…in Tribute - The Irish Press

Tuesday, January 31, 1984
Dubliners star singer Luke Kelly dies

Singer Luke Kelly of the Dubliners died last night. He was admitted to the Richmond Hospital on Saturday night.

One of the original members of the Dubliners, Mr. Kelly (44) had two major operations following a brain tumour in 1980, but had apparently made a quick recovery following the most recent operation. Although his participation with the Dubliners over the past few years had been hindered by his ill health, he resumed his banjo-playing singing role with the group last summer.

Born at the North Wall in Dublin, he worked at a variety of jobs in England during his early life, including hotel cellerman, vacuum cleaner salesman, and window cleaner.

He spent some time as a travelling folk singer in Paris before he returned to Dublin in 1962, when the Dubliners were formed following a John Molloy show in the Gate Theatre.


As well as his immediate family with Luke when he died last night at around 11pm were his Dubliner colleagues and close friends, Ronnie Drew and Eamonn Campbell.

Ronnie Drew said that while any tribute he would pay to the memory of Luke Kelly was bound to be biased, he considered Luke to be the best ballad singer of all time.

"He was an inspiration to me and so many others," said Ronnie.

Eamonn Campbell said that as Luke's role in the group was hampered by his illness in recent years, and Eamonn's own part became more prominent, they developed a strong and deep friendship.

"He was the best ballad singer in Europe, and started so many off. He was a great fellow, and I was very very close to him. We weren't running around the streets together, but we grew very close over the years," said an emotional Eamonn.

Folk singer Liam Clancy, of the Makem and Clancy team, paid tribute to the "very, very good singer" Luke Kelly, whom he helped get started over 20 years ago.

Liam was deeply shocked to hear of Luke's death, although he had known he was seriously ill since last summer. "It was an Irish festival in the Berkshire Mountains in New York state, but Luke seemed very subdued. It was obvious that his problem with his health was bad and he seemed resigned to it. The pain was very intense and just before Christmas the doctors said he would only live a few months. I believe Luke knew this. "

image Tuesday, January 31, 1984 (The Evening Press)

Luke Kelly…ahead of the rest

LUKE KELLY died last night and we knew each other in a sort of stand-off way for about 23 years. I always had great respect for his rat-trap mind, as Hemmingway called it, his absorption of printed intelligence in every newspaper and periodical, his devotion to the socialist ideal and, in the world of contemporary folksong, his skill and interest which kept him ahead of all others in the newest developments, the latest important songs, the facts about those who were singing them.

I could tell many stories about Luke, a lot of them personal. We travelled together when The Dubliners became commercially famous and the newspaper I was working for at that time thought their concerts abroad important enough to warrant news stories. Like many who had not worked on newspapers, but who wished they had, Luke had noble notions on the business. He had wanted to he a journalist, he often told me and with his sharp, mind he would undoubtedly have been a formidable commentator, especially on political matters. Some time before Jack Kennedy's assassination he showed me one night in O'Donoghue's some songs written by a person called Bob Dylan.

"His real name is Zimmerman," said Luke, "and you have to read this stuff."

It was in an American magazine called 'Sing Out,' then unavailable here. The songs were of social issues, of course, and American, but there was one called 'Blowin' in the Wind' Which Luke said would be popular, though he was characteristically skeptical enough to wonder if Dylan had in fact written it at all.

Luke set off to get himself a folksong education with "the master," Ewan MacColl, in London. He spent two years there in an unofficial university of contemporary folksong composing.

This was a time when MacColl, with Charles Parker, was producing radio folksong documentaries for the BBC such as 'Singing the Fishing,' one of the songs from which 'The Bonny Shoals of Herring,' became internationally popular. Luke returned to Ireland to rejoin Ronnie and Barney and Ciaran and his songs of social comment in that strident tenor voice made him immediately popular. In the singing with The Dubliners then there was the great distinction between he and Ronnie Drew. Both had totally different styles.

One of their greatest successes Was the show 'Finnegan Wakes' at the Gate.

Much will be written and spoken about Luke. I have my own memories of tours and concerts in the US, Canada and Germany. In the middle of one night of traditional music he got up on a table in a house I lived in and astonished all by singing Paul McCartney's 'Yesterday'.

Luke could always see the great songs of the contemporary writers, though they were not necessarily part of the folksong tradition, contemporary or otherwise, in which he was working.

The verve, the enthusiasm, the sharp mind were what made him outstanding as a performer. As an interpretative artist in folksong he is important internationally and his recordings will be a definitive memory of an energy That came out of the hard streets of Dublin.


Thursday, February 2, 1984

image Musicians in last tribute to Luke Kelly

MANY MEMBERS of the Irish folk and music scene turned out last night at the Church of the Holy Child, in Whitehall, Dublin, to pay their last respects to one of the country's best-loved folk singers, Dubliner Luke Kelly.

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At the removal of the remains of Luke Kelly to the Church of the Holy Child, Whitehall. . . John Kelly, a brother, and (right) Paddy Kelly, brother, and Barney McKenna, of the Dubliners, carrying the coffin into the church.

