To display this page you need a browser with JavaScript support. Untitled Document

North in 1991, I missed hearing Seán perform at the Belfast Folk Festival, but I knew I had to meet this man sometime. One year later in September 1992, I met Seán Donnelly in Belfast and spent time with him and his wife Elizabeth in Newcastle. This meeting increased my realization that here was one of the real unsung talents of Irish music.

Seán was born in a village called Killyclogher near Omagh, Co. Tyrone and 'emigrated' in the early seventies to Newcastle, Co. Down where he now lives with his wife and family. Growing up in a musical family where the weekly rambling house session was a regular feature of family and social life, Seán was surrounded by music and songs. His father Michael was a singer from whom he absorbed many traditional songs. "My father would have the authentic lyrics of songs like 'Sliabh Gallon Braes' with the place names and people mentioned. He would not have the stock lyrics - he'd have the people's names and places mentioned.''

Seán's 'day' job took him to Belfast in the late sixties working in Eastwood's Shoe Store in North Street. By day, he would manage the store, and night-time found him in the Folk clubs including one club situated above 'Bryson's House' run by Robin Morton and frequented by Cathal McConnell and Tommy Gunn. He also visited the 'Sunflower Folk Club' run by Geoff Harden, first as a floor singer and later, as featured guest.

In 1973, Seán got married to Elizabeth, an artist from Kilkeel Co. Down and soon the family moved from Belfast to Newcastle Co. Down. He had by now achieved a considerable local following and had made lasting impressions in the folk club and festival world. His recording career was started by the death of his father Michael in 1986. ''My mother was on her own at home and although she never sang herself, said to me one day 'I miss the singing and the music'. So I thought as a Christmas present to her I would make a tape of a couple of songs that she could play at home. That was how I first met Colum and Tommy Sands." While recording some songs at Colm's Spring Studios in Rostrevor, Colum noticed something in Seán Donnelly's voice and asked Tommy to come in and listen. Impressed, they later said that they would like him to record a full album. Thus, Seán Donnelly's first album 'One

Day We Saw the Sun' emerged in 1987 on cassette through Spring Records.

''The title came from a line in one of the songs on Nic Jones' Penguin Eggs album - 'The Little Pot Stove' written by Harry Robertson, " Seán explains, "and I also sang Eddie Butcher's 'Will ye no Come Again' and some other songs on it". The album was sold locally and unfortunately is now out of print. It created a sufficiently good impression to appeal to radio and press journalists including Neil Johnston in the Belfast Telegraph, who raved about this new discovery from West Tyrone. Sets at the Belfast Folk Festival and Ballyshannon Folk Festival followed and soon Seán was in Spring Studios recording his second album 'On Breezes Fresh and Fair'. He carved a niche in Scotland and in the English south counties folk clubs, made countless Radio broadcasts and appeared on T.V. Folk music programmes in Ireland, Scotland and the UK.

While Sean's repertoire includes Irish traditional songs, especially those with which he grew up in Co. Tyrone, and contemporary material some of which is his own he has become synonymous in the north of Ireland for The ‘Homes of Donegal'. Originally the closing track on the LP of 'On Breezes fresh and fair', Seán's relationship with 'The Homes of Donegal' has a curious history. In the late 80's, prior, to the recording of 'On Breezes fresh and fair' Seán was invited to appear at a memorial concert at the Ulster Hall in Belfast in memory of that grand old man of Irish folk music Francie McPeake. It was at this concert that Seán first sang his version of 'The Homes of Donegal'. He made such an impression that night with the song that afterwards Tommy Sands pressed Seán into including it on the album 'On Breezes fresh and fair' - how right the astute Tommy was!

