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 Seville Suite, which is inspired by the exploits of Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill from the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 until his arrival in Galicia to the welcome of The Spanish Earl of Caraçena. In addition to the orchestra, The Seville Suite includes Celtic music on uilleann pipes, accordion, bodhrán, fiddle as well as Galician harp, whistles and pipes.
- 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.
- Whelan’s Celtic/Orchestral release, The Connemara Suite, features the Irish Chamber Orchestra along with soloists Zoë Conway, Morgan Crowley, Colin Dunne (Dance Percussion) and Fionnuala Hunt.
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.