Sweeney's Men guitarist and painter


Joe Dolan:JOE DOLAN, who has died aged 65, was a founder in 1966, with Andy Irvine and Johnny Moynihan, of Sweeney's Men, whose style had a seminal influence on future groups such as Planxty, De Dannan and the Bothy Band. The band was no less influential in Britain, helping to spark the folk-rock movement.

Dolan, also known as Galway Joe Dolan, and his fellow members had played together before, but never as a group. Meeting in Galway, Moynihan suggested they form a group and Dolan proposed the name, Sweeney's Men, "after mad Sweeney in the trees".

He played guitar, Irvine mandolin and Moynihan the bouzouki, and they combined a broad knowledge of the various strands - Irish, Scottish, English and American - that made up the folk revival.

They acquired an old red Volkswagen van, appointed the sculptor Eamonn O'Doherty as manager and readied themselves for fame and fortune. But gigs were hard to come by. The trio found themselves busking at Puck Fair in Killorglin. Hearing that the Capitol Showband was in town, Dolan approached his friend Des Kelly of the band for advice. Kelly was impressed by Sweeney's Men. "It hit me like a sledgehammer," he remembered, "because everyone else was playing three-chord stuff. . . but there was order in this, it was a breath of fresh air."

Now managed by Kelly, the group was kitted out in a stage uniform of striped shirt, waistcoat and black trousers. Their first big break came when Kelly secured a singles deal with Pye Records. Their debut single, a 17th-century Scottish song Old Maid in the Garret, with Irvine singing the lead, became a hit, reaching No 4 in Ireland's Top Ten. Dolan sang the B-side, The Derby Ram.

Success beckoned, but Dolan had urgent business elsewhere. The Six-Day War had broken out, and he felt duty bound to go to Israel, a country he identified with. "This thing is bigger than you or me or Sweeney's Men," he told Kelly. "I've gotta go." His departure made way for Terry Woods.

Born in Cork in 1942, he was one of two children of PJ Dolan and his wife Eileen (née Murphy). He grew up in Galway, where he attended St Mary's secondary school. His was a musical family, and he taught himself to play guitar on one he himself built.

He left school after the Intermediate Certificate to join the Swingtime Aces Showband. Enrolling at the National College of Art, he studied painting. He also became an admirer of the Beat generation poets - Ginsberg, Corso and Ferlinghetti - and an avid reader of Jack Kerouac. It was in Dublin that he first met Irvine and Moynihan, and his flat in Leeson Street became the venue for many a lively party. Inspired by Kerouac's On the Road, he travelled in Europe, gigging wherever he went. In Israel, he took part in the excavation at Masada under the archaeologist Yigal Yadin. In 1967, he replaced men who were called to military service, staying for eight months.

Back in Ireland, and based in Galway, the life of a professional musician held no attraction for him. He worked at a variety of jobs, resumed painting and held several exhibitions of his work. Moving to Swords, Co Dublin, he made musical instruments, mainly harps and dulcimers. He finally settled in Connemara.

No matter how remote the location, he always had a warm welcome for friends. Eamonn O'Doherty recalled that "conversation and music continued until dawn, and the cork was never replaced in an opened whiskey bottle". He had an eclectic taste, which ranged from Benny Goodman and Django Reinhardt to Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams. A prolific songwriter, he wrote Nelson's Farewell, recorded by the Dubliners on their 1966 album Finnegan Wakes. Christy Moore recorded others of his songs.

His final exhibition of paintings, at the Norman Villa Gallery in Galway last November, was opened by John Behan, one of his co-exhibitors when he first exhibited in public in 1962.

"Loyalty, good humour and generosity were qualities he never lost," Johnny Moynihan said. "His courage and enthusiasm in life, and his words, music and imagery in art will continue to inspire us." Married in 1969, he and his wife later separated. He is survived by his son Andy and sister Chris.

Joe Dolan: born May 25th, 1942; died January 7th, 2008