Ronnie Drew: In Tribute …


Saturday, 16 August 2008

Singer Ronnie Drew dies after long illness

President Mary McAleese has led tributes to singer Ronnie Drew who has died following a long illness.

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The President said: 'It is with great sadness that I have learned of the death of the great Irish singer Ronnie Drew'.

She said he was a champion of traditional Irish music and with The Dubliners re-energised and refreshened Ireland's unique musical heritage.

Mrs McAleese said that Mr Drew 'will be greatly missed by many, but most particularly by his family with whom our thoughts are today'.

Phelim Drew said his father passed away peacefully in St Vincent's Private hospital this afternoon at age 73. Mr Drew's family expressed their gratitude to Professor John Crown and the entire staff of the hospital.

Mr Drew founded the then Ronnie Drew Group in 1962 which later came to be known as The Dubliners.

The group included fellow Irish music legends Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna.

While Mr Kelly was known for singing their soulful ballads, Drew will be best remembered for his gravelly-voiced renditions of rabble-rousing folk songs, like Finnegan's Wake and Dicey Reilly.

Ronnie Drew sang one of the band's biggest commercial hits when they entered the UK top 10 in 1967 with 'Seven Drunken Nights' and appeared on the BBC's Top of the Pops.

In 1995 they appeared once again on the show with Shane McGowan and the Pogues, who performed with Mr Drew on their single 'The Irish Rover'.

Born in 1934 in Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, Mr Drew underwent six months' treatment for throat cancer two years ago.

Deirdre, his wife of more than 40 years, died last year. The couple lived in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

He is survived by his two children, Phelim and Cliodhna, and five grandchildren.

Tributes flood in for 'iconic singer'

The Taoiseach said that the Dubliners singer had been an iconic figure in Irish music over the past five decades and that his unique singing voice had been enjoyed by many people.

Mr Cowen added that Mr Drew, whether as part of the Dubliners or during his solo career, will be remembered for his promotion of Irish music both at home and around the globe.

Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen also expressed his sadness at the news.

Mr Cullen described the singer as a truly Dublin icon and part of our modern folk history.

He said 'I am sure he will be missed tonight from 'Raglan Road' to Fitzgibbon Street' and in all parts of the city of Dublin which he so romanticised about in his music and song'.

Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said Mr Drew's contribution to Irish music and Irish life was immeasurable and his influence would be felt for many years to come.

In a statement on U2's official website, Bono said Mr Drew has left his earthly tour for one of the heavens.

'Music to inspire, to console... an optimism that was contagious... that's what U2 took from The Dubliners,' he said.

'Ronnie has left his earthly tour for one of the heavens... they need him up there... it's a little too quiet and pious. God is lonely for a voice louder than His own.'

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Saturday, 16 August 2008

Irish folk singer Drew dies at 73

Ronnie Drew, the legendary Irish folk singer and musician, has died at the age of 73, his family has announced.

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Drew, the founder of The Dubliners, had been battling ill health for some time.

In a brief statement, his family confirmed he passed away at St Vincent's Private Hospital in Dublin at 1400 BST on Saturday.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said Drew had been an "iconic figure in Irish music" over five decades who would be remembered worldwide for his music.

"I met him and admired his music, his unique singing voice was loved by so many people," he said.

"Ronnie, whether as part of The Dubliners or during his solo career, will also be remembered for his promotion of Irish music both at home and around the world.

"He bore his illness with bravery and will be sadly missed."

Drew underwent six months' treatment for throat cancer two years ago.

His wife of more than 40 years, Deirdre, died last year. The couple lived in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

He is survived by his two children and five grandchildren.

Drew's family said he passed away peacefully while they were at his bedside.

Ronnie was a champion of traditional Irish music and, with The Dubliners, he re-energised and refreshed our unique musical heritage Republic of Ireland president Mary McAleese

"The family are very grateful for all the letters of support and wishes during the term of Ronnie's illness," they said in a statement.

They also thanked Professor Crown and the entire medical staff of St Vincent's Private Hospital.

Con Kavanagh, barman at O'Donoghues, where The Dubliners started out, said everybody gathering at the pub this evening was talking about Drew.

"When you mention Dublin, you mention Ronnie Drew — the two just went together," he said. "Everybody loved him."

