Pádraig Duggan: Irish musician who pushed back frontiers

Duggan was involved in first Irish-language song in UK charts the ‘Harry’s Game’ theme

Clannad with Pádraig Duggan (centre). Others from left: Moya Brennan, Pol Brennan, Ciaran Brennan and Noel Duggan. Photograph: Sinead O’Doherty

Clannad with Pádraig Duggan (centre). Others from left: Moya Brennan, Pol Brennan, Ciaran Brennan and Noel Duggan. Photograph: Sinead O’Doherty


Pádraig Duggan, who has died after a long battle with ill- health, was one of a generation of musicians who set new frontiers for Irish traditional song, with harmonies and delicate instrumental accompaniment.

With his twin brother, Noel, his niece and his nephews, he founded Clannad in the early 1970s. Their innovations found entirely new audiences and new life for ancient songs and melodies.

Duggan achieved an impressive body of work, being one of the founders of the Celtic music genre. In the early 1970s, he wrote Liza, the first successful pop song in Irish. In it, he took the lesson of the Beatles and brought a new style of music into Irish. The song is still lively and attractive.

Duggan was involved in composing the first Irish-language song to feature in the UK charts, the 1982 theme from Harry’s Game. This made millions aware that Irish existed and was vibrant.

Traditional roots

Growing to maturity in the 1960s, he absorbed musical influences, particularly the Beach Boys and their harmonies.

He learned, too, by being drummer in the danceband led by his brother-in-law Leo Brennan.

He and Noel were born in January 1949, the youngest of six children, two girls and four boys, to Aodh “Gog” Duggan, a national teacher and his wife Máire (née Nic Giolla Easpaic).

The family was musical. He was educated at Dore National School, followed by secondary schooling at Ard Scoil Mhuire in Gweedore. After school, he studied to be a marine radio officer, until the call of music became too strong.

When Leo Brennan bought a pub in the area in the late 1960s, Pádraig had begun to play there with his twin. Their niece and nephews, little older than they were, sometimes joined them. Initially, they mostly played conventional English- language material.

However, they had a spirit of musical invention. They sang the occasional song in Irish, and found listeners wanted to hear those.

Donegal pub

The family group needed a name to enter a folk music competition, and decided to use the name Clannad. The roots of the name have little of its Celtic magic: it was “Clann as Dobhair” or “A Family from Dore”.

‘Harry’s Game’

Harry’s Game

As well as playing with Clannad, Duggan had personal projects. He and Noel recorded an album as The Duggans. They toured Germany as part of the band Norland Wind.

As a teenager, Duggan began playing music because he enjoyed it. He never lost that enjoyment. Thus, the internationally famous musician was a member of Dore marching band for over 50 years. He last played with it at Easter this year.

His death, so soon after that of brother-in-law Leo, marks the end of an era. Ní bheidh a leithéidí arís ann – their likes will not be seen again.

He is survived by his widow, Jan; sister, Máire (Baba); and brothers, Eoin and Columba. He was predeceased by his sister, Bríd.