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


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Birth of Phil Coulter, Songwriter & Producer

phil-coulter

Phil Coulter, musician, songwriter and record producer, is born in Derry, County Londonderry, Northern Ireland on February 19, 1942. He is one of the most eclectic and accomplished arranger/musicians to emerge from Ireland during the 1960s.

Coulter spends his secondary school years at St. Columb’s College. He later studies music and French at the Queen’s University Belfast. During his time at Queen’s he takes up songwriting, composing the hit Foolin’ Time for the Capitol Showband. His talents are swiftly captured by leading entrepreneur Phil Solomon. Initially working with such showbands as the Cadets and Pacific, he continues to compose for the Capitol Showband and even pens their 1965 Eurovision Song Contest entry, Walking the Streets in the Rain. In the meantime, Coulter works on Solomon’s other acts, including Twinkle, who enjoys a major UK hit with the Coulter-arranged Terry. He also contributes to Them’s song catalogue, with the driving I Can Only Give You Everything.

After leaving the Solomon stable in 1967, Coulter, now based in London, forms a partnership with Bill Martin, which becomes one of the most successful of its era. The duo is particularly known for their ability to produce instantly memorable pop hits, and achieve international fame after penning Sandie Shaw’s 1967 Eurovision Song Contest winner, Puppet on a String. They barely miss repeating that feat the following year with Cliff Richard’s stomping Congratulations.

Coulter subsequently leads his own country to victory in the contest by arranging Dana’s 1970 winner, All Kinds of Everything. That same year, Coulter/Martin are commissioned to write Back Home, the official song for the England national football team, which proves a lengthy UK number 1. As well as his pop outings, which include writing My Boy and an album’s worth of material for Richard Harris, he maintains his connection with the Irish folk scene, via his work with another of Solomon’s acts, The Dubliners. He also produces three albums for the groundbreaking Planxty and works with The Fureys.

During the mid-1970s, Coulter and Martin are called in to assist the Bay City Rollers, and subsequently compose a string of hits for the Scottish teenyboppers, including Remember (Sha-La-La), Shang-a-Lang, Summerlove Sensation, Saturday Night, and All Of Me Loves All Of You. During the same period, they enjoy three Top 10 hits with Kenny and reach the top again in 1976 with Slik’s Forever and Ever. He also produces several records by comedian Billy Connolly, including 1975’s UK number 1 D.I.V.O.R.C.E..

After his partnership with Martin ends in the late 1970s, Coulter specializes in orchestral recordings, which prove hugely successful in Irish communities. Albums such as Classic Tranquillity and Sea Of Tranquillity (both 1984), Words And Music (1989), American Tranquillity (1994), Celtic Horizons (1996), and collaborations with flautist James Galway and Roma Downey, also enjoy major international success, and Coulter is a regular fixture in the upper regions of the U.S. New Age album chart.

Coulter’s production credits during the 1990s include work for Sinéad O’Connor and Boyzone. His lengthy career, as producer, arranger, songwriter and performer, is all the more remarkable for encompassing such contrasting musical areas from folk and orchestral to straightforward Tin Pan Alley pop.

Despite his successes, Coulter suffers several family tragedies. His son is born with Down syndrome and dies at the age of three. The song Scorn Not His Simplicity is written in his memory. His brother also dies tragically in a drowning incident in Ireland, which briefly causes him to retreat from the music business. He records the anthemic Home From The Sea with the Lifeboat Chorus as a tribute.

Coulter has received honorary doctorates from the University of Ulster (1988), Dublin Institute of Technology (2006), and The Open University (2018).

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Thin Lizzy’s “Whiskey in the Jar” Charts in UK

whiskey-in-the-jarWhiskey in the Jar” by Thin Lizzy enters the UK charts on January 20, 1973.

“Whiskey in the Jar” is the tale of a highwayman or footpad who, after robbing a military or government official, is betrayed by a woman. Whether she is his wife or sweetheart is not made clear. Various versions of the song take place in County Kerry, Kilmoganny, Cork, Sligo, and other locales throughout Ireland. It is also sometimes placed in the American South, in various places among the Ozarks or Appalachians, possibly due to Irish settlement in these places. Names in the song change, and the official can be a Captain or a Colonel, called Farrell or Pepper among other names. The protagonist’s wife or lover is sometimes called Molly, Jenny, Emzy, or Ginny among various other names. The details of the betrayal are also different, being either betraying him to the person he robbed and replacing his ammunition with sand or water, or not, resulting in his killing the person.

