Micheal O Domhnaill - Obituaries - News - The Independent

Micheal O Domhnaill

Bothy Band guitarist and singer


Mícheál O Domhnaill, guitarist, singer and folklorist: born Kells, Co Meath 1952; died Dublin 8 July 2006.

Irish music didn't quite know what had hit it in 1974 when the Bothy Band exploded out of traditional music, all guns blazing. They were a folk group in personnel, acoustic instrumentation and pedigree; a rock band in attitude and vision. Most of the focus fell on the band's more flamboyant virtuosos - the ferocious Donegal fiddler Tommy Peoples, the travelling piper Paddy Keenan, the master flautist Matt Molloy, the alluring singer and harpsichord/clavinet player Tríona Ni Dhomhnaill and the bouzouki rhythm king Donal Lunny.

But Mícheál O Domhnaill offered a subtly crucial counterpoint to the musical fireballs bursting around him, with his thoughtful accompaniments and gentle voice. His contribution to the legend of the Bothy Band was profound and, through many years playing in an assortment of styles, he was recognised as one of Ireland's finest accompanists of traditional music.

O Domhnaill was also a fine singer who did much for raising awareness and interest in the Irish-language song tradition both before and after the halcyon years of the Bothy Band, going on to achieve further acclaim with the American-based bands Nightnoise and Relativity.

Born in Kells, Co Meath, Mícheál O Domhnaill inherited a deep love and understanding of Irish culture from a family rooted in the Donegal Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking) area of Rann na Feirste and steeped in traditional music history. His mother Brid was a choral singer and his father Aodh was a teacher who also sang and collected music for the Irish Folklore Commission. Aodh's sister Neilli Ni Dhomhnaill provided a goldmine of material with a fund of over 300 Irish- and English-language songs, some of which - like "Do You Love an Apple?" - found their way into the Bothy Band repertoire.

Taught piano from the age of six, Mícheál gravitated to the guitar and formed his first band, Skara Brae, with his sisters Tríona and Maighread and the gifted Derry guitarist Dáithí Sproule. Their beautiful, adventurous arrangements of mostly Irish Gaelic material did much to raise the profile and status of this tradition when they released their first and only album for the Gael Linn label in 1971. By this time both Mícheál and Tríona were students at University College Dublin, where Mícheál forged a partnership with Mick Hanly under the name Monroe, recording one fine album, Celtic Folkweave, with him, released by Polydor in 1974.

The origins of the Bothy Band were set when the accordion player Tony McMahon recruited both Mícheál and Tríona to play at a one-off concert with Donal Lunny, Paddy Keenan, Paddy Glackin and Matt Molloy under the name of Seachtar ("seven"). The night was such a success and the rapport between them so instinctive they decided to formalise the group.

At Mícheál O Domhnaill's suggestion they called themselves the Bothy Band after a group of itinerant Irish labourers who worked the farms in Scotland by day and entertained themselves with wild, impromptu music sessions by night. Tony McMahon had a day job and bailed out and Paddy Glackin soon left to be replaced by Tommy Peoples, but the incredible energy generated by the new band caused an immediate impact. Planxty had already opened young people's ears to the joy and excitement of Irish music, but nobody had heard anything quite like the Bothy Band in full flight before.

Full of strong characters and brilliant, thrilling musicians, they had a natural dynamism that manifested itself in fury of passion and blistering power that belied their acoustic line-up and blew most electric rock bands out of the water. People still talk in awe of their legendary début concerts in Ireland (at Trinity College Dublin) and Britain (at Hammersmith Town Hall).

The Bothy Band split after five years in 1979, but they made three classic albums, 1975 (1975), Old Hag You Have Killed Me (1976) and Out of the Wind, into the Sun (1977), plus a fine live collection, After Hours (1979). They set the benchmark by which all succeeding Irish bands have been judged and most of the leading Irish bands of today like Altan, Danu and Dervish point to the Bothy Band as a primary inspiration. It made them famous, but not rich, and due to business and record-company problems none of the band made much money out of the experience.

O Domhnaill went on to record the lovely Promenade (1980), an instrumental album with the fiddle player Kevin Burke (a post-Tommy Peoples member of the Bothy Band) and followed his sister Tríona to the United States, settling in Portland, Oregon. Tríona and Mícheál were subsequently reunited in Nightnoise, a band Micheal had formed with the violinist/keyboard player Billy Oskay, and the flautist Brian Dunning.

Nightnoise couldn't have been more different from the Bothies, moulding a mellow, ambient instrumental style involving jazz/classical fusion full of spirituality that almost came to define the new age culture. The Celtic influence was minimal, dismaying many of O Domhnaill's old fans from the Bothy Band era, but they hit a chord in the US and sold more records than the Bothies ever did. They were mainstays of the Windham Hill record label, for whom they recorded seven albums, and O Domhnaill stayed with them for over 15 years.

During the ambient years of Nightnoise, however, O Domhnaill did continue to involve himself in Irish music, founding the band Relativity with his sister Tríona and the great Scottish musicians Phil Cunningham (accordion) and his brother Johnny on fiddle. The late Johnny Cunningham, one of the finest fiddle players of his generation, was even inducted into Nightnoise as Billy Oskay's replacement after their fourth album.

With the Cunninghams on board and Tríona and Mícheál sharing the vocals, Relativity were an outstanding band, recording two fine albums, Relativity (1986) and Gathering Pace (1987). It proved yet again that Mícheál O Domhnaill had few peers when it came to providing the understated guitar arrangements for others to blossom and get the best out of a jig or reel. Indeed he was critical of the high-octane obsession of many Irish musicians trying to recapture the magic of the Bothy Band.

He returned to live in Ireland in 1997 and again showed his adeptness with arrangements and sparingly sympathetic guitar accompaniments when he teamed up for a tour and a 2001 album, Athchuairt ("Reprise"), with his close friend the original Bothy Band fiddle player Paddy Glackin. Glackin gave O Domhnaill particular credit for his work on popularising Irish language songs. "He took a lot of old songs and re-fashioned them and made them accessible to a new generation," he said.

A gentle, unassuming, mild-mannered character, Mícheál O Domhnaill was held in high regard by his peers for his quiet influence both as an ambassador of Irish music, his willingness to embrace other styles and the rich legacy of tunes and songs he brought with him. He collaborated on an album by the Japanese singer Mimori Yusa and appeared weekly as part of the house band on the RTE1 show Brid Live. He was also a producer, radio presenter (he was the first host of the Irish music show The Long Note) and a keen golfer, but, perhaps more than anyone else, he defined the role of the guitar in traditional tunes with his lightness of touch and understated style.

Colin Irwin

News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£110 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Newcastle: Our clients are looking for...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Supply teachers needed- Worthing!

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: Supply teachers needed for va...

KS1 and KS2 Primary NQT Job in Lancaster Area

£85 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Preston: Randstad Education is urgently...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week