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Sweeney's Men (1966-1968)

Photo Gallery - Band Lineups - Discography - Audio samples - Where Are They Now?

The Story

Our thanks to John Warburg and Andy Irvine's own website

Sweeney's men emerged from the late 1960s Irish ballad scene which had its roots with bands like The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers. The band experienced brief popularity, with their first and second singles hitting the top ten in the Irish charts, but they fell apart shortly thereafter. 
In January, 1965, Andy Irvine and Joe Dolan (not THE Joe Dolan) had started playing together, traveling across Europe in search of gigs, According to Andy on his own website, "Two friends of mine had hit the road for Denmark and returned with stories that made my feet itch. I suddenly realised, along with half the rest of Europe’s youth that there was a big wide world out there waiting to be explored. So late in 1965, myself and a Galway man called Joe Dolan set out to travel through Europe, playing on the streets of Munich and Vienna."

In early, 1966, Joe returned to Ireland, while Andy gigged in Denmark and told him they had secured a summer residency in the Enda Hotel in Galway. He returned to Ireland and in May, 1966, Joe and Andy had moved on to Galway (Joe's home town) and formed Sweeney's Men along with Johnny Moynihan from Dublin, who also came for the summer gig. When the gig in Galway ended due to a dispute, they hit the road in their red Volkswagen van.

Relocating to Dublin, the band signed with manager Des Kelly of the Capitol Showband and appeared on several singles released by the Capitol in the same year. It was almost a year before the trio ventured into the studios and produced their first single on Pye Records. Andy takes up the story, "Des decided it was time for us to record. We went down to Eamonn Andrews studio in Henry street and Des played bass guitar. We recorded three tracks; Old Maid in the Garrett which became the A side, The Derby Ram which went on the B side, and Sullivan’s John with Joe singing. This was the one we liked the best. I don’t know what became of it, it was never heard of again." (Editor's note: Funnily enough, Sullivan's John became the band's third single, although we are not sure who did the vocals.)

The traditional song, Old Maid In A Garret did extremely well, climbing into the Irish Top Ten and eventually reaching number 6, staying in the charts for 13 weeks and making the boys a hit on the exploding ballad scene.

A few months later, in June 1967, Joe decided to travel to Israel to fight in the Six Day War (5 - 10 June 1967) and guitarist, vocalist Paul Brady stood in for a few gigs, but turned down an offer to join permanently. Paul instead went to join the Johnstons, with which he had great success before finally going solo a few years later. His permanent replacement was singer and multi instrumentalist Terry Woods. With the addition of Terry, the band members switched between playing tin whistle, concertina, harmonica, guitar, mandolin, banjo and bouzouki, as well as all singing.

Says Andy of the period, "By this time the so called ‘Ballad Boom’ was in full swing. Bands in three piece suits with double basses, banjos and guitars lashed out The Wild Rover, We’re all off to Dublin in the Green and The Banks of the Ohio, taking up a position somewhere between The Clancy Brothers and The Kingston Trio. Sweeney’s Men were somewhat different; we pandered to our own tastes rather than the fashions of the day and though we were up there with the best of them, I think we bemused audiences more than a little. They would yell, "Sing something we all know!" We didn’t."

Around this time, the band was playing the ballad lounges and had a regular gig in the Liberty Hall on Friday nights. They also began to play the in dance halls along with the showbands of the era. Andy explains, "we would only have to play for about half an hour, as a guest spot, and the dancers were supposed to take a break and listen."

In early 1968, the band released their second single, another traditional number arranged by the band, Waxie's Dargle. Like its predecessor, the record climbed the Irish Charts, this time reaching number 5 and staying on the charts for 10 weeks. The folk circuit was growing in Ireland and bands like Sweeney's Men, the Johnston and others, began to find success further from home, releasing records in the UK and across Europe.  
Shortly after the release of Waxie's Dargle, the band moved to Transatlantic Records for the remainder of their releases.
In May, the band went to England to record their first full-length album, Sweeney's Men at The Livingstone Studios in Barnet, Middlesex, in just 36 hours.
In May 1968, the band underwent a major change when founding member, Andy, left the band to travel in Eastern Europe. He was replaced by Portstewart guitarist, Henry McCullough, who had previously played with Gene and the Gents and Enniskillen's Skyrockets showbands. He had also been on tour in the USA with Irish rockers, Eire Apparent, but his trip was cut short when he was accused of being in the possession of drugs. Henry played electric guitar, and his tenure saw the band explore more progressive, psychedelic territory. The new lineup debuted on 17 May 1968, and in July, they played The 4th Cambridge Folk Festival, Cambridge, England.
Not one to hang around, Henry left the band a few months later in July to join The Grease Band and the group split. In August the band reformed and McCullough was briefly replaced by vocalist Al O'Donnell, who also did a stint with the Dubliners. In September O'Donnell left the band, which split again. In October, the band reformed again as a duo of Woods and Moynihan. It was this duo of Woods and Moynihan who recorded the band's second and final album The Tracks Of Sweeney. This album was recorded at the same studios as their first album, The Livingstone Studios in Barnet, Middlesex.