Irish president Mary McAleese said it was with great sadness that she learned of Drew's death.

"Ronnie was a champion of traditional Irish music and, with The Dubliners, he re-energised and refreshed our unique musical heritage," she said.

During his career, Drew recorded with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi and Eleanor Shanley.

Earlier this year, members of U2 joined fellow Irish musicians Sinead O'Connor, Shane MacGowan, Christy Moore and others to record a tribute song The Ballad Of Ronnie Drew.

All profits from the release of the single went to the Irish Cancer Society.

Speaking at the time of the recording, U2 frontman Bono said: "Ronnie is like the King of Ireland, and we are his subjects.

"This is a big fight for him. But like any fighter, it's easier if there's a crowd cheering."

Drew founded the Ronnie Drew Group in 1962, which later came to be known as The Dubliners.

The group included fellow Irish music legends Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna and they began by singing in the O'Donoghues pub in central Dublin.

Kelly was known for singing their soulful ballads and Drew will be best remembered for his gravelly-voiced renditions of songs like Finnegan's Wake and Dicey Reilly.

Drew sang one of the band's biggest commercial hits, Seven Drunken Nights, and the band appeared on the BBC's Top of the Pops.

They later appeared again on the show with Shane MacGowan and the Pogues to perform the single The Irish Rover.

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The Telegraph

August 17, 2008

Ronnie Drew
Singer with the Dubliners whose distinctive vocals became the hallmark of Seven Drunken Nights and other hits

Ronnie Drew Drew: his voice likened to a rickety bass and a cement mixer, was central to the group's commercial success

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Ronnie Drew, who died on Saturday aged 73, was a founder member of the Dubliners, the popular and influential Irish traditional music group.

The Dubliners achieved fame and notoriety as singers of street ballads and bawdy songs, and as players of fine instrumental traditional music. Their emergence coincided with the British folk revival of the early 1960s, and they were one of the first folk bands to break into the pop charts. In Ireland their closest rivals were the Clancy Brothers. The American roots music magazine Dirty Linen described the difference between the two groups as follows: "Whereas the Clancys were well-scrubbed returned Yanks from rural Tipperary, decked out in matching white Arran sweaters, the Dubliners were hard-drinking backstreet Dublin scrappers with unkempt hair and bushy beards, whose gigs seemed to happen by accident between fist fights."

There was more to the Dubliners, however, than a colourful image. Reviewing their 1971 album Hometown in this newspaper, Maurice Rosenbaum wrote: "[They] have consistently held their position in the upper brackets of the folk league by virtue of their art, their skill and their folk integrity – in other words the kind of 'professionalism' that is superbly worthwhile."

Drew's distinctive voice has been compared to a rickety bass and a cement mixer. Influenced by Dominic Behan, he sang in an uncompromising Dublin accent, and this was central to the group's success in attracting a strong hometown following

The Dubliners' popularity quickly spread beyond Ireland, and they enjoyed success in North America and continental Europe as well as in Australia and New Zealand.

Ronnie Drew was born at Dún Laoghaire on September 16 1934 and was educated by the Christian Brothers. On leaving school at 17 he was apprenticed to an electrician, and later worked as a draper's assistant, vacuum cleaner salesman and night telephonist. In 1955 he went to Spain to teach English, taking the opportunity to learn to play flamenco guitar.

Returning to Ireland, Drew began singing in stage shows at the Gate Theatre and was joined by Barney McKenna on tenor banjo. Drew and McKenna hosted informal sessions in a Dublin pub, and with Luke Kelly (vocals and five-string banjo) formed the nucleus of the Dubliners. The original line-up was completed by the arrival of John Sheehan (fiddle) and Ciaran Bourke (vocals and tin whistle).

Initially known as the Ronnie Drew Group, they adopted the name the Dubliners after the book by James Joyce. They had their first chart hit in 1967 with Seven Drunken Nights, sung by Drew, who got the song from the renowned sean-nós singer, Seosamh Ó hÉanaigh. When it was released it was banned by Radio Éireann – Ó hÉanaigh's version in Gaelic incurred no sanction.

The pirate station Radio Caroline plugged the record relentlessly, helping to propel it into the Top Ten, and the Dubliners were invited to appear on Top of The Pops.

