News Ireland Mourns Dubliners Legend Drew

President Mary McAleese and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen led a stream of tributes to the memory of legendary folk singer Ronnie Drew, who died on Saturday at the age of 73 after a lengthy illness.

McAleese said of the man who founded the world-famous Dubliners singing group before launching a solo career in his sixties, "Ronnie re-energized and refreshed our unique musical heritage. He brought great pleasure to the people of Ireland and yet more around the world."

Cowen said, "Ronnie Drew was an iconic figure in Irish music over the last five decades. I met him, and admired his music. His unique singing voice was loved by so many people. He bore his illness with bravery and will be sadly missed."

Drew, who died in St. Vincent's Hospital in Dublin only hours after joking with nurses, was born in Dublin in September, 1934.

He founded the group that would later be known as the Dubliners in 1962 when they came together for sessions in O'Donoghue's pub in Merrion Row in the city and effectively kick-started Ireland's folk-music revival.

At the height of their fame when they were noted as much for their hard-drinking and carousing as their unmatched musical talent, The Dubliners packed huge stadia across the world.

Each of the original group was a star in his own right - Drew, Luke Kelly, Barney McKenna, Ciaran Bourke and John Sheehan, whose composition of the "Marino Waltz" is regarded as a classic.

Drew, whose unique voice has been described as something akin to the croak of a bullfrog with a hangover, went solo in 1995 and recorded with many artistes, including Christy Moore and the Pogues.

In August 2006 his handprints were added outside the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin.

Two years ago, it emerged he was undergoing treatment for cancer. As his health declined, a number of famous Irish musicians including members of U2, the Dubliners and the Pogues, released a song called "The Ballad of Ronnie Drew" as a tribute to him.

His wife Deirdre died last year. He is survived by his son Phelim, daughter Cliodhna and five grandchildren.

In comments posted on his website, U2's Bono said: "Weddings, funerals, bar mitzvahs . . . that's what I loved about Ronnie Drew's voice and spirit. Music to inspire, to console . . . an optimism that was contagious . . .'"

More than 3,000 people attended Drew's funeral on Tuesday when the sounds of the service were carried via a PA system and video link to a nearby hall for those unable to gain entry to the overcrowded Church of the Holy Rosary near his home in Greystones, Co. Wicklow. Crowds in the churchyard spilled out onto a local road and up onto a nearby railway bridge.

Drew's love of jazz, classical music and the traditional Irish ballads all took center stage at the funeral. A New Orleans-style version of the gospel song "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" was played as the remains were carried into the church, while one of Drew's favorite tunes, "Waltzing Matilda," marked the end of the Mass.

Fellow Dubliners McKenna and Sheehan played a central role in the Mass along with guitarist Eamon Campbell, Sean Cannon and Patsy Watchorn, who joined the group in later years. Many of his friends, including folk singer Eleanor Shanley who recorded a duet with him, Phil Coulter and jazz guitarist Louis Stewart, contributed to the musical farewell.

Drew's friend Brian Hand said, "He wanted a big party more than anything else. It's a celebration of his life."

Some of the mourners, including Paddy Moloney, Paul Brady, Shay Healy and Coulter, were clearly emotional.

A tearful Brady thumped his heart as he spoke briefly about the last time he had worked with one of his music heroes on an album."A whole era has come to an end," he said.

"One of the most original Irish balladeers has gone, unfortunately. Ronnie Drew influenced all of us."

Cancer specialist Professor John Crown, who treated Drew, said, "He was a great source of humor and good cheer to other patients."

Former Dubliners manager Noel Pearson said, "He was much more than a balladeer. He was also a great storyteller and he was also tremendously honest about himself, and I think people and audiences saw that."

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