John Sheahan was the quiet one in The Dubliners. In that cast of beardy and hairy rogues and rascals, Sheahan stood out by not standing out. Brought in to stand shoulder to shoulder with founder members Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew, Barney McKenna and Ciarán Bourke, Sheahan’s playing brought a touch of elegant class to that gallery. The Dubliners may have swung with gnarly gusto on those full-bodied ballads and rousing airs, but Sheahan’s fiddle added a veneer of the other to the proceedings.
Of course, Sheahan stood out in other ways too. He was the straight in a usual suspects’ line-up of capital city bohos. He’d finished school, done his apprenticeship and was on the way to a life with wife and kids in the suburbs. The music bug was supposed to be for evenings and weekends in the Fidders’ Club or Pipers’ Club or various sessions. But fate intervened, Kelly split from The Dubliners for England and Sheahan and his pal Bobby Lynch were recruited. The rest is history.
After 50 years of playing and after the death of founding member Barney McKenna, in the fall of 2012 Sheahan announced the retirement of The Dubliners by the end of the 50th anniversary tour. The last formation of the band featured Sheahan himself, Sean Cannon, Eamonn Campbell, Patsy Watchorn and Gerry O’Connor. He was a steady member of the band for 48 years and the high standards of his playing strongly contributed to forge the Dubliners’ sound.
In April 2013 he had his own documentary on RTE about his life and career with The Dubliners the programme being titled John Sheahan – A Dubliner, in which he was awarded two Irish Film and Television Awards in 2014.
Photo: Luke Kelly and John Sheahan, 1974