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Music / The Dubliners

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The Dubliners were an Irish folk band founded in Dublin (hence the name) in 1962. Originally named Ronnie Drew's Ballad Group, they got popular playing in pubs in Dublin and elsewhere. They were partly the harbingers of the 60s Irish folk revival.

Renouned members included the eponymous Ronnie Drew, Luke Kelly, Ciarán Brouke, Barney McKenna, and John Sheahan.

Their original set, including long-runners like Black Velvet Band was arranged by Dominic Behan, who also contributed original material. Barney McKenna was largely responsible for popularising the now-common technique of playing the tenor banjo tuned to GDAE, an octave below the fiddle, as an accompaniment—the original lineup included Luke Kelly playing a 5-string but they were looking for something distinctive.

Principal Members (Founding members in bold):

  • Ciarán Bourke - vocals, guitar, tin whistle (1962–73, 1973–74, died 1988)
  • Eamonn Campbell – guitar, mandolin (1984, 1988–2012; died 2017)
  • Seán Cannon – vocals, guitar (1982–2012)
  • Ronnie Drew – vocals, guitar (1962–74, 1979–95, 2002, died 2008)
  • Luke Kelly – vocals, banjo (1962–65, 1965–83; died 1984)
  • Bobby Lynch – vocals, guitar (1964–65; died 1982)
  • Jim McCann – vocals, guitar (1973, 1974–79, 1984, 1987, 2002, died 2015)
  • Barney McKenna – tenor banjo, mandolin, melodeon, vocals (1962–2012, died 2012)
  • Paddy Reilly – vocals, guitar (1984, 1995–2005)
  • John Sheahan – fiddle, mandolin, tin whistle, concertina (1964–2012)
  • Patsy Watchorn – vocals, banjo, bodhrán, spoons (2005–2012)

Tropes associated with The Dubliners:

  • Cover Version: The Dubliners "cover" many traditional Irish folk songs that have no known author
  • Death Song: Roddy McCorley is about the death of a young Irish nationalist in County Antrim.
    For young Roddy McCorley goes to die
    On the bridge of Toome today
  • Fighting Irish: The lyrics to "Finnegan's Wake," which are the page quote:
    Then Maggie O'Connor took up the job
    "O Biddy, " says she "you're wrong I'm sure"
    Biddy gave her a belt in the gob
    And left her sprawling on the floor
    Then the war did soon engage
    It was woman to woman and man to man
    Shillelagh law was all the rage
    And a row and a ruction soon began
  • Gold Digger: Jenny from Whiskey in the Jar betrays the speaker and steals the money he stole initially from someone else.
  • Grief Song:
    • The Leaving of Liverpool
    It's not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me
    But my darling when I think of thee
    • Black Velvet Band is definitely one of these
    • Macalpines Fusiliers probably belongs here, a darkly comic, satirical ballad with a spoken intro about Irish building workers in England, roughly spanning the period 1939-55. Written in its current form for the group by Dominic Behan in the early 1960s, it uses a traditional tune “The Jackets Green” and its opening verse also satirises the words of that song
  • Kangaroo Court: The plot of Free The People:
    A dismal dawn was breaking when they took her man away
    Not knowing what was his crime
    Just what he was guilty of not one of them could say
    But they'll think of something in time
  • Long-Runner Line-up: Type 2. The line-up of Luke Kelly, John Sheahan, Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke lasted from 1964 to 1974.
  • Love Martyr: a recurring theme in The Dubliners, and in folk music in general.
  • Love Will Lead You Back: Many of their songs about the first World War, the Irish War of Independence, and the Irish Civil war have the theme of a soldier going to the war but ultimately coming back to reunite with his love.
    • See above: The Leaving of Liverpool tells a story of a man who has to leave Liverpool to immigrate to California, and wishes to come back not to see his home again but to see his love.
    • The Enniskillen Dragoons
  • Morality Ballad:
    • Alabama 58 is both this and Protest Song (see below).
    • Scorn Not His Simplicity is about a boy who has Down Syndrome, and about how one should love him all the more.
  • Ode to Youth:
    • Dirty Old Town is a rather poignant and nostalgic example of this.
    • School Days Over is about learning a traditional vocation and earning your money with it during the summer.
  • Protest Song: Many of the traditional Irish rebel songs The Dubliners performed can be termed as such.
    • Joe Hill
    • Take It Down From the Mast
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Take It Down From the Mast is about how much Free Staters suck.
  • Self-Titled Album: Their 1964 debut live album.
  • Shout-Out: The band is named after James Joyce's 1914 novel Dubliners.
  • Song of Courage: The Rising of the Moon is about an ultimately failed rebellion, but our Irish friends nevertheless persisted in their futile but heroic aims.
  • Spoken Word:
    • The Rebel
    • Macalpines Fusiliers has a spoken introduction
    • For What Died the Sons of Roisin
    • Se Farth Mo Bhuartha
  • Step Up to the Microphone:
    • Barney McKenna on a handful of songs, particularly "Fiddler's Green" and "South Australia."
  • Vocal Tag Team:
    • Luke Kelly and Ronnie Drew split the lead vocals roughly 50/50, with a few songs going to Ciarán Bourke and a very few (see above) to Barney McKenna. After Kelly's death, Drew and Sean Cannon became this. After Drew's departure, Cannon and Paddy Reilly.
  • World War III:
    • Invoked in Protect and Survive, which is about a document released by the British government advising citizens on how to react in the case of a nuclear attack. The Dubliners were not impressed.
    World War 3 can be such fun if you protect and survive!
    • The Button Pusher is a similarly sardonic.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters:
    • All of the folk songs about the IRA fell under this category in the UK. Of course, many missed the distinction that they are overwhelmingly about the “Old IRA”, that fought between 1916-21 and mostly became the Irish Defence Forces, not the terrorist IRA of The Troubles.
    • The Dubliners also had plenty of originals about Irish resistance to British tyranny in Ireland.