Luke Kelly was born on November 17, 1940, into a working class family
in Sheriff Street, a quarter of a mile from Dublin's O'Connell Street.
His grandmother, who was a McDonald from Scotland, lived with the
family until her death in 1953. His father worked all his life in
Jacobs biscuit factory and enjoyed playing soccer. Both Luke and his
brother Paddy played club GAA football and soccer as kids. In 1953 the
Corporation moved the family to Whitehall, then a north city suburb.
Luke left school at 13 and after four years of
went to England in 1958. Working at steel fixing with his brother Paddy
on a building site in Wolverhampton, he was sacked after asking for
more money. He worked odd jobs from oil barrel cleaning to vacuum
The first folk club he came across was in Newcastle in early 1960.
Having already acquired the use of a banjo, he started memorising
songs. In Leeds he brought his banjo to sessions in McReady's pub and
was often to be seen at Communist Party headquarters. The folk revival
was under way in England: at the centre of it was Ewan McColl who
scripted a radio programme called Ballads and Blues. The skiffle craze
had also injected a certain energy into folk singing.
Luke started busking. On a trip home he went a fleadh ceoil in Miltown
Malbay on the advice of Johnny
Moynihan. He listened to recordings of
Woodie Guthrie and Pete Seeger. As he sought out the musician in
himself, he also developed his political convictions which, as Ronnie
Drew pointed out after his death, he stuck to throughout his
Ronnie also pointed out, he learned to sing with perfect diction.
He befriended Sean Mulready in Birmingham and lived in his home for a
period. A teacher who was run out of his job in Dublin after a Catholic
witchunt over his communist beliefs, he also had strong music links. A
sister, Kathleen Moynihan was a founder member of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri
Eireann. He was related by marriage to Festy Conlon, the Co Galway
whistle player. His wife's brother, Ned Stapleton, taught Luke The
Rocky Road to Dublin.
Luke bought his first banjo, a five-string, started a lifelong habit of
consummate reading and even took up golf - on one of Birmingham's
municipal courses. He got involved in the Jug O'Punch folk club run by
Ian Campbell. He befriended Dominick Behan and they performed folk
clubs and Irish pubs from London to Glasgow. In London pubs like The
Favourite he would hear street singer Margaret
Barry and musicians in
exile like Roger Sherlock, Seamus
Ennis, Bobby Casey
Luke Kelly was by now active in the Connolly Asssociation, a left-wing
grouping strongest among the exiles in England. His political
development was significant. It gave edge and conviction to his
performance and lent weight to The
Dubliners' repertoire at a time when
the youth in Ireland were breaking away from Civil War 'Tweedledum'
politics. He was also to start frequenting Ewan McColl and Peggy
Seeger's Singer Club in London.
See also: Luke Kelly, A Memoir, by Des Geraghty.
Basement Press. (Copies on sale at Charlie Byrne's Bookshop, Galway).
Discography The Best of Luke Kelly (2004 Double CD),
Celtic Airs,CACD0201 Luke's Legacy, Luke Kelly and the
of the Workers, Luke Kelly The Collection,
Luke Kelly The Luke Kelly
Album (with The Dubliners)