Sweeney's Men

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Sweeney's Men
Origin Dublin, Ireland
Genres Folk, Traditional Irish
Years active 1966–1969, 2012-present
Labels Pye, Transatlantic
Past members

Sweeney's Men was an Irish traditional band. They emerged from the mid-1960s Irish roots revival, along with groups such as The Dubliners and the Clancy Brothers. The founding line-up in May 1966 was Johnny Moynihan, Andy Irvine and 'Galway Joe' Dolan.[1]:63–77

First line-up[edit]

Before creating the band in 1966, Irvine, Moynihan and Dolan had met in Dublin and had performed and travelled together, on and off, around Ireland; Irvine and Dolan had also hitch-hiked together around Europe (Munich, Vienna and Rome) in late 1965.[1]:65

The name 'Sweeney's Men' was inspired by Joe Dolan's reading of Flann O'Brien's comic novel At Swim-Two-Birds, which depicts the mad, anti-religious, tree-leaping pagan King Sweeney of Antrim.[1]:66

They experienced brief popularity, with their first and second singles hitting the top ten in the Irish charts.

Second line-up[edit]

In June 1967, Dolan decided to travel to Israel to fight in the Six-Day war and was replaced by Terry Woods.[2] At the time, they played the bouzouki, mandolin, guitar, tin whistle, harmonica, concertina and 5-string banjo. This line-up recorded their first full-length album, Sweeney's Men in 1968.

The band did not stick to Irish songs exclusively, since all three were big fans of American music and their repertoire included American songs like "Tom Dooley" alongside traditional songs like "Willy O'Winsbury" from the Scottish tradition. Irvine left the band in May 1968, to travel around Eastern Europe.

Third line-up[edit]

Irvine was replaced by Henry McCullough, who had been repatriated to Ireland while on an Eire Apparent tour, owing to visa problems. McCullough played electric guitar, and his tenure saw the band explore more progressive, psychedelic territory.

After playing with Sweeney's Men at the Cambridge Folk Festival, McCullough left in July 1968 to join Joe Cocker's Grease Band, and was briefly replaced by Al O'Donnell.[1]:81

Final line-up[edit]

It was as a duo that Woods and Moynihan recorded the band's second, and final, album The Tracks Of Sweeney, released in 1969 and including some of their own compositions, such as Moynihan's "Standing on the Shore". Shortly after this release, they broke up, on 22 November 1969.

A new Irish-English folk super-group was almost formed in 1970, with Moynihan, Irvine (now back from his travels), Woods and his wife Gay, plus Ashley Hutchings joining on bass guitar, but this never happened.[1]:82

Break-up and follow-on projects[edit]

Following the break-up of Sweeney's Men, four of the members played in other notable bands:


In 1986, Moynihan, Woods and McCullough reunited for a special edition of the BP Fallon Orchestra, a radio show hosted by Dave Fanning of RTÉ Radio.

Irvine and Moynihan were re-united for a one-off gig as Sweeney's Men in Rostrevor, County Down on 22 July 2007, when the band was inducted into the Hall of Fame of the local Fiddler's Green Festival; Dolan was unable to participate due to illness, so Paul Brady agreed to deputise. Irvine wrote "Had hoped we might 'blague' 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".

Irvine, Moynihan and Woods played together once again on 16 & 17 June 2012, as part of Irvine's 70th Birthday party concerts at Vicar Street, in Dublin. It worked so well that they gigged again in Ireland later in 2012 and also played five full-house gigs in Galway, Kilkenny, Cork, Dublin and Limerick during November 2013. Their play list included some new songs as well as old standards, in performances that demonstrated that they retain their old vitality and virtuosity across a wide range of instruments.[3]


For a band with such a short lifespan, their influence was considerable. Thanks largely to Andy Irvine, they helped evolve a more structured approach to the accompaniment of ballads. Andy's interaction with Dónal Lunny's bouzouki playing, up to and including Planxty, consolidated this contrapuntal approach, for which they both happily accept responsibility.

It may be that the most significant innovation that Sweeney's Men contributed to Irish music was Moynihan's introduction of the Greek bouzouki,[1]:67[4] with the tuning of GDAD',[5]:15 one octave lower than the open-tuned mandolin, instead of the traditional Greek tuning of CFAD'.[5]:5

Joe Dolan RIP[edit]

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). 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).


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 EP, featuring all four songs from first two singles (Pye Mini Monster Series 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).


  • Andy Irvine 70th Birthday Concert at Vicar St 2012 (2014), DVD


  • 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


  1. ^ a b c d e f O'Toole, Leagues (2006). The Humours of Planxty. Ireland: Hodder Headline. ISBN 0-340-83796-9. 
  2. ^ Sweeney's Men (Interview) (28 October 2013). The John Murray Show with Miriam / Music & Chat with Sweeney's Men. (Podcast). Dublin: RTÉ Radio 1.  Retrieved on 15 December 2013.
  3. ^ Andy Irvine's Official website. Retrieved on November 11, 2013.
  4. ^ http://www.lyrics-youtube.com/lyrics/odonoghues-andy-irvine-kBz8PUWAczg
  5. ^ a b Ó Callanain, Niall; Walsh, Tommy (1989). The Irish Bouzouki. Ireland: Waltons. ISBN 0-786-61595-8. 

External links[edit]