EXCERPTS

CHAPTER 2:
DANNY DOYLE

  “After a while, people started drifting in and soon I was singing Irish ballads for Ms. Sinatra, Robert Stack, Robert Mitchum, Henry Mancini, James Coburn and God knows who else. They loved Finnegan's Wake, and as I sat there teaching them the chorus, I suddenly thought, 'What the hell am I doing here? I'm Danny Doyle, a coal-man's son from the back lanes of Dublin.' All I could do was laugh."
                            - Danny Doyle


One of the greatest Irish ballad singers to ever play an Irish festival, a concert hall or a palace, Danny Doyle has captured audiences throughout the world with his songs and stories, stories often told to him by his mother and his great-grandmother, or learned in the back room of some distant pub. His great-grandmother’s bright memories of the strike and lock-out in Dublin 1913, the violent drama of the 1916 Easter Rising and the following War of Independence, 1918-1922, fascinated the young Dublin man who soaked up the tales that now make up much of his stage presentation.

     Kathleen Fitzgerald Doyle and Frank Doyle, Danny’s parents, were Dublin born but with rural ancestry. Danny, born in Dublin in 1940, is one of three boys and five girls. They lived in a damp two room basement flat on Herbert Place, by the banks of the Grand Canal near Baggot Street Bridge. “A somewhat Bohemian area,” Danny says,” of whom someone wrote ‘no small area of any city anywhere has been trod by so much genius.’ Something of an exaggeration perhaps, but still, there is a great deal of truth in it.”

     Renowned literary personalities and neighbors Brendan Behan (1923 – 1964) and Patrick Kavanagh (1904 – 1967), who heard the young Doyle singing in the church choir in St. Mary’s, Haddington Road, Dublin, encouraged his interest in Irish song. Behan’s appreciation was often expressed with the occasional shilling or two.

     Danny avers he was fortunate to be born into an Ireland still immersed in the Irish oral tradition. This tradition had flourished since the arrival of the Celts, five hundred years before the coming of Christ. The new nation, one that had survived the centuries old attempts to subjugate it, was emerging into a dramatically changing new world and “the national radio service, Radio Eireann, did much to foster the folk tradition and celebrate the new nationhood with programming that reflected the Irish heritage and character,” said Danny, “But forty years later, this heritage would be hard to find on Irish air-waves, subsumed and almost swamped by a deluge of ‘rock & roll drivel and pop pabulum.’”

     Danny is eternally grateful to the radio of his childhood, which helped him to learn of the depth and richness of Irish culture. He remembers that, "There was for me excitement in the discovery of every new song, play, poem and story."





As a teen-ager Danny became intensely interested in folk songs. Since his early childhood he had heard much of these songs sung around his home in Dublin, from his mother and especially his great-grandmother, Bridget Fitzgerald, from Kilrush, County Clare. But now, through the songs, he developed a fierce curiosity about Irish history, for he had learned little of it while in school.

     “They gave us a litany of dates, a broad overview and not much else; they served us up the big picture, never the small stories that collectively make up the whole-cloth of our past. But my curiosity for the living, breathing history, the heart-beat of the incredible characters who make up our Irish story, was found at home,” Doyle recounts.

     Danny tries to bring his past and even the generation’s before that; to bring all of Irish history, to the stage. He presents a broad, meticulously researched show, so that we may understand where our ancestors came from, what made them what they were and therefore, who we are. Danny doesn’t just transport his listeners, he engulfs them. Danny strives, as Sam Ferguson, a 19th century poet says: “to link his present with his country’s past, and live anew in the knowledge of his sires.”

     “I loved the songs then, as I do now, for many reasons. They are a fascinating window into the past, into the social, personal and political life of the people. They were the poor man’s newspaper and gave powerful expression to the emotional aspirations of a downtrodden people, and were a potent force in our nationalist history. They can be beautifully lyrical and musically sumptuous, often full of a wild, soft sadness. As weapons, they were as lethal as any the invader had …” - from Danny Doyle, The Classic Collection, 2003. Doyle Music. Liner Notes.

     While bringing the songs to the stage, Danny also shows us much more than just singing; he brings to life the milieu, the social, political, joyous, humorous and tragic events and times in which the songs germinated - all in a way that grips the audience and takes them on an emotional time machine, right back to the days written about in the songs and poetry. Danny’s voice is enough to make you take note - here is a phenomenal singer – but the presentation of his songs and stories is like a sumptuous, endless multi-course meal, full of surprises and wonderful tastes and memorable, often humorous conversation.


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