On the record Drew sang of only five nights, claiming that he would be jailed were he to sing the song in full. This was all grist to the publicity mill, and paved the way for the Dubliners' second chart hit, Black Velvet Band, with Luke Kelly on vocals.

On St Patrick's Day 1968 they launched their first American tour with an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. In 1969 they topped the bill in a "pop prom" at the Royal Albert Hall, supported by the Ian Campbell Folk Group, Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick, and the Young Tradition.

The Dubliners went from strength to strength, but in the 1980s two of the original members, Luke Kelly and Ciaran Bourke, died. The group recovered from the blow, joining forces with the Pogues in 1988 to record a rousing version of The Irish Rover, featuring Drew and Shane McGowan on vocals; it became a hit.

Drew had left the Dubliners in 1974 to pursue a solo career, but returned 10 years later and finally departed for good in 1996. As a solo artist he devised a show, Ronnie I Hardly Knew Ya, and, accompanied by Mike Hanrahan on guitar, performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 1998. He later took the show to the United States, Denmark, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Israel.

The show, a mixture of song and story, was based on the writings of Brendan Behan, James Joyce, Patrick Kavanagh, Louis McNeice and Sean O'Casey as well as on Drew's experience of Dublin and its many characters.

Drew enjoyed acting, and in the 1960s appeared in a series of ballad shows and entertainments. In the 1970s he had parts in Richard's Cork Leg, by Brendan Behan, which was staged at the Royal Court, and in the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

He was a keen horseman and rode at every available opportunity. Two of his horses carried off prizes at the Dublin Horse Show, and his horsemanship was further acknowledged when he was made an honorary member of the mounted section of the New York Police Department. Dublin honoured him in 2006 when he was chosen to be Grand Marshal of the city's St Patrick's Day parade.

Drew saw himself as a journeyman singer, refusing to be tied to one particular genre. Accordingly he collaborated with artists such as Antonio Breschi, Rory Gallagher and Jah Wobble. For his 1995 album Dirty Rotten Shame he recorded songs specially written for him by Bono, Elvis Costello and Shane McGowan.

His album with Eleanor Shanley, El Amor de mi Vida (2006), features songs by Nick Cave, Neil Young and Tom Waits. Drew particularly enjoyed his duet with Shanley on The Good Old Days, by Eels: "It's saying 'everything's not perfect, but we'll get on with it'. We're not all Sharon Stone and George Clooney. We're not all millionaires. Life isn't like that. It's a reminder that life can be good, if you make the effort."

Last year he released Pearls, an album with Grand Canal.

Drew had been suffering from throat cancer, and earlier this year a group of musicians, including Bono, Christy Moore, Shane MacGowan and Sinead O'Connor, released The Ballad of Ronnie Drew, with all profits from the single going to the Irish Cancer Society.

Ronnie Drew married, in 1963, Deirdre McCartan, who died last year; they had a son and a daughter.

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The Sunday Times

August 17, 2008
Sarah O'Sullivan

Tributes pour in following the death of Ronnie Drew
Taoiseach leads tributes to the famous singer

RONNIE DREW, the Dubliner famous for his white beard and gravelly voice, died yesterday after a two-year battle with cancer.

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The 73-year-old passed away in St Vincent’s private hospital in Dublin with his family by his side. He is survived by his son Phelim, an actor, and his daughter Cliodhnadh. His wife Deirdre died last year.

Brian Cowen, the taoiseach, led the tributes to Dublin’s famous balladeer. "Ronnie Drew was an iconic figure in Irish music over the last five decades," Cowen said. "I met him and admired his music. His unique singing voice was loved by so many people."

Cowen added that Drew would be remembered for promoting traditional Irish music around the world.

The singer founded the Ronnie Drew Group along with Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna and Ciaran Bourke in 1962 and they eventually became known as The Dubliners. While Kelly sang soulful Irish ballads, Drew revelled in rabble-rousing renditions of folk songs such as Finnegan’s Wake and Dicey Reilly.

Drew sang one of the band’s biggest commercial hits, Seven Drunken Nights, which was banned by RTE but entered the UK top 10 in 1967 and he made an appearance on BBC’s Top of the Pops. In 1995 The Dubliners appeared again, this time with Shane McGowan and the Pogues performing The Irish Rover.

