Luke was born in Dublin on either the 17 November or 17 December 1940. The confusion arises because his mother says November and his birth certificate December. In the main Luke has always taken his mother’s word for it, for he reasons that she was there at the time.
The family was a large close one. Luke’s father, another Luke, worked for Jacobs the biscuit people and had a great love of soccer – a love he passed on to his son.
Luke was educated at St. Lawrence O’Toole’s (the patron saint of Dublin) School in the North Strand area. He left school when he was thirteen and did a variety of jobs before coming, via the Isle of Man, to work in England.
His hobbies included golf and anything to do with the arts. He was a voracious reader and was rarely found without at least two books and as many newspapers about his person.
Luke was married to Deirdre O’Connell, the Irish-American method actress who owns and runs Dublin’s Focus Theatre.
The bearded balladeer, who was 44, had been in a critical condition following a brain tumor operation.
On 30 June 1980 during a concert in the Cork Opera House Luke Kelly collapsed on the stage; Kelly had the first of several major operations. In April, 1981 he collapsed again during a performance at the Embankment in Tallaght, Dublin.
Ronnie Drew and Barney McKenna, two other members of the Dubliners, were with Luke Kelly when he died.
Ronnie said: “We will all miss him terribly. I think he was the best we ever had. God rest him. You cannot measure how much we will miss him. We were all very close.”
Kelly’s craggy face, framed by a shock of red curls and a goatee beard, was a much-loved feature of the Irish and international music scene.
Born 44 years ago in the North Wall area of Dublin Luke Kelly never had it easy. Educated at Laurence O’Tooles in Seville Place, he left school at 13 to ride a messenger boy’s bicycle. And in the footsteps of his father, his mother and the rest of the family he went to work in Jacobs when he was 14.
He then worked for a while as a docker, a builder, a drain digger and a furniture remover before leaving for England in 1957. At that time he had no thoughts of becoming a folk singer, but while selling vacuum cleaners in Newcastle he soon developed an interest in music.
In London, he met Domnic Behan who introduced Luke to the folk music of Northern England and Scotland. Soon, he became a name around the ballad clubs, singing and strumming a banjo. After two-and-a-half years he shouldered his banjo and went to Paris where he sang in the streets.
Arriving back in Dublin in 1962, he frequented O’Donoghue’s pub on Merrion Row, which was known as a good outlet for a folk singer. There he met Barney McKenna and other musicians, who shared in the growing interest in folk music.
After he had appeared on a show with other individual members of the Dubliners, the suggestion was made by Ronnie Drew, who was already well-known at the time, that they should form a group.
Among the numbers Luke’s fans loved to hear were his gutsy versions of “The Town I Loved So Well,” “Dirty Old Town” and “The Molly Maguires.”
After they established a secure base in Dublin in places like the Abbey Tavern in Howth, Luke and the Dubliners made a record, which was released in England, boosting their popularity and creating a demand for them elsewhere in the world.
Very shortly they were touring the U.S., Australia and New Zealand.
The heady mixture of instrumentals from John Sheehan on fiddle, banjoists Luke and Barney McKenna, whistle player Ciaran Bourke, along with Ronnie Drew’s nasal poetry and Luke’s gravel-voiced singing, soon put the Dubliners to the forefront of the international folk and ballad circuit.
Since the mid-60s, the group has made many bestselling records and toured extensively.
Throughout this time Luke diversified his interests and found time to act and write poetry. One of his best-known performances was in Brendan Behan’s play, “Richard’s Cork Leg.”
Luke Kelly leaves his widow Deirdre O’Connell And he also leaves countless thousands of friends — many of whom only know him through concert or record — who have followed his career with the Dubliners for over 20 years.