logo Mícheál Ó Domhnaill

The singer and guitarist Mícheál Ó Domhnaill, who died suddenly at his Dublin flat on 9th July, had an illustrious career in Irish music which spanned almost forty of his 54 years.

Brought up in Kells, Co Meath, Mícheál's familial roots lay in the Irish-language speaking area of Rannafast in County Donegal.  Though he learnt many a song from his late father Aodh (who collected plenty of Donegal songs for the Irish Folklore Commission), it was the family's summer visits to the Donegal village which vastly augmented the repertoire of Mícheál and his sisters Tríona and Maighread, not least through time passed in the company of their aunt, Neillí Ní Dhomhnaill, renowned as one of the county's greatest singers.

At Rannafast a lasting friendship was forged with a young Derry singer and guitarist, Dáithí Sproule, who was attending Irish language classes in the village.  Finding a musical affinity based upon a shared love of traditional Irish songs and the finger-picking guitar style pioneered by English folk guitarists such as Bert Jansch and John Renbourn, Mícheál, Dáithí and Tríona formed the band Skara Brae while studying at University College Dublin in the late 1960s.  Joined by Maighread, who was still at school, they released a remarkable eponymous album for the Gael Linn label in 1971 whose hypnotic marriage of mellow harmonies, backed by guitars and Tríona's clavinet still retains its original haunting impact.

The band, which had subsequently and unsuccessfully attempted to turn electric, folded in the following year.  Mícheál went on to record an innovative folk-rock album, Celtic Folkweave, with the singer Mick Hanly in 1974.  However, true renown resulted from his membership of one of Ireland's most influential and wildest groups (both musically and socially, if all the rumours are true), the Bothy Band, from 1975 to 1979.  Formed with sister Tríona, fiddler Paddy Glackin (first replaced by Tommy Peoples and then by Kevin Burke), flute player Matt Molloy, uilleann piper Paddy Keenan and multi-instrumentalist DÓnal Lunny, The Bothy Band's impact upon the Irish music scene was almost instantaneous and the band later achieved great success in Europe.

After the band's split Mícheál recorded Promenade with Kevin Burke before emigrating to the USA.  He settled in Portland, releasing another collaboration with Kevin bearing that city's name as its title in 1982.  Tríona also crossed the Atlantic and, with Mícheál, formed another influential, though short-lived band, Relativity, with Phil and the late Johnny Cunningham.  However, Mícheál's developing musical interests, which espoused not only his native traditions, but jazz-fusion, world and ambient music, came to fruition in the more enduring Nightnoise (also involving Tríona) whose career spanned thirteen years and seven albums (several released while Mícheál was effectively producer-in-residence for the Windham Hill label).

Mícheál moved back to Ireland and settled in Dublin in the late 1990s.  Though there was a stunning reunion of Skara Brae during Donegal's Frankie Kennedy Winter School, much of his time was spent on the golf course.  However, in 2001, he and fiddler Paddy Glackin issued the sumptuous Reprise album which features Mícheál's starkly powerful rendition of one of the big songs from the Irish tradition, Bríd Bhán, as well as demonstrating that Mícheál remained one of the music world's finest guitar accompanists.

Researching an article on The Bothy Band a couple of years back I spoke to Mícheál and asked him about his future musical plans.  Something big was in the offing, he informed me, but sadly we will now never know exactly what it was.

Geoff Wallis - 16.8.06


TASCQ [Traders in the Area Supporting the Cultural Quarter], the Temple Bar traders group and organizers of the annual Temple Bar Trad Festival, today [Mon 10 July 2006] expressed regret on the passing of Irish musician, Mícheál Ó Domhnaill.

Mícheál performed with Skara Brae at the Temple Bar Trad Festival's opening concert in January of this year in what was generally seen as an artistic highlight in Dublin's calendar of events.  A cornerstone of seminal modernising bands such as Skara Brae and The Bothy Band, Mícheál made a huge contribution to traditional, folk and contemporary music.  He formed and influenced new ways of arranging traditional songs and was constantly respectful of those from whom he collected this music.  His generosity and attention to detail are legendary amongst his colleagues and peers.

TASCQ would like to express our sincere condolences to Mícheál's sisters Maighread and Tríona, his brother Conall and his extended family.

Lisa Fitzsimons - 10.7.06
Communications Manager, TASCQ

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