On 22 November 1968 the band broke up. In December shortly after the band broke up Sweeney's Men released their second and final album. A reunion almost occurred in 1970 or 1971, with Ashley Hutchings joining on guitar, but this never happened.

Despite a very short time on the scene, Sweeney's Men achieved almost legendary status as one of the vanguards of the "new" Irish traditional music which was further solidified by bands like Planxty and DeDannan in the 1970's. Additionally, every member who ever played with the band went on to achieve great success as solo artists or as members of other famous bands of the era.      

Photo Gallery

click on thumbnails for full image

Sweeney's Men - 1967 Sweeney's Men - 1967 Sweeney's Men - 1967 Sweeney's Men - 1968 Sweeney's Men - 1968
Sweeney's Men - 1968 Sweeney's Men - 1968 Johnny Moynihan-1968 Sweeney's Men - 1968 Sweeney's Men - 1968
Sweeney's Men - 1968 Sweeney's Men - 1968 Sweeney's Men (RF) Coming Soon Coming Soon
Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon Coming Soon
Years Vocals Guitar Guitar Drums
1966 Johnny
1967 Johnny
Paul (few gigs)
1967 Johnny
1968 Johnny
1968 Johnny
1968 Johnny


Old Maid in the Garrett / The Derby Ram
- #6 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.17312 - May, 1967
Waxie's Dargle / Old Women In Cotton
- #5 Irish Charts
Pye Records - 7N.17459 - February, 1968
Sullivan's John / Rattlin' Roarin' Willy
Transatlantic Records - TRA SP19 - June, 1968


Sweeney's Men
Transatlantic Records - TRA 170 - July, 1968
The Tracks of Sweeney
Transatlantic Records - TRA 200 - 1969

Audio Clips

Coming Soon

Where Are They Now?  

Joe Dolan - RIP:  After leaving the music business, Joe became a well know artists in his native Galkway until his death on January 7, 2008 after a battle with cancer.
Andy Irvine: After leaving Sweeney's Men, Andy went on to international success as one of the best known musicians of the "new" Irish trad music. Whether with bands like Planxty or De Dannan, he continued to push the boundaries of Irish music. Today, Andy continues to tour both as a solo artist and with various combinations such as Patrick Street and Andy Irvine & Dónal Lunny's Mozaik.   
Johnny Moynihan: In the 1970s Johnny briefly joined Planxty for their album Cold Blow and the Rainy Night. After Planxty, he went his own way and for a period of time fronted the Fleadh Cowboys, a popular band in 1980s Dublin. He also flirted briefly with De Dannan and can be heard on their second album, Selected Jigs, Reels & Songs (never issued on CD). He reunited for a one-off concert with Irvine in Galway in 2001 and can be seen and heard frequently in the Cobblestone Pub in Dublin. Johnny continues to tour and remains one of the early major influences on the Irish traditional scene today.  
Henry McCullough: Of course, as mentioned above, Henry left the band to join Joe Cocker's Grease Band and we think he may be the only ex-showband member to have played at the legendary Woodstock festival. He then joined up with Paul McCartney in Wings for a period and is credited with the moving guitar solo on My Love. In the early 80s, an accident almost cost Henry his livelihood, severing tendons in his playing hand. The road to recovery was almost complete when Henry started sitting in with the Fleadh Cowboys for their now legendary Sunday afternoon residency in The Lower Deck in Dublin. He then formed his own band and toured Ireland in 1988. In the 90’s he moved back to Portstewart and formed a new band which he still tours with today. 
Paul Brady: After joining the Johnstons, Paul and the band moved to London in 1969 and later in ’72 to New York City. He returned to Dublin in 1974 to join Planxty. From 1976 to 1978 he played as a duo with Andy Irvine. The next few years saw him establish his popularity and reputation as one of Ireland’s best interpreters of traditional songs, but by the end of the ’70′s however, he found himself back at the same crossroads. Since then, he has achieved international success as a performer, songwriter and has crossed musical genres from country to pop to rock and back to his roots in traditional music effortlessly. He remains one of Ireland best loved performers.
Terry Woods: After leaving the band, Terry toured Ireland with Orphanage which included Phil Lynott. Then Terry and his wife Gay went to England where they met up with Ashley Hutchings from Fairport Convention. Hutchings wanted to form a band with the three past members of Sweeney's Men and a drummer, but instead the folk duo Tim Hart and Maddy Prior and Terry's wife Gay became members of Steeleye Span, but shortly after Gay and Terry formed The Woods Band. In 1980 Gay and Terry split and he was to become part of The Pogues for ten years and later a band called The Bucks
Al O'Donnell: After leaving the band, Al joined the RTE Design Department, and became a Senior Designer. He continued to perform at various festivals and tours, along with Irish TV appearances, including various French, German, Canadian and Belgian television and radio productions. He has written songs for various TV title sequences and film documentaries. Al left RTE in 2002 and is currently enjoying gigs at various venues, in Ireland, Britain & Europe and has recently released a new album. 




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In Loving Memory of Grant Gallagher: Sept. 21, 1990 - Nov. 18, 2006