Bill Whelan

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William Whelan
Birth nameBill Whelan
Born (1950-05-22) 22 May 1950 (age 71)
Limerick, Ireland
GenresIrish traditional music, Celtic, folk, rock
Occupation(s)Musician, record producer
InstrumentsComposer, arranger, keyboard player
Years active1970–present
Associated acts

Bill Whelan (born 22 May 1950 in Limerick, Ireland) is an Irish composer and musician.[1] He is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The result, Riverdance, was a seven-minute display of traditional Irish dancing that became a full-length stage production and spawned a worldwide craze for Irish dancing and Celtic music and also won him a Grammy. It was released as a single in the UK in 1994, credited to "Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra". It reached number 9 and stayed in the charts for 16 weeks. The album of the same title reached number 31 in the album charts in 1995.

Whelan has also composed a symphonic suite version of Riverdance, with its premiere performed by the Ulster Orchestra on BBC Radio 3 in August 2014.[2]


Whelan is a native of Limerick, and was educated at Crescent College, University College Dublin and the King's Inns. While he is best known for his Riverdance composition, Whelan has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. As a producer he has worked with U2 (on their War album), Van Morrison, Kate Bush, The Dubliners, Planxty, Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane, Patrick Street, Stockton's Wing and fellow Limerickman Richard Harris.

As an arranger and composer, his credits include:

  • The Seville Suite, which was inspired by the exploits of Aodh Rua Ó Dónaill from The Battle of Kinsale in 1601 until his arrival in Galicia to the welcome of The Spanish Earl of Caraçena. In addition to the orchestra, The Seville Suite includes Celtic Music on Uilleann Pipes, accordion, bodhrán, fiddle as well as Galician harp, whistles and pipes.
  • The Spirit of Mayo, performed by an 85-piece orchestra in Dublin's National Concert Hall and featuring a powerful Celtic drum corps and a 200 strong choir and choral group Anúna.
  • Whelan's Celtic/Orchestral release, The Connemara Suite, features the Irish Chamber Orchestra along with soloists Zoë Conway, Morgan Crowley, Colin Dunne (Dance Percussion) and Fionnuala Hunt.

In theatre, Whelan received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore. He wrote original music for 15 of W. B. Yeats's plays for Dublin's Abbey Theatre and his film credits include, Dancing at Lughnasa (starring Meryl Streep), Some Mother's Son, Lamb (starring Liam Neeson) and the award-winning At The Cinema Palace.

Career timeline[edit]

Whelan's lifetime of musical endeavours include:


As a keyboard player, or as an arranger, he has contributed to these albums:


  1. ^ Much of the biographical information here is covered in an extensive interview with Marian Finucane on 16 April 2011 on RTÉ Radio 1
  2. ^ "Prom 51 (part 1): Free Prom - Dvorak, Grieg, Bax and Bill Whelan". BBC Radio 3. 25 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b "Meteor Industry Award for Bill Whelan". RTÉ. 1 February 2006. Retrieved 8 February 2010.

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