Henry Wymbs recalls an interview he did for the BBC with one of Ireland’s most famous traditional Irish musicians


True to say country music would be my first love, but don’t tell the wife! However, in the fifties I had a passion for accordion music courtesy of seeing and hearing the great Richard Fitzgerald Céilí Band in nearby Bundoran and listening to Din Joe on Radió Éireann with his catch phrase, “lift the latch, step right in, and take the floor” was a sheer delight. I believe it was my first time hearing the footsteps of Irish dance live on the radio.

In the late fifties, Radió Éireann had its own Irish programme, which broadcast traditional music and was immensely popular. It was there that I first heard the distinctive sound of Donal Ring who had become a firm favourite with listeners and dancing audiences over his long career.
Donal was playing his accordion at his first dance whilst still in short pants. Many a homesick Irish person in faraway lands tapped their feet to the sounds of The Siege of Ennis and Stack of Barley which faded in and out through the static of the short-wave radio.

I was fortunate enough to interview Donal on BBC radio …

What do you recall of your childhood?
“I was born in Grenagh in Cork in 1935, the second of four sons and two daughters. Both my parents were from West Cork, and my father was a well-known melodeon player in the local area.
His love of the instrument was such that he would play it in the morning before going to work and again when he came home in the evening.
As a young boy I would pick up the melodeon and squeeze a few tunes out of it. I was hooked, and could or would not put the instrument down. Like my father I practised every minute of the day and night.
I joined a couple of local bands which gave me the confidence to try and better myself. I never had any music lessons or tuition just played by ear.”

Did you have a day job by then?
“I started of with my father driving a truck and at seventeen driving for another man. I was still playing my two-row melodeon, and reached the final of the All-Ireland music competition in 1955. I had been contemplating starting my own band for a while, but waited to get the right musicians and the right sound.
“Céilí bands were changing their style as Irish showbands were in the ascendency, I gave it a lot of thought, and in 1958, started the Donal Ring Band. I wanted to give it a definitive and unique sound moulded by a group of handpicked musicians.”

Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own