By Ronan Nolan
“I’m a vagabond from Eireann’s isle
Sunburnt thumb stuck up in the air”
Singer, songwriter and artist Joe Dolan who died on January 7, 2008, was a founder member of Sweeney’s Men. The prefix ‘Galway’ Joe Dolan was later applied for late night clarity to distinguish him from the showband singer Joe Dolan of Mullingar, who died on December 26, 2007. Apart from singing, the other thing they had in common was that ‘Galway’ Joe Dolan also had a background in showbands, having been a member of the Swingtime Aces and Capitol Showband.
A robust personality who might well have shown up, unannounced, on the pages of a Jack Kerouak novel, he was born in Galway in 1942 and went to Dublin to study at the National College of Art. He was a founder member of the New Artists’ Group along with Charlie Cullen and John Behan. A fan of the 1950s skiffle groups and Lonnie Donegan, he was attracted to the early folk sessions in O’Donoghue’s of Merrion Row and it was here he first made acquaintance with Andy Irvine and Johnny Moynihan.
After returning to Galway he became involved in the Fo’castle Club in the Enda Hotel in Dominic Street, with Jimmy English, Tommy Nolan and Sean Tyrrell among others. With Andy Irvine and Johnny Moynihan he got a short-lived summer residency in 1966 in the Enda, after which the three stayed together, calling themselves Sweeney’s Men.
Their first manager was Eamonn O’Doherty, later to be a successful sculptor. The group had more success after Des Kelly of the Capitol Showband took over and they had an Irish Top Ten hit with Old Maid in the Garret in 1967. Early the following year they had another hit with Waxie’s Dargle.
Joe Dolan left the group in the summer of 1967 to go to Israel. The Six Day War had broken out. While anecdotes suggest he arrived there on the seventh day, more likely Joe set out, not as a combatant, but as a civilian volunteer. Some years earlier he had worked on an archaeological dig at the historic city of Masada.
Later, back in Galway he was part of the group The Connerys with Australian ballad singer Brian Mooney, Tommy Nolan, Ide N? Faolain and whistle player Festy Conlon. After that he played guitar and sang with Tommy and Ide in the Hard Corps.
In later life he worked in Connemara minding holiday homes near the Quiet Man Bridge, before settling down as a painter in Maumean, near Recess.
Joe Dolan was a prolific songwriter, the best known being Nelson’s Farewell which was recorded by The Dubliners on their 1966 album Finnegan Wakes.
Christy Moore recorded two of his songs and gives us the lyrics of both in his book One Voice, published in 2000. Trip to Jerusalem (from which the above two lines are taken) is a humorous song about the people and the crack Joe Dolan encounters along the way, while Foxy Devil is about a woman, the demon drink, or both.
Before he died, Joe was working on his biography, to be titled Lost Miles and Broken Strings. In November 2007, an exhibition of his paintings was held in the Norman Villa Gallery in Galway.
See Joe Dolan’s paintings and early photos at -