by David Flynn
Independent People - Kevin Sheerin
For over forty years he has played
guitar alongside the biggest Irish music stars, and has also been a
successful songwriter, and even once represented Ireland in the
Eurovision Song Contest.
The Sheerin family name is synonymous with
music in the midlands and Kevin was the second youngest of ten siblings
raised in Castledaly.
He has played steel, electric and acoustic
guitar in Daniel O'Donnell's band for more than a decade, and in recent
years he has re-discovered his childhood interest in playing tin-whistle
in the band.
"My dad played the whistle and that's who I
learned it from, and I went into competition, and won the All-Ireland
Fleadh at U/14 level in Ennis, having come second in the previous year,"
"Shortly after that the whistle was left up on
the shelf and I only brought it back out a while ago, when Daniel
O'Donnell found out I could play it. He did a DVD in Nashville, and
wanted to show a comparison between Irish music and bluegrass, so I
played the whistle in the show."
The first band Kevin played in was the Merrymen,
with singer Ray Lynam. He joined the group in 1965, and remained with
the Moate group until around 1968, when Kevin joined Athlone celli
group, the Kieran Kelly band for around eighteen months. Kevin formed
The Hillbillies in 1969, along with Ray Lynam, and the group became Ray
Lynam and the Hillbillies, and Kevin continued on with this successful
group into the mid 1980s.
During that period the Hillbillies did some
gigs and recorded some songs with country singer, Philomena Begley. One
of those songs, 'She Sang the Melody' was written by Kevin and Ray Lynam
and became a big hit in Ireland in the early 1980s.
"I don't regard myself as much of a songwriter,
but some of my songs have turned out well and successful, but still I'm
not a natural songwriter," he said.
Kevin is unassuming and totally modest, because
one of his most popular songs, 'In My Father's House', has been recorded
by more than twenty artists including Daniel O'Donnell, (who has sung
the song on a recent album), Foster and Allen, the Furey Brothers and
"It was easy to write 'Father's House' because
it reminded me of music in our own house at home in Castledaly," he
said. "I wrote the songs on guitar, but I haven't written a song for a
few years now. I usually come up with a melody first, and get a line
going, but I have no real method."
successful song of Kevin's was 'Nancy Myles', which he wrote when Tony
Allen asked him for a song.
"It is an Irish flavour song, and Tony asked me
one night, on a journey from Moate to Athlone to write a song," said
Kevin. "By the time I got home, I had a verse written, and by the time I
went to bed I had three verses of 'Nancy Myles' written, but very few
songs would come to me that quickly."
Like most of Kevin's songs, 'Nancy Myles' has a
strong narrative. It was a hit for Foster and Allen, and then later for
Ray Lynam also recorded a successful song of
Kevin's called 'Another Town' in the late 70s, and the song was given
great praise by the late DJ, Vincent Hanley on RTÉ Radio.
"Jimmy Smith, a great guitar player played a
guitar solo on it, and Vincent was totally into that sustained guitar
play," said Kevin.
It was popular in the 1980s for Irish
songwriters to attempt to write a song for the Eurovision contest, and
in 1986, Kevin gave it a go, and wrote 'You Can Count On Me', and
entered it in the contest.
"I never felt I was going to write for
Eurovision but it was the thing to do at the time for the crack, so I
got the idea for the song, and went with it," he said. "A good friend of
mine, Billy Burgoyne recommended the group 'Luvbug', to sing the song,
and we were up against the likes of Johnny Logan, who had written a song
for Linda Martin, and the songwriter Brendan Graham, who won years later
with 'Rock and Roll Kids', and Maxi also was an entrant. They were all
successful people in different ways."
'Luvbug' was a group, made up five musicians
from Newry, Co. Down, and the lead singer, June Cunningham and the rest
of the band members, displayed the big hair and colourful suits of the
1980s, and comfortably won the National Song Contest with 'You Can Count
on Me'. They went on to represent Ireland with Kevin's song at the
Eurovision Song Contest that year in Bergen, Norway. They ended the
night in fourth place out of twenty countries, and the song peaked in
Ireland's top five. Luvbug are still performing today throughout Ireland
and the UK.
Kevin was still a musician with Ray Lynam and
the Hillbillies when he travelled to Bergen with Luvbug for the 1986
Eurovision Song Contest. He wasn't disappointed with losing the contest,
but humorously tells that he didn't get a great welcome when he returned
"Twenty years before us, Dickie Rock came 4th
in the Eurovision, and a big crowd met him at the airport, but there was
nobody to meet me at the airport in 1986," said Kevin, laughing.
Kevin did a lot of touring with Ray Lynam's
bands throughout Ireland and England, and one tour of America, which
included an appearance on a television show in Nashville, with other
Irish singers, Dermot O'Brien and Larry Cunningham.
He played 17 years with the Lynam bands, and
then travelled seven years with Jimmy Buckley's band.
"The difference with the time when I played
with Ray's band, compared to now is that people that go dancing now,
don't go to drink, they just go to dance, where back in the 70s, drink
was a part of it," said Kevin. "People don't go out to drink now, they
go out to dance, and if you want to drink, you have to have a driver
Kevin plays numerous venues these days
internationally with Daniel O'Donnell's band. He is just back from
playing in Branson, Missouri, USA and has previously played in Carnegie
Hall, the Royal Albert Hall, the Ryman Auditorium, and in the Sydney
"I prefer live performance, and I don't do much
studio work, except doing a bit with Daniel, and he has played really
big crowds, and fills theatres everywhere he plays," he said.
"The band get on well together, and the
audiences like the Irish flavour songs. But generally we play middle of
the road songs, although Daniel mixes it up with other music."
In the 1990s, Kevin played guitar at mass along
with a choir each Sunday morning at Athlone RTC.
"Everybody loved Elvis, but my favourite pop
group would have been Abba, and my favourite country singer would have
been Merle Haggard," he said.
Kevin is married to his wife Mary, who comes
from Co. Clare, and the couple have five grown-up children, David,
Susan, Barry, Cormac and Anita, and five grandchildren.