A Parting Glass For Ronnie Drew
The recent passing of one of Irelands legendary folk music hereos Ronnie Drew from the Dubliners has left a large pair of shoes to be filled . He had a hard hand in life and did well with what was on offer .
He passed away at St Vincent's Private Hospital in Dublin on the 16th August 2008 at 73 years of age .
Ronnie Drew was born in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, in 1934 . As he grew up Ronnie was educated by the Christian Brothers. On leaving school at 17 he started an apprenticeship as an electrician .
Ronnie also did other jobs as a draper's assistant, vacuum cleaner salesman and as a night telephonist.
I remember one of the stories Ronnie fondly told about a time when he was verty busy at the telephone exchange and a very pompoius and rude lady wanted to be put through immediately .
Ronnie told her to be patient the caller then said ,
“Listen to me young man , I demand to be put through immediately . Do you know who I am “
She stated .
Ronnie replied ,
“No , do you know who I am ?”
And she said
And Ronnie continued ,
And pulled the plug on her call .
He was a humoureous as well as intellegent and in 1955 Ronnie went to Spain to teach English .
During this time he made some contacts with music there and went on to learn how to play flamenco guitar.
Times were hard but Ronnie found a career in music .
In 1962, he formed The Dubliners . They began singing in stage shows at the Gate Theatre and with Barney McKenna on tenor banjo .
Doing some sessions in a Dublin pub with Luke Kelly (vocals and five-string banjo) they were joined by John Sheehan on fiddle and also
Ciaran Bourke vocals and tin whistle.
They adopted the name the Dubliners after the book by James Joyce.
The Dubliners released top 20 singles or albums in the 60’s, 80’s and even 00’s. The Dubliners had their first chart hit in 1967 with Seven Drunken Nights, sung by Drew .
When it was released it was banned by Radio Éireann –
The song became one of the band's biggest commercial hits .
It entered the UK top 10 in 1967 .
What a great sense of pride it was to see Seven Drunken Nights appear on the BBC's 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 hit paved the way for the Dubliners' second chart hit, Black Velvet Band, with Luke Kelly on vocals.
They soon became become world-renowned.
While 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.
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.
In 1995 he recorded an album called Dirty Rotten Shame with songs specially written for him by Bono, Elvis Costello and Shane McGowan.
Drew had left the Dubliners in 1974 to pursue a solo career, but returned 10 years later and then finally departed for good in 1996.
Some other Dubliners band members included
Bobby Lynch - vocals, guitar
Jim McCann (replaced Drew in 1974) - vocals, guitar
Sean Cannon - vocals, guitar
Eamonn Campbell - guitar, mandolin
Paddy Reilly (replaced Drew in 1995) - vocals, guitar
Patsy Watchorn - vocals, banjo, bodhran
I went back stage at the Sate Theatre in Sydney in 1996 to to meet Ronnie and hopefully have an interview with him for my Irish music radio program , Craic With Mc .
I asked Shane Howard if he had seen Ronnie and all Shane could do was talk about how much Ronnie knew about Irish Music and was overwhelmed by this Grandfather now of Irish Music . Shane had no idea where Ronnie was .
So I asked Brian Kennedy from Belfast if he had seen Ronnie and still it was a mystery where he was . Then I saw members from the Irish Band Tamalin and eventually I was told that Ronnie was back in his hotel room exgahuses after the gig . Long gone now were the days when Ronnie would kick on after a concert in the green room or back stage . He was now too old for all that .
Part of me didn’t want to believe that I think but I suppose it was than I realised how long Ronnie Drew had been on the scene .
So I left without an interview but much wealthier for the experience .
After leaving the Dubliners Ronnie did a TV show for a while which included songs and stories about his home city , Dublin .
Songs like the Captain and The kings , The Mero and one about a troubled gypsy by the name of Danny Farrel appeared on Ronnies subsequent album .
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.
On 22 August 2006, Drew was honored in a ceremony where his hand prints were added to the "walk of fame" outside Dublin's Gaiety Theatre
Ronnies death affected many people in the Irish Music scene .
Known the godfather of Folk music he packed the church at the funeral
The Church of the Holy Rosary in Greystones, Co Wicklow, was overspilt with people ,.
In the end hundreds had to squeeze into the parish hall, where a small screen was set up to relay the service, with many hundreds more gathering around the outside of the chapel to listen through speakers.
The funeral was a very emotional experience for many .
Shane McGowan from The Pogues, U2 manager Paul McGuinness were among the 1,500 people in the crowd along with Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, blues musician Don Baker, songwriter Phil Coulter and singers Mary Coughlan and Eleanor Shanley .
They all performed during the one-hour ceremony.
A tribute poem to Ronnie
Farewell And Adieu To Ronnie Drew
By Paul McCann
Ronnie Drew,Dublin born and Dublin bred.
With music and stories inside his head.
Played with the Dubliners for forty years.
A legacy left, a joy to the ears.
So here's to Ronnie, a toast to the wealth ,
Of the music made and placed on the shelf.
Off to Dublin in the green and the green.
Flying the flag for the folk music scene .
There’s so much you’ve sung
and so much you’ve done ,
A music maker and an Irish son .
The day you died everyone came to mass,
many stood and watched your coffin go past.
Thanks for all the music you brought us here.
Seven drunken nights,I can still hear clear.
Music was a way of life that you led .
Ronnie Drew,speak of you,sure you’re not dead .
Your music lives on in every heart.
A final encore before you depart.
So the call now is for one parting glass .
To Ronnie and the songs,long may they last .
In all the places where ever we live .
A million thanks we would all like to give .
In Ireland we have wakes when someone dies .
To celebrate the life and say goodbyes .
Fare thee well Ronnie many times adieu
In the holy ground we’ll remember you .
You brought us all music and happiness ,
You’re work is all done now ,
long may you rest .
By Paul McCann