John Sheahan is an Irish fiddle player and composer. He was a member of The Dubliners and was with the band for nearly 40 years until they announced their retirement in 2012. He wasn’t as outspoken as some of his band mates, although he later said that when you consider some of the characters in The Dubliners, it is a wonder he managed to get a word in edgeways at all!
What he may have lacked in volume he more than made up for in musical ability, he was an accomplished fiddle player and a key performer in The Dubliners’ instrumental numbers.
Early interest in the fiddle
Sheahan was born in Dublin in 1939. He went to school at the Christian Brothers and was a classmate of Paddy Moloney, who became a member of the Chieftains.
Sheahan became interested in many genres of music from the age of about 12 and was a fan of The Beatles, Louis Armstrong and American Bluegrass fiddle music. He also developed a taste for Irish music after hearing fiddle player, Sean Maguire.
Couldn’t stop ‘composing’
He learned to play several instruments including the fiddle, mandolin and tin whistle. After he finished school he joined the Municipal School of Music in Dublin to study the violin. During his five years there, he continued to play Irish music but often added his own take on classical pieces.
His tutor didn’t approve of this and would tell Sheahan to stop ‘composing’. However, Sheahan was displaying the sort of creativity that would see him become a long serving member of one of the most influential traditional bands of the 20th century.
Joining The Dubliners
In 1964, he joined The Dubliners. He became the longest serving member of the band as other high profile members came and went; Sheahan was the one constant link that The Dubliners had to the band that were performing in the 1960s.
The Dubliners helped to bring Irish music back into the clubs but it was a while before they enjoyed any exposure on radio or television. Their breakthrough single, Seven Drunken Nights, was banned in Ireland for its suggestive lyrics. However it became hugely popular on Radio Caroline, a pirate radio station in England.
They were a hugely hardworking band with big characters such as Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew. They released several albums and toured the world many times.
Recording with big name stars
Sheahan was sometimes known as ‘the quiet one’ and he was the only member of The Dubliners with a formal musical education. This education served him well and he was never short of work as a session musician. He recorded with the likes of Kate Bush, The Fureys, Paddy Peilly, Terence Trent D’Arby, Daniel O’Donnell and Foster & Allen.
In the 1980s his composition, The Marino Waltz became a bit hit with audiences across the world. It was used on TV in an advert for Bord na Móna. Sheahan recorded three studio albums and two live albums throughout the 1980s.
He collaborated with Andre Rieu on a number of works, the most famous being Irish Washerwoman. The Dubliners have now officially retired, but Sheahan continues to perform and compose.