After the release of the album, people began to request the song at gigs and soon he became known as the man who sings 'The Homes of Donegal'. 'The old song had been around for years. However, people were now saying that it seemed as if they had heard it for the first time'. When Seán re-recorded it much later on another album 'Like a Morning Star Fading', Eamon Friel and Gerry Anderson (both on Radio Ulster) picked it up and Gerry Anderson used the song on his playlist so frequently that

recording giant EMI included it on their 'Rare OuI Times' compilation album that reached the Irish charts in 1999. This was an achievement for an independent artist from the north of Ireland who was largely unknown down south at the time. Tommy, Colum and Ben Sands also used the song extensively on the radio programs as did Fr. Brian Darcy, Seán Coyle, and Donncha Ó'Dúlaing on RTE Radio 1 . The song has become synonymous with Seán, so much so, that at his concerts and gigs Sean had only to play the opening lines of the introduction of 'The Homes' to get an immediate audience reaction.

Seán has also played major Folk Festivals including Belfast, Rostrevor and Ballyshannon at home and abroad and toured in England, Scotland the USA and Germany. Two more albums followed 'Live at the Fiddlers Green International Festival', and the gorgeous ' Erin's Lovely Home', his first CD. That album and his last two releases 'On Breezes Fresh and Fair' and 'Like a Morning Star Fading' have graced the world of circular silver discs. Tours in Germany, Scotland and England had gained a following and things looked good but then tragedy struck with the death of his eldest son Michael in 1998. Michael then studying Law in Glamorgan University in Wales was killed in a freak accident.

Michael's death sent Seán Donnelly's world into a spin and began a prolonged period of grief. The release of 'Like A Morning Star Fading' helped lift the veil somewhat, but soon the guitar stayed above the fireplace permanently as Seán gradually withdrew from music and performing and literally disappeared from the folk scene. Eventually he succumbed to private despair and depression and had to seek professional counseling. However, his wife Elizabeth, family, and close friends supported him, as always. They were not going to let Seán Donnelly disappear into the void if they could help it.

Once more, 'The Homes of Donegal' rescued him. Gerry Anderson continued playing it on BBC Radio Ulster, Fr Brian D'arcy visited him and challenged Seán to start performing again, and gradually the musical rehabilitation of Seán Donnelly began. Maybe it is a demonstration of Karma but as he looked after the songs carefully once now they supported him.

Salvation came through the family ranks again; his son Sean Óg, a joiner, prompted Seán to help him turn a back shed into a new gallery/studio for Elizabeth's artwork and Seán threw himself into the rebuilding process. When completed they found the building's acoustics fitted musical gatherings and Seán devised the idea of occasional drop in sessions along the lines of the old Rambling House. These were very low-key with friends and neighbours calling in and singing songs and telling stories and Seán would be persuaded to sing a song or two. The circle was complete again and Seán Donnelly's musical rehabilitation recommenced as it began within the homely confines of the rambling house.

Elizabeth's paintings also benefited from a new venue - previously they had sold her artwork from home and the Donnelly musical and artistic ventures crept up a considerable notch. Recently Seán stepped back into the concert arena appearing at the Craic Theatre in Coalisland and An Creagain Centre. The fallow period now over, he has the hunger back to tour again and is now anxious to regain lost ground on the Scottish and English Folk Circuits. "I hope people might still remember me when I send out the begging letters to see if they'd be interested in having me sing at their clubs!'' He jokes.

Seán Donnelly will freely admit that he has turned a corner both personally and artistically. He has also issued 'On Breezes Fresh and Fair' on CD, answering requests for the album on CD and 'The Homes of Donegal' still receives frequent airplay on radio across the north of Ireland. It is a 'sleeper hit' in the wings if ever there was one!

The quiet man of Irish music, Seán Donnelly is an impressive and masterful exponent of Irish folk songs. In the words of Tommy Sands: ''There is a gentleness in the man's voice and a kindness in the guitar that an-wrinkles the mind and body and you are glad you came along. Seán Donnelly is back on stage performing in front of captive audiences, Ireland’s quiet man has returned.

Anyone wishing to contact Seán about his music or upcoming gigs should telephone on 028 43722009 or they may also e-mail Seán at . The website can be found at