The high point of the band’s career was in 1987, however, when the Late Late Show dedicated a special tribute to them.

Two years ago Drew was diagnosed with cancer. He maintained a positive attitude throughout his illness and said he was inspired by a flood of public support.

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The Guardian

Monday, August 18, 2008


Ronnie Drew Gravel-voiced lead singer of the Dubliners

For more than 30 years, the distinctive voice of the Irish folk band the Dubliners belonged to Ronnie Drew, who has died aged 73. His gravelly voice, described by Mary Kenny as "proper sawdust Dublin", was the essential ingredient to the Dubliners' two 1967 chart successes, Seven Drunken Nights and The Black Velvet Band. But there was far more to the Dubliners than those hits. With Ronnie on lead vocals, and the combination of guitars, banjo, fiddle and whistle, they were one of the key sounds of Irish folk.

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While they might have lacked the subtlety of later bands such as Planxty and Clannad, they were immensely popular and proved an inspiration for the likes of the Pogues. And the boisterous stage act, long hair, bushy beards and hard sound belied their musical talents. Drew's voice was instantly recognisable on classic Dubliners' songs such as the traditional Finnegan's Wake and Dicey Riley.

Drew was born in Dun Laoghaire in south County Dublin. After leaving school, he realised that he was not cut out for a standard nine-to-five job, and, in the 1950s, lived for three years in Spain, where he taught English, learned Spanish and studied flamenco guitar. Returning to Dublin in the early 1960s, he met actor John Molloy, who invited Ronnie to work with him at the Gate Theatre as an actor, singer and guitarist.

On Friday nights, Drew would meet Molloy at O'Donoghue's pub to get paid. By this time, tenor banjo player Barney McKenna had joined the cast, and one night, they asked if they could play a few tunes in the bar. They were joined by Luke Kelly, returned from England with a deep interest in folk, Ciaran Bourke and later John Sheahan. The Dubliners evolved from these sessions, which established O'Donoghue's reputation as a centre for traditional music.

Their first name, the Ronnie Drew Group, gave way to the Dubliners, after the short story collection by James Joyce. Kelly used his contacts in Britain to secure a booking at the 1963 Edinburgh Festival. There they met Nathan Joseph, head of Transatlantic Records, and following BBC television appearances, they released their first album in 1964.

Back in Dublin, they recorded a live album, broadcast on Radio Telefís éireann, and performed in Finnegan's Wakes, a series of shows at the Gate. Switching to the Major Minor label proved to be the turning point. In 1967, RTÉ banned Seven Drunken Nights because of its salacious story, but the pirate station Radio Caroline took it up and an unlikely hit followed, reaching number five in Britain. Appearances on Top of the Pops ensued. During the following two years, Drew's voice led the Dubliners through five Major Minor albums and several singles, including The Black Velvet Band. European and US tours followed, as did appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show and — alongside Bob Hope — on David Frost's show.

Moving to EMI, they recorded the highly successful At Home with the Dubliners (1969). Occasional theatre work continued, and, in 1972, Drew played the Hero in Brendan Behan's play Richard's Cork Leg at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, and the Royal Court in London.

After Bourke was forced to leave the Dubliners following a brain haemorrhage in 1974, Drew also left the band: he and Bourke were close and Drew was missing his family. He returned to the band in 1979, and their next album, Together Again, was a more sombre affair, with Ronnie and Kelly sharing the singing.

In the 1980s, there was a resurgence in the popularity of the Dubliners, especially after the Pogues duetted with them on the Dubliners' classic, The Irish Rover. Drew was also performing and recording outside the band, and, in 1995, he left the Dubliners to go solo again, recording with Christy Moore and the Pogues.

When it was known that Drew was suffering from throat cancer, Robert Hunter of Grateful Dead collaborated with Bono and The Edge from U2 to write The Ballad of Ronnie Drew. Such was the affection and respect in which Drew was held, the song, recorded by U2, Kila and the cream of the Irish folk scene, including the Dubliners, members of the Corrs, Christy Moore and the Pogues' Shane MacGowan, was broadcast simultaneously on all Irish radio stations on February 19 2008. The proceeds benefited the Irish Cancer Society.