The song’s exact origins are unknown. The song first gains wide exposure when the Irish folk band The Dubliners perform it internationally as a signature song, and record it on three albums in the 1960s. In the United States, the song is popularized by The Highwaymen, who record it on their 1962 album Encore. Building on their success, the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy hits the Irish and British pop charts with the song in 1973. In 1990 The Dubliners re-record the song with The Pogues with a faster rocky version charting at No.4 in Ireland and No.63 in the UK. The American metal band Metallica brings it to a wider rock audience in 1998 by playing a version very similar to that of Thin Lizzy’s, though with a heavier sound, winning a Grammy Award for the song in 2000 for Best Hard Rock Performance.

Thin Lizzy’s 1972 single stays at the top of the Irish charts for 17 weeks, and the British release stays in the top 30 for 12 weeks, peaking at No. 6, in 1973. This version has since been covered by U2, Pulp (first released on a 1996 various artist compilation album Childline and later on deluxe edition of Different Class in 2006), Smokie, Metallica (Garage Inc. 1998, which wins a Grammy), Belle and Sebastian (The Blues Are Still Blue EP 2006), Gary Moore (2006), Nicky Moore (Top Musicians Play Thin Lizzy 2008), Simple Minds (Searching for the Lost Boys 2009), and Israeli musician Izhar Ashdot. The song is also on the Grateful Dead live compilation So Many Roads (1965-1995) disc five.


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Birth of Luke Kelly, Founding Member of The Dubliners

luke-kellyLuke Kelly, singer, folk musician and actor, is born into a working-class family in Lattimore Cottages at 1 Sheriff Street, Dublin on November 17, 1940. He is noted as a founding member of the band The Dubliners.

After Dublin Corporation demolished Lattimore Cottages in 1942, the Kellys become the first family to move into the St. Laurence O’Toole flats, where Luke spends the bulk of his childhood, although the family is forced to move by a fire in 1953 and settles in the Whitehall area.

Kelly is interested in music during his teenage years and regularly attends cèilidh with his sister Mona and listens to American vocalists including Fats Domino, Al Jolson, Frank Sinatra and Perry Como. He also has an interest in theatre and musicals, being involved with the staging of plays by Dublin’s Marian Arts Society. The first folk club he comes across is in the Bridge Hotel, Newcastle upon Tyne in early 1960. Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he starts memorising songs.

Kelly befriends Sean Mulready in Birmingham and lives in his home for a period. Mulready is a teacher who is forced from his job in Dublin because of his communist beliefs. Mulready’s brother-in-law, Ned Stapleton, teaches Kelly “Rocky Road to Dublin.” During this period he studies literature and politics under the tutelage of Mulready, his wife Mollie, and Marxist classicist George Derwent Thomson.

In 1961 there is a folk music revival or “ballad boom,” as it is later termed, in waiting in Ireland. Kelly returns to Dublin in 1962. A concert John Molloy organises in the Hibernian Hotel leads to his “Ballad Tour of Ireland” with the Ronnie Drew Ballad Group. This tour leads to the Abbey Tavern and the Royal Marine Hotel and then to jam-packed sessions in the Embankment, Tallaght. Ciarán Bourke joins the group, followed later by John Sheahan. They rename themselves The Dubliners at Kelly’s suggestion, as he is reading James Joyce‘s book of short stories, entitled Dubliners, at the time. Kelly is the leading vocalist for the group’s eponymous debut album in 1964, which includes his rendition of “Rocky Road to Dublin.”

In 1964 Kelly leaves the group for nearly two years and is replaced by Bob Lynch and John Sheahan. Kelly goes with Deirdre O’Connell, founder of the Focus Theatre, to whom he marries the following year, back to London and becomes involved in Ewan MacColl‘s “gathering.”

When Bob Lynch leaves The Dubliners, John Sheahan and Kelly rejoin. The ballad boom in Ireland is becoming increasingly commercialised with bar and pub owners building ever larger venues for pay-in performances. Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger on a visit to Dublin express concern to Kelly about his drinking.

The arrival of a new manager for The Dubliners, Derry composer Phil Coulter, results in a collaboration that produces three of Kelly’s most notable performances: “The Town I Loved So Well”, “Hand Me Down My Bible“, and “Scorn Not His Simplicity”, a song about Phil’s son who had Down Syndrome. Kelly remains a politically engaged musician, becoming a supporter of the movement against South African apartheid and performing at benefit concerts for the Irish Travellers community.

