seamus dubhghaill

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

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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.

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Birth of Seán Ó Riada, Composer of Irish Traditional Music

seán-o-riadaSeán Ó Riada, Irish composer and arranger of Irish traditional music, is born John Reidy in Cork City on August 1, 1931. Through his incorporation of modern and traditional techniques he becomes the single most influential figure in the revival of Irish traditional music during the 1960s.

Ó Riada receives his primary education at St. Finbarr’s College, Farranferris. He moves to St. Munchin’s College in Limerick where he completes his Leaving Certificate in 1948. He plays violin, piano, and organ, and studies Greek and Latin classics at University College Cork, with Aloys Fleischmann and graduates in 1952. While at College, Ó Riada is the auditor of the UCC Philosophical Society.

Ó Riada’s career begins in 1954 as a music director at Radio Éireann, after which he works at the Abbey Theatre from 1955 to 1962. He lectures in music at University College Cork from 1963 until his death in 1971. He leaves a lasting influence as founder and director of the ensemble Ceoltóirí Chualann beginning in 1961. Ó Riada becomes a household name in Ireland through his participation in Ceoltóirí Chualann, compositions, writings, and broadcasts. His best-known pieces in the classical tradition include Nomos No. 1: Hercules Dux Ferrariae (1957), but he becomes particularly famous for his film scores Mise Éire (1959) and Saoirse? (1960).

In 1963 Ó Riada is appointed lecturer in music at University College Cork. He moves to Cúil Aodha in West Cork, an Irish-speaking area, where he establishes Cór Chúil Aodha, a male voice choir.

He becomes involved in Irish politics and is a friend of several influential leaders. Ó Riada drinks regularly at a local pub which still advertises itself as being his local. He develops cirrhosis of the liver. He is flown to King’s College Hospital in London for treatment and dies there on October 3, 1971, two months after his 40th birthday. He is buried in St. Gobnait‘s graveyard, Baile Bhuirne, County Cork. Willie Clancy played at his funeral.

Two schools are named “Scoil Uí Riada” after him – a Gaelscoil in Kilcock, County Kildare, and another in Bishopstown, Cork City. In 2008, a life-sized statue is erected in the grounds of Sépéil Naomh Gobnait, Cúil Aodha.