Drew's wife, Deirdre, died last year; he is survived by a son and a daughter.

Ronnie Drew, folk singer, born September 16 1934; died August 16 2008

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The Independent

Monday, 18 August 2008

Ronnie Drew: Lead singer of the Dubliners

With his huge bushy beard, trademark gravelly voice and a gift for stripping a song down to its soul, Ronnie Drew was one of Ireland's musical heroes. He was a founder member of the folk group the Dubliners, whose charismatic stage presence and penchant for raw, bar-room ballads and roaring chorus songs helped them achieve unprecendented international success over four decades. Drew was the group's incorrigible front man and he came to define the archetypal image of the raffish, hard-drinking, carousing Irishman of popular myth.

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Yet, while he was central to many legendary drinking stories during the the Dubliners' heyday in the Sixties and Seventies and could certainly be irascible, Drew was a far cry from his popular public image — he was a sensitive, deeply intelligent, devoted family man, with a dry humour and an abiding interest in literature, theatre, poetry, world affairs and local politics. He was also actively involved in various campaigns promoting Dublin, notably its Dart (Dublin Area Rapid Transport) train system.

The son of a carpenter, Drew was born in the port town of Dú*Laoghaire, but due to overcrowding in the family's council house, he spent most of his childhood living with his grandparents nearby. He showed little academic aptitude and his schooldays were miserable. His early working life was no more promising with a series of short-lived jobs, among them cleaning railway carriages, washing dishes, working in a tailor's shop and as a builder's electrician. In 1955 he made his first visit to London, working for a spell as a lift boy in a hotel before returning to Ireland to take a job working night shifts as a telephone operator, a period when he started reading seriously for the first time.

With friends, he then moved to Spain, spending three years teaching English in Seville and learning to play Spanish guitar. A natural entertainer, he was back in Dublin one summer telling stories at a party when a friend, John Molloy, an actor working at the Gate Theatre in the city, suggested Drew perform a spot at one of the shows there.

At the Gate he met the banjo player Barney McKenna, who joined him on stage, while Drew's interest in Irish folk music was further sparked by seeing colourful folk singers like Margaret Barry and Dominic Behan. He grew a beard — originally to cover warts on his face, but when he started hearing requests for "the feller with the beard" he knew he couldn't shave it off.

Drew met and struck up a friendship with another singer, guitarist and banjo player, Luke Kelly, and they'd go drinking together at O'Donoghue's pub with Barney McKenna. There they also met Ciaran Bourke, a singer and tin whistle player, and at a time when it was rare to hear live music in pubs, they started swapping songs and got special dispensation from the landlord, Paddy O'Donoghue, to play together in his pub. The fiddle player John Sheehan was another regular, and was later inducted into the group.

John Molloy devised a show at the Gate based around their music, A Ballad Tour of Ireland, and the band were subsequently offered paying work, initially billing themselves as the Ronnie Drew Group. When Luke Kelly returned to Ireland in 1962 after a foray in England, they changed their name to the Dubliners at Drew's suggestion, in honour of the James Joyce book Kelly was reading at the time.

Despite the records of the McPeake family from Belfast and the American success of the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem, this was a time when traditional Irish music was perceived to be moulded by polite parlour-room styles. With their bawdy material, barn-storming delivery and rough accents, the Dubliners changed all that, building their reputation as a raucous good-time band, having fun on stage and partying hard off it.

Drew, however, had an important stabilising influence in his life after meeting Deirdre McCartan, the daughter of an Irish politician. They were married in 1963, and remained a solid partnership until Deirdre's death in 2007.

The Dubliners recorded their début album at Cecil Sharp House in London in 1963, but their big break came four years later when their slightly risqué version of "Seven Drunken Nights" — learned from the Connemara sean nós singer Joe Heaney –suddenly crashed into the UK charts after constant airplay by the pirate station Radio Caroline. Yet it failed to chart in Ireland, where it was banned for being too suggestive (though Heaney's Irish language version had been played without comment) and even a direct appeal by the group to the Taoiseach, Jack Lynch, failed to rescind the ban. Another hit that year, "Black Velvet Band", confirmed the Dubliners' crossover breakthrough and they began to tour all over the world, their sound instantly identified by Drew's extraordinary, endearingly coarse voice.

