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Maddy Prior competition: and the winners are...

The Grehan Sisters: a short rediscovery

JUNE 2017 UPDATE: just replaced the dead link with one that still works!

Dave Eyre , whose programme Thank Goodness It's Folk broadcasts to Britain's fourth largest city each Friday 10am-noon on Sheffield Live! (93.2 FM), has added a great comment.....

Getting round to announcing the winners of my Maddy Prior competition .........

But here's something to be going on with. This posting started out as an excuse to bring you a film clip from the 1960s, rediscovered in the 1990s, which is described as a sort of uncompleted Irish Spaghetti Western, a musical that fell foul of financial constraints.

Its appearance here was inspired by a rekindled Mudcat thread about the Grehan Sisters.

Fondly remembered from the folk clubs of North-eastern England back in the late 1960s, they were seen singing** (though not, sadly, Cricklewood, which is the song of theirs that streams into the consciousness at any mention of their name) and also offering a burst of the trademark spoon-playing.

There was a lot more of the Dubliners, and some Johnny Moynihan, plus one or two others lost on me through lapses of memory or gaps in the knowledge. I did wonder whether the jailer's daughter who visited Ronnie Drew, sentenced to hang as a serial burglar, in hopes of springing him from his condemned cell, might be the girl from the Tinkers. But that was just a guess.

It was good stuff. And it lasted 37 minutes. That gave me time to come up with the Maddy winners...... but now, four five years later, the clip is no more, as a reader now (Jan 2013) points out. In its place I have put the sisters singing The Lake of Coolfin. AT least I was at kast able to correct the spelling of rediscovery, from resdiscovery, in the headline.

** not for the squeamish: remember, however, that it was entirely commonplace in those days, even in English folk clubs, for people to sing Irish rebel songs. We were at the early stage of the Troubles, that is to say before bombs started going off in England, and the songs related to risings and individual episodes from history.


Dave Eyre

Some anecdotes/further information/comments on the film (based partly on the memory of events a long time ago - I sometimes struggle to remember things from 20 minutes ago).

I was last in O'Donoghue's in August 2000 and at that time it had not altered one little bit from when I used to go there in the 60's. Except for a picture of Finbar Furey over the bar!

Kevin Sheldon was English and worked for RTE (a much smaller enterprise in those days) as a producer. He was responsible for a regular TV programme called "Ballad Session" as I remember.

The McKenna's were a band who played there on Sunday afternoons 12- 2.00 it would probably have been. I always remember them singing Van Diemen's Land

I lived at Holyhead at the time and went across fairly frequently - not sure how I discovered O'Donohue's but I did. I had some great times in there and indeed met Joe Heaney in there - I was a life long fan - and we went upstairs and had some soup courtesy of the landlord during Holy Hour. (The pubs shut for an hour - maybe 3-4 possibly 4-5. Landlords loved it, gave them time for lunch and to clean places up a bit. The landlord at that time was called Paddy - Paddy what I have no idea!!

As you look at the front of O'Donoghue's that doorway on the right in fact leads to a yard. There were two rooms - first as you went in was the bar - then into the back "music room" where must of the filming seems to have taken place.

The Grehans.

Francie, Bernie and Marie as I remember them - definitely Bernie who played the spoons. They were a bit "female Clancy Brother's" with a hell of line in rebel songs and very uncompromising. I doubt they had been to Britain at that point when that film was made. I helped run the Watersons club in Hull (I was a customs officer hence the move Holyhead/Hull) and we booked them - but that was almost certainly 1967. We often put the artists up and the Grehans were given a room downstairs - all the rest of us were upstairs. They clearly felt they might be in some danger because meeting them later we found out they had jammed a chair under the door handle to make sure we didn't attack them in the night!

Harry M

Thanks for making this available. It captures a very specific period in time when the ballad scene was at it's height and before the transition to the Folk & Irish Traditional revival took off led by Sweeney's Men, Johnnny Moynihan being the link. The Grehan Sisters are the highlight for me.

John Jensen

Help !! The video has disappeared.
Nothing happens when I click on the arrow.


Quite right, John. It has slipped from reach and has, since you alert me to its disappearance, been replaced.

Robert Francis Hughes

I remember the sisters at the Caley Cinema in Edinburgh in 1968. I drew a psychedelic sign for them which they autographed. I just discovered it today and it brought back sweet memories.


Robert: send me a copy at and tell me more about the meeting with them and I shall publish it with pelasure

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