Kelly’s health deteriorates in the 1970s. During a concert in the Cork Opera House on June 30, 1980 he collapses on the stage. He had already suffered for some time from migraines and forgetfulness which had been ascribed to his intense schedule, alcohol consumption, and “party lifestyle.” A brain tumor is diagnosed. Although he tours with the Dubliners after enduring an operation, his health deteriorates further. He forgets lyrics, has to take longer breaks in concerts due to weakness and becomes more withdrawn. In the autumn of 1983 he has to leave the stage in Traun, Austria and again in Mannheim, Germany. Shortly after this, he has to cancel the tour of southern Germany and, after a short stay in hospital in Heidelberg, he is flown back to Dublin.

After another operation Kelly spends Christmas with his family but is taken to hospital again in the New Year, where he dies on January 30, 1984. His funeral in Whitehall attracts thousands of mourners from across Ireland. His gravestone in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, bears the inscription: Luke Kelly – Dubliner.


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Death of Ronnie Drew, Folk Musician & Singer

ronnie-drew-1Joseph Ronald “Ronnie” Drew, singer, folk musician and actor who achieves international fame during a fifty-year career recording with The Dubliners, dies on August 16, 2008 in Dublin, County Dublin.

Drew is most recognised for his lead vocals on the singles “Seven Drunken Nights” and “The Irish Rover,” both charting in the UK top 10 and then performed on Top of the Pops. He is recognisable for his long beard and his voice, which was once described by Nathan Joseph as being “like the sound of coke being crushed under a door.”

Drew is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin on September 16, 1934 and is educated at CBS Eblana. Despite his aversion to education, he is considered the most intelligent in his class by schoolfriend and future Irish film censor, Sheamus Smith. Drew also sings as a boy soprano before his voice breaks.

In the 1950s, Drew moves to Spain to teach English and learn Spanish and flamenco guitar. His interest in folk music begins at the age of nineteen. When he returns to Ireland, he performs in the Gate Theatre with John Molloy and soon goes into the music business full-time, after holding a number of short-term jobs.

In 1962, he founds the Ronnie Drew Group with Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke. They soon change their name to The Dubliners, with John Sheahan joining shortly afterwards to form the definitive line-up, and quickly become one of the best known Irish folk groups. They play at first in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, Dublin where they are often accompanied by Mary Jordan on the spoons and vocalist Ann Mulqueen, a friend of McKenna’s. Mary Jordan’s mother, Peggy Jordan, introduces them to the Abbey Tavern in Howth, which becomes a regular Monday night venue for the emerging group. They also play across the road in the Royal Hotel, at all-night parties in Peggy’s large house in Kenilworth Square in Rathgar, and in John Molloy’s flat at Ely Place.

Drew leaves the Dubliners in 1974, goes to Norway in 1978 and records two songs with the Norwegian group Bergeners. He rejoins The Dubliners in 1979 and leaves for good in 1995, though he does reunite with the group in 2002 for a 40th anniversary celebration. He makes several television appearances with the group between 2002 and 2005.

From 1995 onwards, Drew pursues a solo career. He records with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi, Dropkick Murphys, Eleanor Shanley and others. He does a number of “one-man shows” consisting of stories about people such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Seán O’Casey, as well as Drew singing their songs.

He fronts a campaign to encourage the use of Dublin’s light-rail infrastructure (the DART) and, before that, the “My Dublin” ads for radio stations 98FM and FM104. He narrates a retelling of the great Irish Myths and Legends over a six CD set in 2006. He also narrates the stories of Oscar Wilde in his distinctive voice for a series released on CD by the News of the World newspaper. Both were re-released as CD box sets in 2010.

On August 22, 2006, Drew is honoured in a ceremony where his hand prints are added to the “Walk of Fame” outside Dublin‘s Gaiety Theatre.

In September 2006, Drew is reported to be in ill-health after being admitted to St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, to undergo tests for suspected throat cancer. On October 25, 2007, Drew, now bald and beardless, appears on Ryan Confidential on RTÉ One to give an interview about his role in The Dubliners, his life since leaving the band and being diagnosed with throat cancer. Later in 2007, he appears on The Late Late Show, where he speaks about the death of his wife and his ongoing treatment for cancer.