The frantic lifestyle took its toll. Cairan Bourke suffered a debilitating brain haemorrhage on stage in 1974 and Luke Kelly collapsed on stage with a brain tumour in 1980. To some degree the Dubliners fell out of fashion as their staple material like "Wild Rover", "McAlpine's Fusiliers" and "Whiskey in the Jar" began to sound dated and they were superseded by younger bands like Planxty, Bothy Band and Moving Hearts, with their more modern approach to Irish music. "We had a party which started in 1962 and ended around 1970," said Drew, who left the group in 1974 and made two solo albums before rejoining in 1979.

The emergence of the Pogues, taking clear inspiration from the Dubs' direct style, triggered a revival of their fortunes, which gained momentum when the two bands collaborated on the hit single "Irish Rover" in 1987 and Drew's rowdy singing and rampant humour won over a new generation of fans.

In 1995, exhausted by the schedule and musically bored, he quit the Dubliners again, touring with a one-man show, and released the solo album Dirty Rotten Shame. Now living on the Co Wicklow coast at Greystones, south of Dublin, he led a quieter lifestyle (and in later years was teetotal), but collaborated on two albums with the ex-De Dannan singer Eleanor Shanley and also worked with Mike Hanrahan and Jah Wobble. He made occasional TV appearances, performing songs that displayed a deeper side to him.

In 2006 Drew was diagnosed with throat and lung cancer and subsequently lost his distinctive shaggy hair, but he remained positive. Earlier this year many of the artists who had taken inspiration from him — U2, Sinead O'Connor, The Corrs, Chieftains, Damien Dempsey, Shane MacGowan, Christy Moore — released a tribute single, "The Ballad of Ronnie Drew", with proceeds to the Irish Cancer Society. It topped the Irish charts and a frail-looking Drew gave an emotional interview thanking them when they performed it on RTE's Late Late Show in February. "Illness can make you happy in a strange way," he said, "because it makes you realise people are there for you".

Colin Irwin

Ronnie Drew, singer and guitarist: born Dú*Laoghaire, Ireland 16 September 1934; married 1963 Deirdre McCartan (died 2007; one son, one daughter) died Dublin 16 August 2008.

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The Times

August 18, 2008

Ronnie Drew: gravelly-voiced singer who founded the Dubliners

It would hardly be an exaggeration to claim that the history of modern Irish music dates from a series of hard-drinking sessions in the backroom of O’Donoghue’s pub in Dublin’s Merrion Row, where during the early part of 1962 the two most enduring Irish groups of all time took their first faltering steps.

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At the time the Irish music scene was in the doldrums. The clean-cut Clancy Brothers in their trademark Aran sweaters had relocated to New York to become a hit on the burgeoning New York folk scene. But back home in Ireland the decline in rural life had been accompanied by a similar decline in traditional music. The resurrection, which echoed similar early folk revival movements of the early 1960s in both America and Britain, was spearheaded by two men — Paddy Moloney and Ronnie Drew.From among the tipplers and traditionalists who frequented O’Donoghue’s, Moloney assembled the Chieftains, the finest instrumental group Ireland has ever produced. Drew rounded up a crew of carousing songsters to create the Dubliners.

Like so many other Irishmen in the 1950s, Drew left his homeland almost as soon as he was grown up and emigrated to Spain, where he spent three years teaching English and learning to play flamenco guitar. On his return to Dublin, he met up with the actor John Molloy and worked in various theatrical roles. He also spent much of his time in O’Donoghue’s, where he met Ciaran Bourke, Barney McKenna and Luke Kelly. The four pooled their musical skills as the Ronnie Drew Group and began playing regular sessions both at O’Donoghue’s and at the Abbey Tavern in Howth.

By 1964 Kelly had left and moved to London. But before he went he made a lasting contribution by renaming the group the Dubliners after reading James Joyce’s book of the same name. His colleagues followed him across the Irish Sea to record their first album live at Cecil Sharp House in London in December 1964. The record displayed an earthier feel than other popular Irish acts of the time such as the Clancy Brothers, adding to the often sentimental balladry a robust and boozy irreverence. Much of the earthiness came from Drew’s voice — once described to the singer’s own satisfaction as "the sound of coal being crushed underfoot" — although the record was attributed to the Dubliners with Luke Kelly.

