by John O'Regan

Seán Donnelly

The return of the quiet man

Seán Donnelly's voice echoes the locality of his native Tyrone.
When you hear him sing and listen to him speak, a sense of place emerges from the chat and intonation. The inflections are pure Ulster without being overbearing or incomprehensible.

Sean's voice and manner is laid back, natural, and above all authentic.
Without wishing to resort to cliché, his is the real folk voice of Northern Ireland. He crosses boundaries between the traditional source singers and the folk voices with a natural unaffected skill. His attitude to songs is one of respect and his delivery is laced with low-key humor and restrained sensitivity. He knows when to step back and let the song speak its truth. This lack of ego is another of his positive attributes. When Andy Irvine referred to him as the 'Real Thing' - he was not joking!

I remember when I first heard Seán Donnelly on RTE Radio 1 in 1987: the first thing that hit me was that his singing had a certain oldness to it; his voice had a lived-in quality to it that summoned up an image of an elderly man, someone like many older source singers such as Geordie Hanna, and Paddy Tunney - whom Topic records recorded in the mid 70s. That was the mental image that his voice conjured up.

You can then imagine my surprise when Austin Durack (of Radio Clare FM) showed me the cover of Seán's 'On Breezes Fresh and Fair' album. I saw Bobby Hanvey's sleeve photos of a young middle 40s man with a red jumper clutching the umbilical-chord like Lowden guitar, caught in action at Newry Arts Center. The apparent contrast between perception and reality increased curiosity about this Ulster singer. On my first visit up