Ronnie Drew dies in St. Vincent’s University Hospital, Dublin, on August 16, 2008, following his long illness. He is buried three days later in Redford Cemetery in Greystones.


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Bill Whelan Receives IMRO Lifetime Achievement Award

bill-whelanTaoiseach Bertie Ahern presents Irish composer and musician Bill Whelan with the IMRO Lifetime Achievement Award at Dublin Castle on March 2, 2001. Such big names as The Corrs, Brian Kennedy, Jean Butler, Jim Sheridan, Paul McGuinness and Moya Doherty join him to celebrate the award.

Whelan 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 and also wins him a Grammy Award. It is released as a single in the United Kingdom in 1994, credited to “Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra.” It reaches number 9 and stays in the charts for 16 weeks. The album of the same title reaches number 31 in the album charts in 1995. He 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 a native of Limerick and 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 has worked 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.

In theatre, Whelan receives a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan‘s H.M.S. Pinafore. He writes original music for fifteen of William Butler 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 Ronnie Drew, Singer & Folk Musician

Joseph Ronald “Ronnie” Drew, singer, folk musician and actor who achieves international fame during a fifty-year career recording with The Dubliners, is born in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, on September 16, 1934. He is most recognised for his lead vocals on the single “Seven Drunken Nights” and “The Irish Rover” both charting in the U.K. top 10. He is recognisable for his long beard and his voice, which is once described by Nathan Joseph as being “like the sound of coal being crushed under a door.”

Drew is educated at CBS Eblana. Despite his aversion to education, he is considered the most intelligent in his class by schoolfriend and future Irish film censor, Sheamus Smith. Drew also sings as a boy soprano before his voice breaks.

In the 1950s, Drew moves to Spain to teach English and learn Spanish and flamenco guitar. His interest in folk music begins at the age of nineteen. When he returns to Ireland, he performs in the Gate Theatre with John Molloy and soon goes into the music business full-time, after holding a number of short-term jobs.

In 1962, he founds the Ronnie Drew Group with Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke. They soon change their name to The Dubliners, with John Sheahan joining shortly afterwards to form the definitive line-up, and quickly become one of the best known Irish folk groups. They play at first in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, Dublin where they are often accompanied by Mary Jordan on the spoons and vocalist Ann Mulqueen, a friend of McKenna’s. Mary Jordan’s mother, Peggy Jordan, introduces them to the Abbey Tavern in Howth, which becomes a regular Monday night venue for the emerging group. They also play across the road in the Royal Hotel, at all-night parties in Peggy’s large house in Kenilworth Square in Rathgar, and in John Molloy’s flat at Ely Place.

Drew leaves the Dubliners in 1974, goes to Norway in 1978 and records two songs with the Norwegian group Bergeners. He rejoins The Dubliners in 1979 and leaves for good in 1995, though he does reunite with the group in 2002 for a 40th anniversary celebration. He makes several television appearances with the group between 2002 and 2005.

From 1995 onwards, Drew pursues a solo career. He records with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi, Dropkick Murphys, Eleanor Shanley and others. He does a number of “one-man shows” consisting of stories about people such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Seán O’Casey, as well as Drew singing their songs.

He fronts a campaign to encourage the use of Dublin’s light-rail infrastructure and, before that, the “My Dublin” ads for radio stations 98FM and FM104. He narrates a retelling of the great Irish Myths and Legends over a six CD set in 2006. He also narrates the stories of Oscar Wilde in his distinctive voice for a series released on CD by the News of the World newspaper. Both were re-released as CD box sets in 2010.

On August 22, 2006, Drew is honoured in a ceremony where his hand prints are added to the “Walk of Fame” outside Dublin‘s Gaiety Theatre.

In September 2006, Drew is reported to be in ill-health after being admitted to St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, to undergo tests for suspected throat cancer. On October 25, 2007, Drew, now bald and beardless, appears on Ryan Confidential on RTÉ 1 to give an interview about his role in The Dubliners, his life since leaving the band and being diagnosed with throat cancer. Later in 2007, he appears on The Late Late Show, where he speaks about the death of his wife and his ongoing treatment for cancer.

Ronnie Drew dies in St. Vincent’s Hospital, Dublin, on August 16, 2008, following his long illness. He is buried three days later in Redford Cemetery in Greystones.


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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.