August 16, 2008 – Joseph Ronald “Ronnie” Drew (The Dubliners) was born on September 16, 1934 in Dún Laoghaire, County Dublin, Ireland.
Ironically, and although he was so intimately associated with being “a Dubliner”, he would somewhat tongue-in-cheek say that “I was born and grew up in Dún Laoghaire, and no true Dubliner would accept that at all!”
Despite his aversion to education, he was considered the most intelligent in his class by schoolfriend and future Irish film censor, Sheamus Smith.
“Ronnie Drew in his fine suit of blue
And a voice like gravel that would cut you in two
We thought he was Dublin through and through
But he blew in from Dún Laoghaire”
In the mid 1950s, Drew moved to Spain for 3 years to teach English and learn Spanish and flamenco guitar. His interest in folk music began at the age of 19. When he returned to Ireland, he performed in the Gate Theatre with John Molloy and soon went into the music business full-time, after holding a number of short-term jobs—including one at the Dublin’s telephone exchange.
In 1962, he founded the Ronnie Drew Group with Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke. They soon changed their name to The Dubliners—with John Sheahan joining shortly afterwards to form the definitive line-up—and quickly became one of the best known Irish folk groups. They played at first in O’Donoghue’s Pub in Merrion Row, Dublin 2 where they were often accompanied by Mary Jordan on the spoons and vocalist Ann Mulqueen, a friend of McKenna’s. Mary Jordan’s mother, Peggy Jordan, introduced them to the Abbey Tavern in Howth, which became a regular Monday night venue for the emerging group. They also played across the road in the Royal Hotel, at all-night parties in Peggy’s large house in Kenilworth Square in Rathgar, and in John Molloy’s flat at Ely Place.
Drew left the Dubliners in 1974 and went to Norway in 1978 to research folk music and recorded with the Norwegian group Bergeners two songs; Verablæs du fagre øy, (in Norwegian), and “Sky is the Limit”, which reached number 4 in the chart Europatopten (both songs by Fred Ove Reksten). He rejoined The Dubliners in 1979 and left for good in 1995, though he did reunite with the group in 2002 for a 40th anniversary celebration. He made several television appearances with the group between 2002–05.
From 1995 onwards, Drew pursued a solo career. He recorded with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi, Dropkick Murphys, Eleanor Shanley and others. He did a number of “one-man shows”—he was accompanied by various guitarists—during this period, such as Songs and Stories, Ronnie, I Hardly Knew Ya and Ronnie. These shows consisted of stories about people such as Brendan Behan, Patrick Kavanagh and Seán O’Casey, as well as Drew singing their songs.
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.
In the final months before his death, Drew recorded a number of songs in a traditional jazz style. A number of stars from the music world, including Mary Coughlan and Damien Dempsey, joined him in duets on the album. It was produced by Hugh Buckley and released in November 2008 by Celtic Collections.
Ronnie Drew died in Dublin on 16 August 2008, following his long illness. He was 73.
“The Ballad of Ronnie Drew”
On 19 February 2008, a song was released called “The Ballad of Ronnie Drew” performed by a number of famous Irish musicians or musicians living in Ireland. This included members of The Dubliners, U2, Sinéad O’Connor, Christy Dignam of Aslan, Robert Hunter of the Grateful Dead, Kíla, Christy Moore, Andrea Corr, Moya Brennan, Shane MacGowan, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Bob Geldof, Damien Dempsey, Gavin Friday, Iona Green, Jerry Fish, Paul Brady, Paddy Casey, Mick Pyro, Mundy, Chris de Burgh, Ronan Keating, Jack L, Eleanor Shanley, Mary Black, Declan O’Rourke, Mary Coughlan, and Joe Elliott of Def Leppard and The Chieftains.
Originally, the song had been written to include Drew himself but was changed into a tribute to him as his health was declining. Proceeds from sale of the single went to the Irish Cancer Society, at Drew’s request. The song was also performed live on The Late Late Show on 22 February with Drew in attendance as an audience member, and entered the Irish Single Charts at No. 2.