Sunday 4 December 2016

Bondings: Keane to make music

Dolores and Sean Keane are two of Ireland's finest voices, and have supported each other through tragedy, grief and hardship

Published 21/12/2015 | 02:30

Siblings in song: Dolores and Sean Keane have always been close and will perform five concerts together after Christmas: Photo: Gerry Mooney
Siblings in song: Dolores and Sean Keane have always been close and will perform five concerts together after Christmas: Photo: Gerry Mooney

They come from a very musical family from Galway, but Dolores and Sean are the only ones of their large family of siblings who pursued singing professionally, taking after their famous aunts, Rita and Sarah Keane. "We were the only two crazies to do it as a career," laughs Sean. "I never wanted a job for life like in the civil service because the idea was terrifying to me, so I think I'm meant to be doing what I am doing."

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Both extremely warm and funny, Dolores, 62, and Sean, 54, are from Caherlistrane in Galway, and are the third-youngest and youngest of the late Matt and Bridie's eight children. Their mum only passed away in 2012 aged 93, and their sister Marian, sadly died aged eight from TB. They remain very close to their remaining siblings, Teresa, Pat, Christina, Matt and Noel.

Dolores recalls that it was Noel who gave Sean his name, and she was the one who taught him his first song. He won his first Fleadh Ceoil aged six, and had 13 All-Irelands for traditional singing under his belt by his teens. He also played flute, whistle, harmonica and pipes. Sean worked at welding and steel fabrication engineering for a time after school, and then spent two years on a building site in London, where Dolores was living at the time. He stayed with her for a while and toured with her band, Reel Union. He was singing constantly, as there were always sessions and gigs for him, both solo and with his own band Sigui, so he ultimately made the decision to leave the day job behind and focus on music.

In his early 20s and back in Ireland, Sean met and married his wife Virginia, who was a maths, Irish and English teacher. They went on to have two daughters, Maraleeze, 26, who's a nurse, and Jennifer, 23, who is studying health and disability at college. Virginia very sadly passed away in 2010 from cancer, aged only 52, and Sean is very close to his beloved girls.

"It wasn't easy losing Virginia," he says. "She was so young and was a very strong and intelligent woman. She was wonderful. She suggested that I make my first album, All Heart, No Roses, and I asked her to manage me after that. She said she didn't have a clue about the business, but ended up doing it for the 26 years we were together. Dolores was very good to me when Virginia passed away, even though she was dealing with her own things."

As has been well-documented, Dolores's musical career started at five, when she made her first recording for Radio Eireann, and she also appeared on many TV programmes, usually with her aunts, Rita and Sarah. She became a founding member of the internationally-renowned De Danann, and moved to London for several years, where she formed bands with John Faulkner, whom she married aged 22. They are no longer together. She went on to become a very celebrated solo singer, and was one of the original members of the A Woman's Heart phenomenon. Nanci Griffith described her as "the voice of Ireland," and said, "As long as Dolores Keane is walking around this earth, I won't call myself a singer."

Dolores had a son, Joseph, now 27, with John Faulkner, and he was born with Laurence-Moon-Bardet-Biedl Syndrome, which causes obesity and blindness. Joseph is in further education and is "happy out". After her marriage ended, Dolores entered into a 20-year relationship with her former partner Barry 'Bazza' Farmer, which ended a few years ago. They have a daughter Tara, 21, who works in retail and lives with her boyfriend Shane in Tuam. Dolores adores both of her children and is very proud of them.

Joseph and Tara will be coming to visit Dolores today at the Cuan Mhuire rehabilitation centre, where she is coming to the end of a three-month programme to tackle her alcohol addiction. She has had a few battles with drink over the years, as she described in her documentary, Storm in the Heart, which received two Ifta nominations, and also came through breast cancer in 2013. She feels that she's in a very positive place right now, and is so determined to stay sober, she has decided to stay on at Cuan Mhuire over Christmas. "It's more of a programme for life, as they delve into your past and what has happened to you, and it gets you thinking," says Dolores. "There is talk in it about alcoholism being a killer disease, and we have to speak about it and why we are there. It teaches you an awful lot more, and the counselling is just second-to-none. It's a fabulous place."

Dolores and Sean have recently started performing together, and are managed by songwriter John Broderick. John, Sean and TD Ciaran Cannon co-wrote Sean's latest gorgeous track, Nature's Little Symphony. Following a very successful summer tour, he and Dolores will perform together again after Christmas in Vicar Street and other venues.

It will be a huge treat for the audiences hearing those two sublime voices in concert together, and they will perform all their best-loved songs, including Galway Bay, Caledonia and Teddy O'Neill. "It's great working together because Sean and I have always had a closeness," says Dolores. "We have always been straight with each other, and have never even really had a row. I love how caring and unassuming he is, as the way he treats other people is amazing. He is everything I'd want my next husband to be."

"I think Dolores is a marvellous person and I really admire her," says Sean. "She is currently having a hard time, and is taking on a battle that is not easy in relation to the addiction. As a young fella, I really looked up to her and was inspired by her music, and I'm still inspired by her."

Catch Dolores and Sean Keane in concert at Town Hall, Claremorris on Sunday, December 27th; Hotel Kilkenny on Sunday, January 3rd; INEC Killarney on Wednesday, January 6th and Charleville Park Hotel on Saturday, January 9th. Tickets for Vicar Street on Friday, January 15th are €30 from www.ticketmaster.ie

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