By Mac Entee
The Bothy Band was a good idea waiting to happen. Around 1970, flute player Matt Molloy, fiddler Tommy Peoples, piper Peter Browne and singer Triona Ní Dhomhnaill had been performing in a group called 1691 along with singer Liam Weldon.
Piper Paddy Keenan had been playing around Dublin with singers Micheal and Triona Ni Dhomhnaill. Fiddler Paddy Glackin then joined them followed by flute player Matt Molloy. Next came accordion player Tony MacMahon and then bouzouki player Donal Lunny arrived from Planxty. They called themselves Seachtar, the Irish word for seven.
The group had originally come together with Tony MacMahon on a RTE radio broadcast. Micheal and Triona O Domhnaill (brother and sister) soon joined on guitar and clavinet respectively. MacMahon soon departed to concentrate on broadcasting work, and the group made their formal debut at a Trinity College, Dublin, concert in February 1975.
The O Domhnaills hailed from a musical family in Ranafast, Co Donegal. Their aunt, Neilli Ni Dhomhnaill, had contributed several hundred songs to the Dublin University folklore collection, and they had previously performed alongside sister Maighread in Skara Brae. Mícheál had recently returned from Scotland, where he happened across a photograph taken in the 1890s of a group of tattered musicians. Titled The Bothy Band, it depicted the migrant and seasonal farm workers, mostly from Donegal, who worked in England and Scotland and were housed in stone huts known as bothies.
By the end of the year Glackin had left the group to be replaced by Tommy Peoples and this group recorded The Bothy Band 1975.
While their repertoire included both music and song, often drawn from Neilli Ni Dhomhnaill’s store, they’re remembered chiefly for their instrumental firepower. The ferocity of Paddy Keenan’s piping, People’s fiery fiddle, Molloy’s masterly flute playing and the rhythm of Lunny’s bouzouki playing, blended into a highly percussive sound that even drew the admiration of rock fans.
PJ Curtis wrote that the front-line powerhouse trio of Keenan’s pipes, Peoples’ fiddle and Molloy’s flute resulted in the release of an awesome and explosive musical energy that has rarely been equalled. Their devastating live concert appearances at home and abroad, coupled with their ground-breaking album releases, won scores of new fans for the Bothies.
Another fan, the late Frankie Kennedy of Altan found the standard of playing “was just incredible, and then the backing was so intense it was unbelievable. They were revolutionary in sound, yet the lead instruments were basically just playing straight, but they came with a fire in their belly.”
After a year on the road, Tommy Peoples left, to be replaced by Kevin Burke, who had been playing with Christy Moore.
The Bothies released two further albums – Old Hag You Have Killed Me (1976) and Out of the Wind, Into the Sun (1977) – and a posthumous live set, After Hours (1979), recorded in Paris the previous year. At their peak, the group were considered serious rivals to The Chieftains.
But management and financial problems were creeping in, including an unsatisfactory record contract. By the end of 1978, the empire was crumbling.
Their reputation has long outlasted their three-year history and the four albums they produced are prized possessions.
The break up was to energise other groups. Matt Molloy replaced Michael Tubridy in The Chieftains after a stint in the reformed Planxty. Lunny helped form another memorable 1980s group, Moving Hearts. The Domhnaills teamed up with the Scottish Cunningham brothers, John and Phil, to form Relativity. Paddy Keenan concentrated on his own projects, while Kevin Burke went on to team up with Andy Irvine, Jackie Daly and Arty McGlynn in Patrick Street.
Later Mícheál and Tríona Ní Dhómhnaill joined flute player Brian Dunning to form Nightnoise. Mícheál died in October 2006.
In 1995, a second live album, Live in Concert, was released that included tracks recorded in London by the BBC at the Pares Theatre in July 1976 and the Kilburn National Theatre in July 1978.
The Bothy Band 1975
Old Hag You Have Killed Me 1976
Out of the Wind, Into the Sun 1977
After Hours (Live in Paris) 1979
Best Of the Bothy Band 1983
The Bothy Band – Live in Concert 1995