All of the Dubliners group turned up, including Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna, John Sheehan, Seán Cannon, and former members Jim McCann and Ciarán Burke. Guitarist Eamonn Campbell who often "stands in" with the group was also present.

There was a large turn-out of locals and music fans. The remains, shouldered into the church by his brothers Paddy, Jimmy, John and Dubliner Barney McKenna, were received by Fr. Thomas O'Keeffe.

In a short homily, Fr. O'Keeffe referred to the great "gift" of song which, he said, Luke had used to break down barriers and build bridges of friendship among men.

He was assisted by the Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, Bishop James Kavanagh, Fr. Tom Stack, FT. Joe Coulter (brother of composer Phil Coulter), Fr. Dan Breen C.C., Drimnagh, Fr Donal O'Mahoney, and Fr. Michael Clean.

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LEFT: Ronnie Drew, of the Dubliners, with Most Rev. James Kavanagh, Auxiliary Bishop of Dublin, and Eamonn MacThomais. RIGHT : John Sheehan, of the Dubliners, and Jim McCann, former member of the Group.
Pictures : Frank Miller.

Chief mourners were the deceased's wife Deirdre, brothers Paddy, Jimmy, and John, and sisters Mona and Bessie.

Actress Siobhan McKenna, carrying a wreath of daffodils, also attended, along with Labour Party senator, Michael D. Higgins, and Labour MEP, Brendan Halligan.

Ciaran Mac Mathuna, singer Joe Cuddy, Arsenal goalkeeper Pat Jennings, and Mr. Mick McCarthy all paid their respects. The Furey Brothers, their manager, Mr. Jim Hand and members of the Wolfe Tones also attended.

Dozens of wreaths from folk clubs all over the country were sent, including one from Paddy Moloney of the Chieftains, currently on tour in U.S. Impresario Noel Pearson, former international footballer Ray Treacy, Paddy Reilly, Anne Bushnell, and the Abbey Theatre also sent wreaths.

The remains will be buried in Glasnevin Cemetery today after 10 o'clock Mass.


Friday, February 3, 1984


Songs, laments and tears for a Dubliner

RONNIE DREW had a tremble in his voice, Phil Coulter wept, and all the others who knew and loved him were sad when they came to lay to rest the husky voiced, banjo — playing Dubliner, Luke Kelly.

Whitehall Parish la Dublin's northside was full to overflowing yesterday for the funeral Miss, with mourners keenly aware that a musician who could bring great joy had passed their way.

Later, In Glasnevin Cemetery, a large throng gathered around the graveside to pay their final tribute to the man who had brought them so much entertainment during the past 21 years.

His wife, brothers and sisters, celebrities, politicians and musicians were there, as well as the ordinary fans, who down the years had supported the Dubliners and the banjo-plucker who could rattle out uplifting ballads or tug at the heartstrings with songs such as "Scorn Not His Simplicity".

As befitted a marvellous musician, it was a moving and musical ceremony in the church. Barney McKenna introduced the celebrants to the altar with a plaintive rendition of Róisín Dubh. Finbar Furey played a lament on the pipes.


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FRIEND'S GRIEF…Songwriter Phil Coulter weeps during the funeral Mass for Luke Kelly yesterday in Whitehall, Dublin. Centre, Luke's brother, Patrick and Barney McKenna of the Dubliners carry the coffin from the church; and right, the Fianna Fail leader Mr. Haughey with Ronnie Drew.

The Dubliners themselves, up beside the altar, played two of the tunes most associated with Luke. Raglan Road and The Town I Loved So Well. As the last named song was played, Phil Coulter, its writer, and a close friend of Luke's, broke down and wept, burying his face in his hands.

Then, perhaps, the finest musical tribute of all-a beautiful playing of "The Prodigal Son", the tune recently written by Dubliner John Sheehan, its hopeful melody so obviously dedicated to Luke.

Mass ended with a brass band, conducted by Earl Gill, playing another tune associated with Luke and also with Brendan Behan, The Auld Triangle.

As the music played and the prayers were read, the memories came rolling back of the joy and the crack Luke brought through his music.

In the early days, we listened to him and Ronnie and Ciaran and the boys in places like Donoghues or the Embankment Inn in Tallaght

Later when the band's fame, aided by a little notoriety, increased, we marvelled at how the Dubliners could win the hearts of audiences in the prestigious Albert Hall in London and other great venues in Europe and North America.


Also present with the Dubliners at the altar side were Jim McCann, a former member, Eamonn Campbell, now almost part of the group, Finbar Furey, and Phil Coulter.

Ciaran Bourke, who was there at the start, was in the church too.

Also there were Luke's brothers. Paddy, Jimmy and John, sisters Iona and Bessie, and wife Deirdre.

The Fianna Fail leader, Mr. Haughey, was present to pay his respects, with Frank Cluskey, Albert Reynolds, Tomas MacGlolla and others hi the large congregation.

The chief celebrant, FT. Michael Cleary, described Luke as a man with a big heart who hated sham but loved people. The priest spoke about his sense of humour, his commitment to music and his real, genuine charity.