Wednesday 20 March 2019

I'd do it all again, says legendary musician Donal Ring

Long loved musician is celebrating 60 years on the road this year

Sheila Fitzgerald

"I would do it all again, even though it was tough at times with late nights and long roads, but you would not do something unless you loved it and we loved every minute," the legendary Donal Ring said with a smile.

Currently celebrating 60 years in the music business, Donal was honoured at a special recording of Jimmy Reidy's Round the Fireside Programme on C103.

A native of Blarney, Donal is credited with being one of Ireland's foremost ambassadors of céilí music since he first established the Donal Ring Céilí Band in 1958. 

As a young fellow growing up in Rathduff, Donal was profoundly influenced by his father, who was a gifted accordion player.

At the age of 13 Donal was playing in concerts, and at15 joined a band for the first time.

Donal played with the Celtic Band from Mallow and the Blarney Ceili Band. Since the Donal Ring Céilí Band was established in 1958, the line-up has mainly consisted of family members with Bridie, Donal's wife, looking after the administration side of things.

Over the six decades they have been "on the road" Donal and the band have recorded several albums and DVDs, and have appeared on numerous TV programmes. In all, over the 60 years, the band has had approximately 60 musicians come and go but Donal has always retained his unique evocative sound.

"When I started out I paid £212 for an accordion, and £190 for my house site; but the accordion, paid through hire purchase, took me longer to clear," Donal said. 

One of his heroes was Scotland's Jimmy Shand and in the early years, long before cell phones or social media, Donal was trying to make contact with Jimmy.

"I was looking to update my first accordion and wanted some advice from Jimmy, so I wrote and addressed the envelope 'Jimmy Shand, somewhere in Scotland'," Donal said with a laugh.

Such was Jimmy's popularity, he got the letter and the two subsequently struck up a firm friendship, which was to last until Sir Jimmy passed away. 

Donal and the band were regular guests at the Shand household during their tours of Scotland. "I loved his style, you'd think you could imitate it but it's not possible. He was a genius, he would nearly make you cry when he played 'When Irish Eyes are Smiling' and similar tunes," Donal remarked.

Along with travelling the highways and byways of Ireland, Donal and the band were popular in Scotland where they toured regularly for 16 years. They performed in Canada and Holland, and were hugely popular in the USA. Nowadays, 82 years old Donal and the band still play on Sunday nights at the Blarney Woollen Mills Hotel and are as popular as ever with those who love and appreciate their unique style and sound. 

His many fans and friends wish Donal continued good health and many more good years 'on the road'. "Sure, it's what keeps me going, the love of playing, it had to be," he says.

Readers can tune into two tribute programmes to Donal on Jimmy Reidy's Round the Fireside on C103 on September 10th and 24th.