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North America

the Irish Rovers

The Irish Rovers: A Short History

After the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, the Irish Rovers became the most popular and well-known Irish Ballad Group in North America, due in no small part to their hit song, "The Unicorn".


  • 1957:
    • Brothers Will and George Millar leave Ballymena, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, (with their family) and emigrate to Canada.
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  • 1963:
    • George Millar meets Jimmy Ferguson, from Belfast, Northern Ireland, in Toronto, Canada and form a folk duo.
    • They are eventually joined by George's cousin Joe Millar, and at one point "with another Ballymena man called Victor Marcus and a banjo player from Canada, called Doug Henderson, they played in the local folk clubs." [1]
    • According to this newspaper article, this group was together until at least August 1964
  • 1964:
    • Later in the year, George and Jimmy visit Will in Calgary, and stay on.
    • They are eventually joined by Joe and with Will form the Irish Rovers.
    • In November, Will, George, Jimmy & Joe leave Calgary and head to California.
  • 1965:
    • The Irish Rovers, audition for The Purple Onion in San Francisco, and make their debut at the club on New Year's Eve.
  • 1966:
  • 1967:
    • The Irish Rovers' second album, The Unicorn, is released.
  • 1968:
    • The title track becomes a hit single, climbing to #7 in the American charts.
    • Prior to the success of the Unicorn, Joe Millar leaves band, and accordion player Will McDowell is recruited to replace him. [3]
    • The line up of Will, George, Jimmy and Will release the group's 3rd LP, All Hung Up.
      • This is the only Irish Rovers' album without Joe Millar, until 2005.

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  • 1971:
    • The group relocates back to Canada to star "on CBC Vancouver TV's 'The Irish Rovers,' one of the most popular variety shows of its day."
    • The series runs for 6 seasons, winning an ACTRA Award for Best Variety Performance. [3]
    • The Clancy Brothers with Louis Killen, Liam Clancy, and Tommy Makem all appear (separately) on the show, between 1971-73. [4]
  • 1972:
    • Between 1972-1980 the group releases 5 albums
  • 1980:
    • The group scores a number 3 Canadian hit "Wasn't That a Party," written by Tom Paxton.
    • Between 1980-1985 they are known as "the Rovers", releasing several albums.
  • 1981:
    • The group star in their second Canadian TV series: The Rovers Comedy House — "A 7-part CBC series of comedy, shenanigans and boisterous Irish music…" [4]
    • Tommy Makem and Liam Clancy make two appearances on January 15, and February 12, 1981.
  • 1984:
    • The (Irish) Rovers star in their last Canadian musical-variety TV series — Party With The Rovers. [4]
  • 1989:
    • The band celebrate their 25th Anniversary with the release of a double LP (CD).
    • The group is again known as The Irish Rovers, from here on …
  • 1994:
    • The Irish Rovers celebrate their 30th Anniversary with the release of a live CD, and accompanying video.
      • This is their last album with Will Millar.
  • 1995:
    • Will Millar leaves the band, tired of their heavy touring schedule.
    • Unfortunately, his departure causes a great of deal of strife between himself and his former band mates, in particular with his brother George, and a lawsuit follows, concerning ownership of song rights, royalties and the name "The Irish Rovers".
    • John Reynolds & Wallace Hood join the band as full-time members.
  • 1997:
    • In October, founding member Jimmy Ferguson passes away while on tour, at the age of 57.
    • The surviving Rovers and Will briefly mended fences at Jimmy's funeral.
  • 2004:
    • The Irish Rovers celebrate their 40th Anniversary with the release of a double CD.
  • 2005:
    • In July, percussionist Paul Lawton is tragically killed in a freak accident.
    • Joe Millar retires, and his son Ian Millar joins the group.
    • In addition, Wallace Hood leaves group.

  • Sources & Notes
    1. Will Millar's 1975 book, Children on the Unicorn.
      • This book covers Will's childhood in Ballymena through the early 70's.
      • However, much of the information and incidents in the book are undated.
    2. The period while Joe Millar was not in the band is hard to date.
      • Will discusses this period in his aforementioned book, Children on the Unicorn, but (again) plays fast and loose with dates throughout.
      • Based on dates listed at the IMDb of the Irish Rovers' appearances on the American TV series, The Virginian, Joe was only out of the group for about 4 months.
        • Vision of Blindness - Original Air Date: October 9, 1968 — w/Will, George, Joe & Jimmy
        • Crime Wave in Buffalo Springs - Original Air Date: January 29, 1969 — w/Will, George, Joe, Jimmy & Wicil
    3. The Canadian Encyclopedia
    4. The Canadian TV Archive — This website lists the Irish Rovers many appearances on Canadian Television.