Described memorably by Nanci Griffith as “the voice of Ireland,” Dolores Keane has an earthy and instantly recognisable singing style.
She was born in Castlehackett, Co. Galway on September 26, 1953. It was not unusual then in a large family for a child to be brought up by close relatives. So Dolores was raised from the age of four in her grandmother’s house in nearby Caherlistrane by her aunts, Rita and Sarah Keane, distinguished singers themselves with a vast store of songs. The broadcaster and collector Ciaran Mac Mathuna collected many songs from her aunts. (Rita passed away on June 28, 2009).
The house became well-known for its music sessions and Sarah and Rita recorded an album.They also had a band. Her father Matt was a member of the Keanes’ Ceili Band along with Rita and Sarah and Dolores’s uncles Tom, John Joe, Paddy and Tom Hynes and they played at weddings and American Wakes.
At the age of eight she was recorded and broadcast on Radio Eireann by Mac Mathúna. She entered the fleadhanna and won three All-Ireland titles for singing.
She was 17 when, approached by Johnny ‘Ringo’ McDonagh, she agreed to join De Danann. The new group was to include Frankie Gavin, Alec Finn and Charlie Piggott. Soon they had a big hit on their hands in 1975 with her Rambling Irishman and went on quickly to become one of the top Irish groups at home and abroad.
It was during her time with De Danann that she met and married singer and guitarist John Faulkner who had come over to Caherlistrane with a BBC crew.
BBC and travel
She got a job as a researcher with the BBC and spent a lot of time away from the band in London before returning in 1980 to renovate a cottage in Caherlistrane. By this time Mary Black was singing with De Danann and Dolores teamed up with her.
But soon she left again, to head up the groups Reel Union and later Kinvara which included John Faulkner. She recorded three albums during this period, There Was A Maid, Broken Hearted I’ll Wander and Farewell to Eirinn. She also included contemporary songs in her repertoire.
After the break up of her 15-year marriage, the resumption of her solo career brought the very successful Dolores Keane and Lion in a Cage albums. The title track of the latter, a song written by John Faulkner protesting the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela, brought Dolores her second number one single. She was to perform the song live at the celebration of his release.
She has performed with Emmylou Harris and has featured on albums with the Chieftains, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt and Bruce Springsteen.
Dolores was featured on A Woman’s Heart, a compilation of music by Irish women singers including Mary Black, Maura O’Connell and Elenor McEvoy, which was to become then Ireland’s best selling record ever. A Woman’s Heart, Vol. 2 was released in late 1994 and emulated it’s predecessor, reaching album charts the world over. Also in 1994, a solo album, entitled Solid Ground, was released on the Shanachie label and received critical acclaim in Europe and America.
She recorded a collaborative album of Irish and Norwegian traditional songs in 1997 with Norwegian singer Rita Eriksen. In 1998 Dolores released Night Owl, and album which returned, to a large extent, to her “roots” in traditional music. She has two children, Joseph and Tara.
From an interview with Andrea Smith, Sunday independent, September 2, 2007:
It was about three or four years ago, that Dolores admitted to herself that she couldn’t go on the way she was any more. She phoned her brother Matt for help, and he advised her to go to the addiction treatment unit at Ballinasloe hospital.
“I went in and did the addiction unit for four weeks,” she says, “and I thought it was brilliant. The people there were fabulous. I was delighted I did it, and I wasn’t one bit ashamed about it. I came out cleansed. It was a great thing to do, going there definitely saved me.” It was after this that Dolores realised that the root of her problem was depression, emanating from the difficulties in her past.
“All the earlier stuff caught up with me,” she says. “I had been through the change, and the finances weren’t great either because I wasn’t working. It’s very hard to describe it because it just comes on you, and you could be crying at the drop of a hat. I’m not a bad actress, and I manage to hide what I’m feeling and put a good face forward all the time in public, but I’d be a different person once I got home. I went to the doctor, and went on anti-depressants when I needed them, which helped me so much too.”
These days Dolores, Bazza (her partner Barry Farmer) and the kids live outside Galway city with their two dogs, five cats, five birds and four fish, and she says that life is good and she feels happy and contented. Her current success is a huge bonus, and she is grateful for the blessings she has in life.”
She added: “I sing at sessions locally, in places like Taaffe’s and Tig Coili in Galway. And I’ve a great rapport with Bazza and the kids. Joseph is doing really well, and Tara is brilliant. She’s a real little pal to me.”
In December, 2011, Dolores Keane was fined €600 at Galway District Court and put off the road for three years for a drink-driving offence near her home. She had pleaded guilty to drunken driving at Clonboo, Corrandulla, on November 19th, 2010.
Night Owl, Dolores Keane, 1998
The Best of Dolores Keane, 1997
A Woman’s Heart ,Vol 2, Dolores Keane and Others, 1994
Solid Ground, Dolores Keane, 1993
A Woman’s Heart, Dolores Keane and Others, 1992
Lion in a Cage, Dolores Keane, 1989
Dolores Keane, Dolores Keane, 1988
Sail Og Rua, Dolores Keane and John Faulkner, 1983
Farewell to Eirinn, Dolores Keane, John Faulkner and Eamonn Curran, 1980
Broken Hearted I’ll Wander, Dolores Keane and John Faulkner, 1979
There Was a Maid, Dolores Keane, 1978
The Mist Covered Mountain, De Danann, 1980
De Danann, De Danann, 1975
In December 2011 she was fined €600 at Galway District Court and put off the road for three years for a drink-driving offence near her home. She had pleaded guilty to drunken driving at Clonboo, Corrandulla on November 19th, 2010.