By the second album The Dubliners In Concert, released in 1965, Kelly had been replaced by singer Bobby Lynch and multi-instrumentalist John Sheahan, both old friends from the Abbey Tavern days. Yet when the group turned fully professional in 1966, Kelly returned to the fold, bringing another Joycean literary reference to the title of the group’s third album, Finnegan Wakes.

Yet it was 1967 which was the Dubliners’ annus mirabilis. Now signed to the Major Minor label, owned by the Irish entrepreneur Phil Solomon, whose other discoveries included the Bachelors and Van Morrison, the group recorded an old ballad, Seven Drunken Nights. With Drew singing the incomparable lead vocal, it was released as a single and banned by the Irish national station RTE for its bawdy content.

The off-shore pirate station, Radio Caroline, had no such qualms and played it heavily. It was no coincidence that Solomon was a director of the radio station and the regularity with which his disc jockeys played the record had the desired effect. The record made the British top ten in May 1967 and the Dubliners appeared on Top Of The Pops alongside Jimi Hendrix, the Kinks and The Who. When Drew was told the record had charted, he reportedly asked whether this was good or bad news. Whichever it was, mainstream pop success was not going to change the Dubliners’ rambunctiousness. Indeed, their bacchanalian approach and capacity to drink prodigious quantities of porter during all-night sessions made them perfectly at home in the rock’n’roll environment.

Seven Drunken Nights was a novelty hit. But the Dubliners were not one-hit wonders and more chart singles followed with Black Velvet Band and Never Marry an Old Man. Album titles also exploited the group’s bawdy, hard-drinking image. A Drop Of The Hard Stuff in 1967 was followed that same year by More Of The Hard Stuff and in 1968 Drinkin’ and Courtin’.

By now they were an international concert attraction and toured the world with a repertoire which included not only Irish ballads but political songs by songwriters such as Ewan MacColl and Domnic Behan, which lent a more serious edge to their well-developed bonhomie. In America they appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and played to sell-out audiences wherever a large Irish immigrant population was to be found. But their upward progress was halted in 1974 when Bourke collapsed on stage during a concert in Bournemouth following a brain haemorrhage. He was never to perform again and died in 1978. Following the tragedy, a shaken Drew left the group to go solo. His plans were thwarted by a serious car accident. and he returned to the group in 1979.

No sooner had Drew returned than tragedy struck for a second time when Luke Kelly collapsed on stage in Cork in 1980. He underwent an operation for a brain tumour and remarkably was back singing with the group within three weeks. Yet he never fully recovered, and died in 1984.

With two of the original quartet dead, many suspected the Dubliners had reached the end of the road. But Drew and banjo player Barney McKenna decided to continue with a line-up which by now was augmented not only by John Sheahan but by new recruit Seán Cannon. The group’s 25th anniversary in 1987 gave them a new lease of life.

On the birthday album Celebration, producer Eamonn Campbell (who joined the group shortly after) had the inspired idea of teaming them with a new generation of Irish hell-raisers, the Pogues. Their collaboration on The Irish Rover saw the Dubliners back on Top Of The Pops for the first time in almost 20 years. The anniversary also saw the group appear on a special edition of The Late Late Show, the most prestigious show on Irish television, in which musical celebrities and politicians alike queued to pay tribute to the Dubliners’ contribution to Irish culture. The show achieved what was at the time the highest viewing figure in Irish television history. Shortly afterwards the group accepted an invitation to support U2 on tour.

Anniversaries appeared to bring out the best in Drew and the Dubliners. Five years later in 1992, on the occasion of their 30th anniversary, they produced the critically acclaimed album, 30 years A-Greying. Among the special guests on the record were Billy Connolly, Rory Gallagher, the Hothouse Flowers and the Pogues once again.

