Phil Murphy profiles Delores Keane in his monthly Country & Irish music column

Dolores Keane has one of the most distinctive voices in Irish music which has been entertaining people at home and all over the world for 40 years since she first came to notice as a founder member of De Dannan, in 1975.

She has enjoyed tremendous success in various guises over those four decades, but behind the scenes she has had some very serious problems to deal with, including alcoholism, depression and, in the past two years, breast cancer.

In the past couple of year Dolores has gone public about her troubles and she told the full, unvarnished story in a searingly honest and acclaimed documentary by Liam McGrath, entitled ‘Dolores Keane: A Storm In The Heart’, initially shown on RTE television last year and recently repeated.

Many people were very moved by the brutal honesty of the story she told, and wished her well in getting her life back on an even keel and her career back on track.

She has shown courage and determination in telling her story in the hope of inspiring and helping others, and she has been back on the touring circuit for the past 18 months, being joined in many of the shows by her equally well known and talented brother, Sean.

The trademark flowing red hair has gone as a result of her cancer treatment but the quality of her remarkable voice and the love of the songs which has always driven her is still undimmed.

Dolores was born on September 26th, 1953 and growing up in Caherlistrane Co. Galway, she was steeped in the deep musical tradition of the area and developed a deep love for the Irish music and songs that had been passed on by her family, especially her aunts, Rita and Sarah. She actually appeared on RTE radio for the first time in 1958 at the age of five! She first came to national prominence in 1975 as a member of De Dannann and she met and married John Faulkner who was also a member of the band.

They went out on their own after a couple of years and in 1978 she recorded her first solo album, There Was a Maid, followed by Broken Hearted I’ll Wander (1979) and Farewell to Eirinn (1980). In the mid-1980s she rejoined De Dannan and recorded the albums Anthem and Ballroom with them.

Dolores went back to her solo career in 1988, and released the Dolores Keane album, followed a year later by A Lion in a Cage, and the title song, written by John Faulkner, protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela became a No.1 hit.

In 1992, Dolores was among the female Irish singers to lend their music to the anthology A Woman’s Heart. The album, which also featured Eleanor McEvoy, Mary Black, Frances Black, Sharon Shannon and Maura O’Connell, went on to become the biggest-selling album in Irish history. A Woman’s Heart Vol.2 was released in late 1994 and was also a big seller.

That same year the very busy Keane put out a solo album, entitled Solid Ground, that received critical acclaim in Europe and America. In August 1997, Dolores went to number one again in the Irish album charts with a compilation album with her most loved songs. Another studio album was released in 1998 called Night Owl, and it saw Keane returning to her traditional Irish roots and it did well in Europe and America.

Despite a thriving solo career, Dolores Keane went on tour with De Dannan again in the late 1990s and they played to packed audiences in Ireland, Europe and America
In recent years, Dolores faded somewhat from the scene as she battled with her problems but all lovers of the human spirit, and of a unique singing talent, will rejoice that she has successfully emerged at the other side and is back to doing what she does best, singing the songs. 

Keane is known the world-over for her deep, yet melodic voice.  

Her recordings of such as Dougie McLean’s Caledonia, Frank A. Fahey’s Galway Bay, Paul Brady’s The Island and Never Be the Sun are regarded as amongst the finest  interpretations of these songs.   Nanci Griffith, the great American singing star, said of Keane: “Dolores Keane, the queen of the soul of Ireland, has a sacred voice.”

The concerts she has performed with her brother, Sean, have drawn rave reviews. The two of them toured together when members of ‘Reel Union’ in the early eighties before going on to carve out solo careers.

They have five dates in the North of Ireland in mid-September when they will be joined by Carmel Dempsey on keyboards, Pat Coyne on guitar and Fergus Feely on mandocello. Sean will play flute, tin whistle, low whistle and harmonica.

The Ulster concerts are as follows:  Wed 16th September – Canal Court Hotel, Newry; Thurs 17th – The Marketplace Theatre, Armagh; Fri. 18th – Glenavon Hotel, Cookstown; Thursday 24th – Strule Arts Centre, Omagh; Friday 25th – Millennium Forum, Derry.