For many people, The Dubliners are the epitome of Irish traditional folk music – they are brilliant, passionate, irreverent and bring both a sense of humour and a sense of joy to everything they do.
Scottish comedian and former folk singer Billy Connolly described their performances as mesmerising.
The Dubliners were formed way back in 1962 and have been going strong ever since, albeit with changing line-ups over the years.
Early days in O’Donoghue’s bar
The band was formed from musicians who met at Paddy O’Donoghue’s bar in Dublin. In the early 1960s it was a mecca for folk singers from all over Ireland.
The music writer Eric Winter described going into O’Donoghue’s at that time and seeing a guitar hanging on the wall behind the bar.
It was Luke Kelly’s. He used to leave it there between sets.
Meanwhile, across town, Ronnie Drew was performing at the Gaity Theatre, keeping audiences entertained between acts while scene changes were taking place.
First formation as The Ronnie Drew Ballad Group
The original members of the band who congregated at O’Donoghue’s were Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna. John Sheahan joined in 1964.
When they first started performing together they were known as Ronnie Drew Ballad Group.
Drew was never really happy with the name though as he felt it much too much emphasis on him at the expense of the others. The problem of finding a more acceptable name was solved when Luke Kelly started reading the novel, The Dubliners, by James Joyce.
As they were all Dublin musicians, the new name suited them perfectly.
Taking the folk music world by storm
The Dubliners quickly established themselves in Ireland and soon went on to become major stars across the world.
Music writer Eric Winter describes how they took the English folk music world by storm after appearing on the BBC television show Hootenanny. In his introduction to the Dubliners Songbook, Winter wrote: “Some liked them for their rough diamond quality. Some liked them for their irreverence. They didn’t mind knocking anything that was going, including many of the most cherished ideas about themselves held by the Irish.”
Top of the folk world for half a century
The Dubliners were to remain at the top of the world of Irish folk music for more than 50 years.
They have released more than 30 albums and made regular tours of Ireland, the UK, Europe, the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
Now, after nearly 50 years at the top they are still going strong and reaching to new audiences all across the world.