In the early 1970s, numerous aspiring folk musicians used to gather in Hughes’s Pub in a small village called An Spideal on the shores of Galway Bay and just next to the Gaeltacht – the Irish speaking area of Ireland.
Among those musicians were Alec Finn, Frankie Gavin, Charlie Piggott and Johnny McDonagh.
They were barely out of their teens – Gavin was only 18 – when in 1974, they formed what was to become one of Ireland’s most successful folk groups.
Tuatha de Danann – an ancient Irish tribe
Bouzouki blunder Finn asked a friend to bring him back a lute from Greece but he ended up getting a bouzouki by mistake.
Finn says if he’d got the lute as planned, his career and that of De Danann might have been completely different.
Being steeped in Irish tradition, the band took their name from a mythological Irish tribe, called Tuatha de Danann. It means people of the goddess Danu.
Legend has it they were among the tribes that conquered and settled in Ireland more than a thousand years BC.
The band started out with the correct spelling of De Danann but that somehow changed to De Dannan later in their careers, which is why you may see it spelt differently from time to time.
When the band split in 2003, it led to a dispute between Finn and Gavin as to who owned the name which by then had become famous in folk music circles all over the world.
The start of traditional music’s Galway sound
Such disputes were far from their minds in 1974 when the band first formed.
It featured Alec Finn, on guitar and bouzouki; Frankie Gavin on fiddle, flute, whistle and piano; Johnny “Ringo” McDonagh on bodhran and bones; and Charlie Piggott on accordion and banjo.
Gavin’s dazzling fiddle playing and Finn’s driving rhythmic bouzouki style helped to create what later came to known as the band’s Galway sound.
They started out playing local pubs and drafted Dolores Keane in on vocals by the time they were ready to make their first, called simply De Danann, in 1975.
Taking the Galway sound to the USA
Tongue- twister Thuath de Danann is pronounced, very approximately, as too-ah day dahn-an.
The first album was well received and they followed it up with a trip to America to play at the Bicentennial celebrations in Washington.
They also played several festivals and found they fitted in particularly well with bluegrass audiences who were used to listening to bands like De Dannan that featured banjos, mandolins and fiddles.
They were still only playing minor venues at this time but went down so well they were invited back for a second tour the following year. This they were even more successful, and as Finn recalled several years later, they just suddenly took off.