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Luke Kelly Tribute » Luke Kelly… The Legend

Luke Kelly Tribute

A Memoir to Ireland’s greatest folk artist, Luke Kelly.

Luke Kelly… The Legend


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Luke Kelly
1940-1984

“On Raglan Road of an Autumn day
I saw her first and knew
That her dark hair would weave a snare
That I might one day rue
I saw the danger and I passed
Along the enchanted way
And I said let grief be a fallen leaf
At the dawning of the day‚Ķ.”

Lyrics by Paddy Kavanagh, immortalised in song by Luke

Luke Kelly was born on November 17, 1940, into a working class family in Sheriff Street, a quarter of a mile from Dublin’s O’Connell Street. Luke left school at 13 and after four years of odd-jobbing went to England in 1958. The first folk club he came across was in Newcastle in early 1960. Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he started memorising songs. In Leeds he brought his banjo to sessions in McReady’s pub and was often to be seen at Communist Party headquarters. The folk revival was under way in England: at the centre of it was Ewan McColl.

Luke started busking. As he sought out the musician in himself, he also developed his political convictions which, as Ronnie Drew pointed out after his death, he stuck to throughout his life.

As Ronnie also pointed out, he was unique in that he sang with perfect diction.Luke bought his first banjo, a five-string, started a lifelong habit of consummate reading and even took up golf - on one of Birmingham’s municipal courses. He got involved in the Jug O’Punch folk club run by Ian Campbell. He befriended Dominic Behan and they performed folk clubs and Irish pubs from London to Glasgow.Luke developed a strong Communist conviction at the turn of the 1960s. He was by now active in the Connolly Association, a left-wing grouping strongest among the exiles in England. His political development was significant. It gave edge and conviction to his performance and lent weight to ‘The Dubliners’ repertoire and this ideology was apparent in Luke’s songs right until the end. He was also to start frequenting Ewan McColl and Peggy Seeger’s Singer Club in London.In 1961 the ballad boom was rising in Ireland. The Abbey Tavern sessions in Howth were the forerunners to gigs in the Hollybrook, Clontarf, the International Bar and the Grafton cinema. Luke Kelly returned to Dublin in 1962. O’Donoghues on Merrion Row was already established as a session house and soon Luke was singing with among others Ronnie Drew and Barney McKenna.

The success trail led to the Abbey Tavern and the Royal Marine and then to jam-packed sessions in the Embankment, Tallaght. Ciaran Bourke joined the group, followed later by John Sheahan. It was in response to Luke’s suggestion that the ‘Ronnie Drew Group’ changed their name to ‘The Dubliners’ after reading James Joyce’s novel “Dubliners”.

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