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The Dubliners: Always in a Class of their Own
by William Ramoutar
Say what you will about who were the best groups or bands, who were the greatest from Ireland, The Dubliners were all that and more. They were hairy looking, heavy drinking Dublin fellas who could carry more than a tune. They carried the whole country of Ireland, several times, out of the doldrums of depression. When they hit number one in the British record charts with their banned single, Seven Drunken Nights, workers in England and Ireland were ecstatic with the news. Here we were, Top of the Pops! In the English charts! Sure, that was unheard of, with us still in the grips of the mindset of the ‘fifties - dreary streets, hard working conditions, and the drabness of everyday living. They were the fellas who looked like they could have told the boss to take his job…and you know what!
And they have gone on to bigger and better things in their almost 50 years on the road, burning memories of the Emerald Isle in the minds of emigrants and people of all nationalities, creeds and colours for all those years - performing still, but only with one original member, Barney McKenna, as all the others have passed on. Mind you, the songs will be around forever. They are a quintessential part of the land and people.
They started out in O’Donoghue’s public house as the Ronnie Drew Group, but Ronnie didn’t want the lead role (although for all time he will be known as the singer with The Dubliners). His voice was once described as coal being crushed under a door. I take exception to this, as nothing could be further from the truth. His voice is unmistakably his - with all the fierceness of the Irish spirit and cheekiness of the Dublin humour.
Ronnie and Barney would ask the staff at O’Donoghue’s if they could sing a few songs. They were always denied until one night they were told “okay, just keep it down!” Hilarious when you begin to understand the raucous atmosphere they generated wherever they travelled in the world. They built huge followings in Belgium, Germany, Holland, etc., and had an even more fanatical fanbase than they did at home for many years.
John Sheehan, their fiddler, composer and arranger, insists he was never asked to join the band, and has been with them since 1964! Are you starting to get the picture?
Not your average band. In fact, the stories of their travels and exploits would fill many books, and probably will someday. We Irish always seem to exalt our heroes way after they have passed. The stories are not all for publication, mind, as some are so outrageously over the top they sound like myth and legend. You can get some feel for them by listening to their “live” concerts on cd or dvd. There are many to choose from. Starting out with from the ‘sixties with some more Republican inspired songs, yet almost all of the works have the irreverent humour that is their trademark and the superbly distinctive voices of Ronnie Drew and Luke Kelly.
Kelly was a red fiery bearded and headed balladeer of “the people.” His interpretations of others’ songs are legendary. Standing astride stages with his four-string banjo, bellowing from his chest the injustices to the ordinary man, he was an instant hero. Hardly ever seen offstage without his overcoat stuffed with books of Voltaire, Patrick Kavanagh, and Brendan Behan, he was teaching himself about the intellectuals and writers, which was far removed from his birthplace in inner, poverty stricken Dublin.
Ciarán Bourke, guitarist, whistle player, singer and also thinker extraordinaire, was the Irish language influence that pervaded the band for some time, as he was a fluent Gaelic speaker. He was also a legendary drinker, as they all were. It was to be the downfall of some of them, and yet they were adored by whoever heard or saw them in their heyday. Both Ciarán and Luke were stricken way before their time. After a brain aneurysm in 1974 left Ciarán paralyzed on his left side and unable to perform with the band, he was paid his share of their earnings until his death in 1988.
Jim McCann, another balladeer, came along to replace Ronnie when he left. With some comings and goings over the years, Sean Cannon has been a joint lead singer with all of them at one time or other. Eamonn Campbell, their stalwart guitarist, has been with them through thick and thin since 1987, and has produced all their albums and cds since then. Solo artist Paddy Reilly filled the lead spot for a number of years after Ronnie had left for the last time and Jim had left through serious throat issues. Sadness, yes, but fabulously entertaining, they had no peers.
Now with yet another lineup they continue to fill theaters and concert halls and festival stages in these modern times. Find their earlier recordings for Luke and Ronnie and especially Ciarán.
For a true taste of Ireland it’s music, there are no truer and better exponents of the genre.
The Dubliners are an institution. Their music will continue to amuse and inspire audiences; and singers, groups and bands will aspire to their fame. But try as they might, there will only ever be one - the one and only original forerunners of the phenomenon we call Irish music, The Dubliners.
A comprehensive collection of recordings are available on amazon. Please click Dubliners
Main Photo & Individual Shots: Dubliners web site/Nick Guida
BIO William Ramoutar
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Review written by William Ramoutar Presenter of Irish Ways Radio Programme, St Augustine Florida
Fri, Nov 3, 2017
The Round Towers
The Round Towers of Ireland are remarkable among the world's ancient monuments; one author has called them 'Elegant, free-standing pencils of stone.' Today, 65 survive in part or whole. Hand-crafted in native stone and cemented with a sand, lime, horsehair and oxblood mortar - a technique imported from Roman Britain - it's said by many historians that they were built by monastic communities to thwart Viking invaders. And yet, there's reason to believe that the towers were built long before Christianity came to Ireland. Whatever their origins, monasteries did indeed flourish where the round towers existed. And why not. These imposing edifices provided a watch tower, a keep and a refuge.
Image: By kind permission of Stephen Cassidy, The Cassidy Clan.
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According to the 30 or more reviews we've read, if you own just one Irish Christmas recording, this should be it. Featuring Anthony Kearns, Ronan Tynan and John McDermott, we are treated to both solo and trio performances of a dozen or more best loved holiday airs, sung in their trade-mark Irish tenor style. As one reviewer cleverly observed, if these three sang the phone book, she'd buy it!
Click here for Home for Xmas