Profile: De Dannan

De Dannan are one of the most famous traditional Irish groups of the recent past. Their often-changing membership has spun off solo careers for singers Maura O' Connell, Mary Black and Dolores Keane and has included such luminaries as Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan, Frankie Gavin. They are regarded by many as one of the great Irish folk groups of recent years, along with the likes of Planxty and the Bothy Band.

De Dannan were formed in 1974 in the Irish-speaking area of Spiddal, Co. Galway, and then consisted of Frankie Gavin, Alec Finn, Johnny McDonagh and Charlie Piggott. Dolores Keane joined to become the first of many lead singers, for their debut album; since then, the lineup has changed many times, most especially the lead singer, which slot has also been occupied by Mary Black, Maura O' Connell, Johnny Moynihan, Eleanor Shanley and now Tomie Fleming.

Current Lineup

Frankie Gavin - fiddle, whistle

Frankie's virtuosic and fiery fiddle playing has been a backbone for De Dannan since the beginning. Regarded as one of the best current Irish fiddle players, his playing is evident in all their music. He has also been responsible for much of the style and musical arrangements for the group which, in his own words 'highlight tightly percussive melody lines set against a flowing, contrapuntal background'. (See this analysis of his fiddle style)

Alec Finn - bouzouki, guitar

Another founding member, he holds one of several claims to introducing the bouzouki to Irish music (Johnny Moynihan and Andy Irvine being two others). He plays a six-string Greek traditional instument rather than the 8-string 'Irish' bouzouki. He was born in Yorkshire, of Irish parents. After an early interest in rock and blues, he moved to Dublin and entered the traditional scene, before moving to Galway and De Dannan.

Colm Murphy - bodhran

A more recent addition, Colm hails from Co. Cork. As well as working with De Dannan, he does session and concert work with other groups, and is one of the better known of current bodhran players.

Aidan Coffey - accordion

Aidan, from Co. Waterford plays the accordion melodeon-style, using a small two-row German instrument, in E flat. UPDATE: On the latest album, Hibernian Rhapsody, Aidan has been replaced by Derek Hickey

Tommie Fleming - vocals

The latest in a long line of singers, Tommie is a 22-year-old (1996) from Aclare, Co. Sligo and sings both solo and with De Dannan.


1996  Hibernian Rhapsody          PED 9601       
1991  Best of De Danann           Shanachie 79047
1991  Half Set in Harlem          Green Linnet 1113
                                  Bee's Knees
                                  Celtic Music
1988  Song for Ireland            Sugar Hill 1130(1983?)
1985  Anthem                      Dara 013
1983  Jacket of Batteries         Green Linnet 3053
                                  Harmac HM48
1980  The Mist Covered Mountain   Gael Linn 087
                                  Shanachie 79005
1980  Banks of the Nile           Decca 5318
1978  The Star-Spangled Molly     Shanachie 79018 (1981?)
1978  Selected Jigs Reels & Songs Decca
                                  Shanachie (1988)
1976  De Danann                   Polydor
                                  Decca 5287 (1977?)
1981  No Home Is Real             Shanachie 79018
1987  Ballroom                    Green Linnet 3040
1980  Hey Jude/The Teetotaler/St. Annes Reels
                                  Gael-Linn CESN 002

Album notes

I'm not personally familiar with many of these albums. The most highly mentioned are The Mist Covered Mountain, the Star-Spangled Molly and Song for Ireland (with Mary Black). The 'Best of' album also has a good selection. The Star-Spangled Molly is a 'theme' album, featuring Irish-American music of the 1920s, with singer Maura O'Connell. The Mist Covered Mountain is one of their most traditional albums, and features two sean-nos style singers, Sean O Conaire and Tom Phaidin Tom. Half Set in Harlem has a mix of Irish music with American styles, such as gospel and klezmer music. Bee's Knees is Frankie Gavin's own record company, in Ireland. Dara and Gael Linn are Irish, Celtic Music is English, Shanachie and Green Linnet American, and WEA, Polydor and Decca are pretty international. I have conflicting information for some release dates; I have attempted to give the original release in each case, though several of the albums have been rereleased.

Frankie Gavin has also done many solo and collaboration albums, as well as guesting on many others - such as Elvis Costello's 'Spike', the latest Rolling Stones album, Voodoo Lounge, a duet with Yeuhdi Menuhin on the BBC/RTE collaboration 'Bringing it back home'

1996  Hibernian Rhapsody
1994  Irlande                           OCORA/Radio France C560021
      (live album with Gavin, Arty McGlynn, Aidan Coffey).
1993  Jigs and Jazz (duets with Stephane Grapelli, also available on video)
1983  Croch Suas E (up and away)        Gael Linn CEF 103
      Frankie Gavin solo, mostly on flute, but also fiddle, tin whistle and 
1986  Omos do Joe Cooley                Gael LinnCEF 115
      Frankie Gavin and accordionist Paul Brock with Charlie Lennon in a
      tribute to the famed accordion player.
1977  Traditional Music of Ireland      Shanachie 29008
      Gavin and Alec Finn
19??  Frankie Goes to town              Bees Knees BKCD01
19??  Island Wedding                    RTECD145 (with RTE Concert Orch)
19??  An Irish Christmas                Bees Knees BKCD003
19??  The Irish RM                      Release Records RRL 8012
      (TV series theme, Gavin, Frankie Daly, Declan Masterson and others).
I've also heard that he was featured on an 'Irish Music legends' album and 'Green White and Golden Oldies' - please let me know if you know any more about these albums.

Alec Finn now has his own 'Blue Shamrock' album out on the new Celtic Hearbeat label.
Thanks to Paul Yachnes, Stephen Jarrett and Jeff Doty for information on the discography.


Most of De Dannan's and Frankie Gavin's albums are available from CDUniverse.

P.S. I couldn't resist including this story posted to the Irtrad-L mailing list by Beverley Whelan, which may or may not accurately portray Frakie Gavin's artistry...

A fiddle player called Pat died and went up to heaven. He was delighted to get there, as lots of his favourite musicians he'd always wanted to play music with (Michael Coleman .... etc) had got there before him. So off he went, sessions all day and night and the Guinness was flowing ....

One night late Pat was walking home after the session with St Peter (a mean harp player himself, as you'd expect), when he heard a lone fiddler playing. The sound seemed to be coming from a darkened room, and peering inside he saw a lonely figure in the shadows in the far corner, who obviously by his body language wanted to be left alone. The fiddle playing was unmistakeable - this could only be Fankie Gavin.

Pat turned to St Peter and said 'I didn't know that Frankie Gavin was dead! When did he get here?'

St Peter shrugged and said 'No he's not dead. That's not Frankie Gavin'

Pat was incredulous. The playing was unmistakeable. 'You're pulling my leg' He said. 'I'd know that playing anywhere. And apart from that who else would want to play all alone up here? That's Frankie Gavin all right'

'No it's not' replied Pete.

'All right then, who is it?' asked Pat, unconvinced.

'It's God' replied St Peter. 'He just thinks he's Frankie Gavin'

Copyright (c) 1994-1997 Ceolas.

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