Bill Whelan

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Bill Whelan
Birth nameWilliam Michael Joseph Whelan[1]
Born (1950-05-22) 22 May 1950 (age 73)
Limerick, Ireland
GenresIrish traditional music, Celtic, folk, rock
OccupationsComposer, musician, arranger, record producer, pianist
Years active1970–present

William Michael Joseph Whelan (born 22 May 1950) is an Irish composer and musician.[2] He is best known for composing a piece for the interval of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The result, "Riverdance", was a seven-minute piece of original music accompanying a new take on traditional Irish dancing that became a full-length stage production and spawned a worldwide craze for Irish music and dance. The corresponding soundtrack album earned him a Grammy. "Riverdance" was released as a single in 1994, credited to "Bill Whelan and Anúna featuring the RTÉ Concert Orchestra". It reached number one in Ireland for 18 weeks and number nine in the UK. The album of the same title reached number 31 in the album charts in 1995.

Whelan has also arranged a symphonic suite version of Riverdance, with its premiere performed by the Ulster Orchestra on BBC Radio 3 in August 2014.[3] A studio recording was released on CD (on the RTÉ lyric fm label) in 2018.


Whelan is a native of Limerick city, and was educated at Crescent College.[4] He gained his Bachelor of Civil Law degree at University College Dublin in 1973 and then went to King's Inns.[5][6] In 2011, Whelan was awarded the UCD Foundation Day Medal in recognition of his outstanding achievements and his contribution to Irish music worldwide.[7] While he is best known for his "Riverdance" composition and the theatrical show of the same name, Whelan has been involved in many ground-breaking projects in Ireland since the 1970s. In his autobiography he especially mentions the major influence of James W. Flannery.[8]

As a producer he has worked with U2 (on their War album),[9] Van Morrison,[9] Kate Bush,[9] The Dubliners,[9] Planxty,[4] Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane,[10] Patrick Street,[11] Stockton's Wing[12] and fellow Limerickman Richard Harris.[13]

As an arranger and composer, his credits include:

In theatre, Whelan received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for his adaption of Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore.[14] His film credits include, Dancing at Lughnasa (starring Meryl Streep),[14] Some Mother's Son,[17] Lamb (starring Liam Neeson)[9] and the award-winning At The Cinema Palace.[18]

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. ^ "Search results for 'Timedance'". Broadcast Music, Inc. Retrieved 4 August 2023.
  2. ^ Much of the biographical information here is covered in an extensive interview with Marian Finucane on 16 April 2011 on RTÉ Radio 1
  3. ^ "Prom 51 (part 1): Free Prom – Dvorak, Grieg, Bax and Bill Whelan". BBC Radio 3. 25 August 2014. Retrieved 25 August 2014.
  4. ^ a b "Bill Whelan". 19 February 2021.
  5. ^ "Dublin International Piano Festival & Summer Academy | Bill Whelan | Faculty 2015".
  6. ^ Smith, Andrea. "Bill Whelan and David Brophy: 'I'm always learning from Bill'". Sunday Times. Gale A718045934 – via
  7. ^ "UCD Foundation Day Medal for Grammy Award winner, Bill Whelan". Retrieved 31 August 2022.
  8. ^ Flannery gave me a sense that my work as a composer was valuable, and he encouraged me in every way he could. He praised the work. Even though I was slow to believe it, he convinced me to have faith in my skills as a melodist. He wanted me to believe I was equipped with the instinct for the dynamics of drama that a good theatre composer should have. This affirmation was an American thing at the time and wasn't found easily in Ireland.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g Meagher, John (22 October 2022). "Composer Bill Whelan reveals Riverdance rows and the joy of working with Kate Bush".
  10. ^ "East Wind – Andy Irvine, Davy Spillane – Credits – AllMusic" – via AllMusic.
  11. ^ "Irish Times by Patrick Street - as analyzed at".
  12. ^ Flynn, Pat (3 March 2019). "Stockton's Wing to launch new single".
  13. ^ "Richard Harris – My Boy / Why Did You Leave Me" – via
  14. ^ a b c d Demolder, Kate (24 September 2022). "'I still get such a buzz': Bill Whelan remembers Riverdance glory days two decades on". Irish Examiner.
  15. ^ a b c Nolan, Interview by Larissa. "Bill Whelan: Irish rebel's story kick-started my Riverdance score" – via
  16. ^ a b c d e f "A Rare Road in Irish Music". The Journal of Music.
  17. ^ Jacques, Alan. "Composer to fund studies" (PDF) – via
  18. ^ "Bill Whelan". BFI. Archived from the original on 26 April 2017.
  19. ^ a b "Irish Rock Discography: Bill Whelan".
  20. ^ "Irish Rock Discography: Stacc".
  21. ^ "Ceolas Profile: Planxty". Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  22. ^ "The Refugee by U2". Songfacts.
  23. ^ "Stockton's Wing – Live Take One" – via
  24. ^ "How the Irish traditional- orchestral fusion since 1970 has contributed to the regeneration and re-popularisation of Irish Traditional Music". LinkedIn.
  25. ^ Newsdesk, The Hot Press. "Bill Whelan bursary launched". Hotpress.
  26. ^ "Andy Irvine – Rude Awakening" – via
  27. ^ "Andy Irvine & Davy Spillane – East Wind" – via
  28. ^ "Stockton's Wing – The Crooked Rose" – via
  29. ^ "Eurovision Song Contest – Dublin 1994". European Broadcasting Union. Archived from the original on 5 October 2021. Retrieved 25 October 2021.
  30. ^ "The PIANO report report of the review group PIANO to the Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, Mr. Michael D. Higgins, T.D. January 1996 on the provision and Institutional arrangements now for orchestras and ensembles". [Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht]. 23 October 1996.
  31. ^ "Written Answers. – Task Forces and Review Groups. – Dáil Éireann (27th Dáil) – Tuesday, 13 Feb 1996 – Houses of the Oireachtas". 13 February 1996.
  32. ^ a b "Meteor Industry Award for Bill Whelan". RTÉ. 1 February 2006. Retrieved 8 February 2010.
  33. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (17 March 2000). "DANCE REVIEW; With Fast Feet and Fiddles, An Irish Perennial Returns". The New York Times. Retrieved 9 July 2017.
  34. ^ "Broadway Opening Night 2000". 17 March 2000. Retrieved 1 June 2015.
  35. ^ a b "Bill Whelan and Brendan Graham first inductees to new IMRO Academy". 6 April 2011.
  36. ^ "Meteor Ireland Music Awards Past Winners". Meteor. 1 February 2009. Archived from the original on 1 February 2009. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
  37. ^ "Director of National Music Education Programme Announced". 11 May 2010.

External links[edit]