheahan stays. He is the only member of the Dubliners to have had a formal musical education.

After 50 years of playing and after the death of founding member Barney McKenna, in the fall of 2012 Sheahan announces the retirement of The Dubliners by the end of the 50th anniversary tour. The last formation of the band features Sheahan, Seán Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and Gerry O’Connor. He is a steady member of the band for 48 years and the high standards of his playing strongly contribute to forge the Dubliners’ sound.


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Birth of Patrick Michael Clancy

patrick-michael-clancyPatrick Michael Clancy, Irish folk singer best known as a member of The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, is born on March 7, 1922, at Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary. In addition to singing and storytelling, Clancy plays the harmonica with the group, which is widely credited with popularizing Irish traditional music in the United States and revitalizing it in Ireland. He also starts and runs the folk music label Tradition Records, which records many of the key figures of the American folk music revival.

Clancy is one of eleven children and the eldest of four boys born to Johanna McGrath and Bob Clancy. During World War II he serves as a flight engineer in the Royal Air Force in India. After his demobilization, Clancy works as a baker in London. In 1947 he emigrates to Toronto, Canada with his brother Tom Clancy. The following year, the two brothers move to Cleveland, Ohio to stay with relatives. Later, they attempt to move to California, but their car breaks down and they relocate to the New York City area instead.

After moving to Greenwich Village in 1951, both Patrick and Tom devote themselves primarily to careers in the theater. In addition to appearing in various Off-Broadway productions and television shows, they produce and star in plays at the Cherry Lane Theatre in Greenwich Village and at a playhouse in Martha’s Vineyard. After losing money on some unsuccessful plays, the brothers begin singing concerts of folk songs after their evening acting jobs are over. They soon dub these concerts “Midnight Specials” and the “Swapping Song Fair.” Patrick and Tom are often joined by other prominent folk singers of the day, including Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Jean Ritchie.

In 1956 their younger brother, Liam Clancy, immigrates to New York, where he teams up with Tommy Makem, whom he had met while collecting folk songs in Ireland. The two begin singing together at Gerde’s Folk City, a club in Greenwich Village. Patrick and Tom sing with them on occasion, usually in informal folk “sing-songs” in the Village. Around the same time, Patrick founds Tradition Records with folk-song collector and heiress Diane Hamilton, and in 1956 the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem release their first album, The Rising of the Moon, with only Patrick’s harmonica as musical accompaniment. However, the Clancys and Makem do not become a permanent singing group until 1959.

In the late 1950s, Clancy with his brothers and Makem begin to take singing more seriously as a permanent career, and soon they record their second album, Come Fill Your Glass with Us. This album proves to be more successful than their debut album, and they begin receiving job offers as singers at important nightclubs, including the Gate of Horn in Chicago and the Blue Angel in New York City. The group garners nationwide fame in the United States after an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which leads to a contract with Columbia Records in 1961. Over the course of the 1960s, the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem record approximately two albums a year for Columbia. By 1964, Billboard magazine reports that the group was outselling Elvis Presley in Ireland.

The group performs together on stage, recordings, and television to great acclaim in the United States, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia until Tommy Makem leaves to pursue a solo career in 1969. They continue performing first with Bobby Clancy and then with Louis Killen until Liam leaves in 1976 also to pursue a solo career. In 1977 after a short hiatus, the group reforms with Patrick, Tom, and Bobby Clancy and their nephew Robbie O’Connell. Liam returns in 1990 after the death of Tom Clancy.

In 1968, after two decades in North America, Clancy returns to live in Carrick-on-Suir, where he purchases a dairy farm and breeds exotic cattle. When not on tour or working on his farm, he spends much of his time fishing, reading, and doing crossword puzzles. In the late 1990s, he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. The tumor is successfully removed, but he is also stricken with terminal lung cancer around the same time. He continues performing until his failing health prevents him from doing so any longer.

Patrick Clancy dies at home of lung cancer on November 11, 1998 at the age of 76. He is buried, wearing his trademark white cap, in the tiny village of Faugheen, near Carrick-on-Suir.