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Sweeney's Men was an Irish traditional band. They emerged from the late 1960s Irish roots revival, along with groups such as The Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers. The founding line-up in May 1966 was 'Galway Joe' Dolan, Johnny Moynihan and Andy Irvine. The band experienced brief popularity, with their first and second singles hitting the top ten in the Irish charts. In June 1967, Dolan decided to travel to Israel to fight in the Six Day war and was replaced by Terry Woods. At the time, they played the tin whistle, concertina, harmonica, guitar, mandolin, banjo and bouzouki. This line up recorded their first full-length album, "Sweeney's Men" in 1968. Andy Irvine left the band in May 1968, to travel Eastern Europe. He was replaced by Henry McCullough, who had been repatriated to Ireland while on an Eire Apparent tour, due to visa problems. McCullough played electric guitar, and his tenure saw the band explore more progressive, psychedelic territory. McCullough left in July 1968 to join Joe Cocker's Grease Band, and was briefly replaced by Al O'Donnell. It was a duo of Woods and Moynihan who recorded the band's second, and final, album "The Tracks Of Sweeney, released in 1969. Shortly after this release, the band broke up, on 22 November 1969. A reunion almost occurred in 1970 or 71, with Ashley Hutchings joining on guitar, but this never happened.
The band did not stick to Irish songs exclusively. Both Irvine and Woods were big fans of American music, and the band's repertoire included American songs like "Tom Dooley" alongside traditional songs like "Willy O'Winsbury" from the Scottish tradition, as well as their own compositions, such as Moynihan's "Standing on the Shore".
While they were together for just a few years, their influence was considerable, with many members going on to greater success in the Irish and folk music worlds. The band itself showed a progression away from the then-popular "ballad bands" like The Clancy Brothers and The Dubliners, towards a more instrumental-focused sound, later to be popularized in groups like Planxty. The most famous innovation of Sweeney's Men is probably Moynihan's introduction of the bouzouki, a Greek instrument, into Irish music. The bouzouki played at the time was six-stringed, though now the irish bouzouki with eight strings is more common in Irish music.
Following the break-up of Sweeney's Men, four of the members played in other notable bands:
- Andy Irvine: Planxty, Patrick Street, solo career
- Johnny Moynihan: Planxty, De Dannan, solo career and with Anne Briggs and Andrew McNamara
- Terry Woods: Steeleye Span, The Woods Band and Gay & Terry Woods, The Pogues
- Henry McCullough: The Grease Band, Wings
Founder member 'Galway Joe' Dolan is often confused with another famous Irish performer, Joe Dolan - founder of the Drifters showband, from Mullingar, Westmeath (born Joseph Francis Robert Dolan, 16 October 1939, died on 26 December 2007). According to Andy Irvine's biography: "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". Joe Dolan, the traditional musician, was born in Galway in 1942 and was sometimes known as ‘Galway’ Joe Dolan to distinguish him from Mullingar Joe Dolan. He died of cancer on 7 January 2008 (coincidentally, within two weeks of the "other" Joe Dolan). Andy Irvine and Johnny Moynihan were re-united for a one-off gig as Sweeney's Men in Rostrevor, Co Down on 22 July 2007, when the band was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the local Fiddler's Green Festival; Joe Dolan was unable to participate due to illness, Paul Brady deputising. Andy Irvine wrote "Had hoped we might 'blaque' Galway Joe Dolan into doing it but he hasn't been on a stage for about two lifetimes and that wasn't going to work. Johnny had hit on the great idea of asking Paul Brady to play with us as Paul had stood in for Dolan at a gig in Limerick in 1967 after Joe's speedy departure for Israel and the 6 Day War".
Andy Irvine, Johnny Moynihan and Terry Woods played together once again in 2012 on the 16th and 17th of June as part of Andy Irvine's 70th Birthday party concerts in Dublin's Vicar Street
Original Releases 
- Old Maid in the Garrett / The Derby Ram, 1967; 7" single (Pye 7N 17312)
- Waxie's Dargle / Old Woman In Cotton, 1968; 7" single (Pye 7N 17459)
- Compilation "Mini Monster" EP, featuring all four songs from first two singles (Pye EP PMM.608)
- Sullivan's John / Rattlin' Roarin' Willy, 1969; 7" single (Transatlantic TRASP 19)
- Sweeney's Men, 1968; LP (Transatlantic TRA170)
- The Tracks Of Sweeney, 1969; LP (Transatlantic TRA 200)
- Time Was Never Here, 1992; CD with both albums but missing "The Exile's Jig" and "Dicey Riley" (Demon TDEMCD11)
- Sweeneys Men / The Tracks Of Sweeney,1996; CD with both albums plus "Old Woman in Cotton" (Essential ESMCD 435)
- The Legend Of Sweeney's Men, 2004; Double-CD with all studio recordings plus several extras (Castle Music, CMDD932).
- Irvine, Andy Aiming For The Heart - Poetic Songs From Ireland, Heupferd Musik, 1988, ISBN 3-923445-01-6
- O'Toole, Leagues The Humours of Planxty, Hachette Books Ireland, 2006, ISBN 0-340-83797-7