Ed Sheeran’s recent version of “Raglan Road” drew some harsh criticisms, but now John Sheahan of The Dubliners has offered a sort of olive branch to the British singer-songwriter.
Sheeran, accompanied by Joy Crookes, performed the Irish classic “Raglan Road” for BBC Two's "Jools' Annual Hootenanny 2021" New Year's Eve program to help ring in 2022.
The performance was almost instantly met with strong pushback online, with some accusing Sheeran of "murdering" the song made famous by Luke Kelly of the iconic Irish group The Dubliners.
Now, fiddle player John Sheahan, the only surviving member of the original five-person line-up of The Dubliners, tells the Sunday World that he agrees with the criticisms.
“Raglan Road” was first published as a poem entitled “Dark Haired Miriam Ran Away” in 1946 by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh. It was later put to music by Luke Kelly of The Dubliners at Kavanagh’s request one fateful night at The Bailey pub in Dublin.
Sheahan said: "Ed Sheeran has a beautiful voice and he's a very talented man, but I was disappointed with his interpretation of 'Raglan Road.'
"I particularly didn't like how Joy Crookes treated the song. Some singers don't seem to be able to resist the temptation to treat some of these old melodies like jazz songs, and they're improvising like scat singers and totally distorting the original melody. I just don't know why they try to do that."
Sheahan said the distortion of the melody was "not acceptable" and an "insult" to Kavanagh, Kelly, and the song itself.
"Even on the first verse, Ed Sheeran didn't stick to the melody," Sheahan said. "It's a very simple ancient melody and I think it should be left in its own natural perfection."
Sheahan added: "Certain things should be left alone in their own natural, simple perfection and Raglan Road is one of those."
Despite his candid critique of Sheeran’s take on “Raglan Road,” Sheahan said he’s impressed with the British singer-songwriter’s massive success: "His performances are phenomenal. Just one man with a guitar and playback stuff and over-dubbing stuff… it is quite amazing.
"And I know he has Irish connections and all of that. He has a wonderful voice and if he sang that song just straight in the same way that Luke Kelly sang it I think it would be beautiful.
"Somebody was suggesting that, as an apology, Ed Sheeran should go into a studio and record Raglan Road properly.
"If he wants to come into the studio and sing it like Luke Kelly, I'll play the fiddle on it for him, no bother."
Though British, Sheeran, whose grandparents are from Belfast and Wexford, has previously said that he comes “from an Irish family” and that he “spent most of my childhood summers and birthdays and Christmases in Ireland listening to trad music bands.” That Irish influence is apparent in several of his songs, most notably his take on "Galway Girl" and the original "Nancy Mulligan."
Will Sheeran take Sheahan up on his offer? Only time will tell.