Drew left the group for the second and last time in 1994, picking up the solo career he had abandoned at the end of the 1970s. The solo album Dirty Rotten Shame appeared in 1995 and was followed by The Humour Is On Me Now four years later. He returned temporarily for the group’s 40th anniversary in 2002, when he appeared on the celebratory album 40 Years, which comprised the group’s greatest hits plus 12 new tracks recorded especially for the occasion. Despite his 66 years, the new material found Drew’s voice sounding little different from the way it had sounded on Seven Drunken Nights so many years earlier.

In 2006 Drew was honoured with a bronze cast of his hands outside the Gaiety Theatre. The following year he recorded an album with Grand Canal, an ensemble of well-known Irish musicians. Earlier this year U2, Christy Moore, the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan and Sinéad O'Connor released a tribute song, The Ballad of Ronnie Drew.

His wife of over 40 years, Deidre, died last year. He is survived by his two children.

Ronnie Drew, singer, was born on September 18, 1935. He died of cancer on August 16, 2008, aged 73

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The New York Times

August 20, 2008

Ronnie Drew, Folk Singer and Guitarist Who Founded the Dubliners, Dies at 73

Ronnie Drew, the gravelly voiced folk singer and guitarist who founded the Irish group the Dubliners and also sang with the Pogues and other rock bands, died on Saturday in Dublin. He was 73.

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Mr. Drew, who had throat cancer, died in St. Vincent’s Private Hospital, his family said in a statement.

Known for his distinctive long white beard and deep voice, Mr. Drew and three other musicians — Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna — became the original members of the Ronnie Drew Group in 1962. Unhappy with the name, Mr. Drew changed it to the Dubliners, after the novel by James Joyce, which Mr. Kelly was reading at the time.

The group got started singing in Irish pubs, accompanied by Mr. Drew on Spanish guitar, which he learned while teaching English in Spain during the 1950s. He spent two stints with the Dubliners, from 1962 to 1974 and again from 1979 to 1995.

The Dubliners became widely known in Europe, as well as the United States, for bold versions of traditional Irish folk songs.

"You can take the hardest rock band on the earth and they sound like a bunch of girls next to the Dubliners," Bono, the lead singer of U2, once said of the group.

Two of the group’s earliest hits, released in 1967, were folk songs: "Black Velvet Band," which describes the deportation of a tradesman to Australia, and "Seven Drunken Nights," a bawdy tale whose last two verses were considered too indelicate for public broadcast, leading to a ban by Irish radio. Regardless, the hits earned the band a spot on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1968.

Mr. Drew, a teetotaler in later life, was as well known in Ireland for his drinking antics and sharp quips as his music. Liam Collins, writing in The Belfast Telegraph on Tuesday, recalled a story told by Mr. Drew’s son, Phelim, about the morning the singer stopped into an empty pub for a cocktail. The bar’s only other patron looked at Mr. Drew and remarked, "I thought you were off the drink."

"I am," Mr. Drew replied, "but I have a gin and tonic every now and again. I find it helps me to mind my own business. Would you like one?"

Told that Michael Flatley, a founder of Riverdance, earned £1 million a week, Mr. Drew was asked what he would do if he took in a similar amount. "Work two weeks and then stop," he said, according to Mr. Collins.

Mr. Drew was born Sept. 16, 1934, in Dun Laoghaire, Ireland, south of Dublin. His wife, Dierdre McCartan, whom he married in 1963, died last year, and he was buried next to her on Tuesday in Greystones, County Wicklow. In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Cliodhna, and five grandchildren.

In 1987 Mr. Drew and the Dubliners linked up with the Pogues, a group best known for blending traditional Irish and punk music, to record a fast-moving version of "The Irish Rover," which became a British hit.

Earlier this year the Irish music world paid tribute to Mr. Drew in another hit song, "The Ballad of Ronnie Drew," with proceeds benefiting the Irish Cancer Society. The ensemble included U2, members of the Dubliners, Bob Geldof, Andrea Corr, Sinead O’Connor and Glen Hansard, the Oscar-winning composer, who phoned in his section of the song while on tour.

Mr. Drew, by then bald, his distinctive hair lost to chemotherapy treatments, looked on with delight as members of the ensemble performed the song on Irish television.

In a statement Saturday on U2’s Web site,, Bono said that Mr. Drew "has left his earthly tour for one of the heavens," adding: "They need him up there. It’s a little too quiet and pious."

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