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Mícheál Ó Domhnaill ( ) (1952 – 2006) was a notable Irish singer and guitarist who became famous for his work with Skara Brae, The Bothy Band, Relativity, Nightnoise, and a successful collaboration with fiddler Kevin Burke.

Early life

Mícheál Ó Domhnaill was born on the day of October 7, 1952 in Dublinmarker, Irelandmarker and grew up in Kells, County Meathmarker. His father, Aodh, and his mother, Bríd, were singers, and his sisters, Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill and Maighread Ní Dhomhnaill have also become well-known musicians. His father grew up in Rannafastmarker, and he and his sisters spent their summers there, learning Irish. Mícheál received piano lessons until he was sixteen, when he focused on the guitar.

Skara Brae

In the late 1960s, Ó Domhnaill and his sisters formed the band Skara Brae, along with the gifted Derry guitarist Dáithí Sproule (who is now a member of Altan). Their beautiful, adventurous arrangements of mostly Irish Gaelic songs hade a strong influence in raising the profile and status of traditional Irish music.

Skara Brae released their only album in 1971 on the Gael-Linn Records. It was notable as the first recording to include vocal harmonization in Irish language songs. In 2004, Ó Domhnaill described Skara Brae's influences in an interview with the RTÉmarker radio program Rattlebag:

Ó Domhnaill was one of the first guitar players (along with Dáithí Sproule) in traditional Irish music to employ DADGAD tuning, and as such his guitar style had a dramatic impact on guitarists who followed in the genre. Ó Domhnaill and Sproule were influenced in their early years by John Renbourn and Bert Jansch.

In the early 1970s, Ó Domhnaill was the first presenter of the RTÉ radio program The Long Note, which featured traditional Irish musicians, many of whom had never previously been recorded.

In 1973, while Mícheál and Tríona were still students at University College Dublin, Mícheál formed a musical partnership with Mick Hanly. They recorded one fine album Celtic Folkweave, which was released by Polydor Records.

The Bothy Band

In late 1974, Ó Domhnaill co-founded the very popular group The Bothy Band, along with Matt Molloy (flute and tin whistle), Paddy Keenan (uilleann pipes and tin whistle), Dónal Lunny (bouzouki, guitar, and production), and his sister Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill (harpsichord, clavinet and vocals). In the five years the Bothy Band were together, they emerged as one of the most exciting groups in traditional Irish music history. Much of their repertoire was rooted in the traditional music of Ireland, and their enthusiasm and musical virtuosity set a standard for future traditional Irish music performers.

On February 2, 1975, the Bothy Band made its debut at Trinity College, Dublinmarker. Despite their great legacy, the Bothy Band only recorded three studio albums during their brief career: The Bothy Band, Old Hag You Have Killed Me, and Out of the Wind Into the Sun. A live album After Hours was released in 1979. Their first album was released as 1975 and quickly established them as an important new band. Their second album, Old Hag You Have Killed Me, was released in 1976 and expanded their following considerably. In 1977, they released their final studio album, effectively establishing their reputation and legacy within the traditional Irish music community.

In 1979, the group disbanded, but the former members went on to play influential roles in the development of traditional Irish music. Lunny returned for a while to Planxty and then helped to form the Celtic rock band Moving Hearts. He continued his work as a producer, working with artists like Andy Stewart. Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill moved to the United States and formed the short-lived band Touchstone. She later joined her brother to form both Relativity and Nightnoise.


In 1983, after seven years with the Bothy Band and several years collaborating with the master fiddler, Kevin Burke, O'Dhomhnaill began searching for a new project and a new sound. He met Billy Oskay in Portland, Oregon and the two began a new collaboration focused on a new and innovative music that integrated traditional Irish, jazz, and classical chamber music.

The group Nightnoise began as a collaboration between this American violinist and Irish guitarist who sought to create a unique blend of musical forms. Together, they composed and recorded some songs in Oskay's Portland home and were pleased with the result — a unique understated sound that had a "rough but fresh quality that engendered a serene atmosphere." O'Dhomhnaill secured a contract with William Ackerman at Windham Hill Records, the tracks they recorded were mixed and released in 1984 under the title Nightnoise. The album represented a real departure from Ó Domhnaill's Bothy Band roots, and the mellow, ambient instrumental style incorporating jazz and classical elements and forms full of spirituality almost defined what would be called New Age music.

Three years later, Mícheál's sister, Irish pianist and vocalist Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill, who performed with her brother in Skara Brae, Relativity, and the Bothy Band, and Irish-American flutist Brian Dunning joined the original duo. Nightnoise, the band, was born. The quartet's first album Something of Time, was released by Windham Hill in 1987. It was followed by At the End of the Evening (1988), The Parting Tide (1990), and the compilation A Windham Hill Retrospective (1992).

Following Billy Oskay's departure from Nightnoise, Scottish fiddler Johnny Cunningham, a former member of Silly Wizard who had played with Triona and Mícheál in the band Relativity, took over Oskay's duties. The band took on a much more Irish-centric sound, while still retaining their own signature style. The revamped Nightnoise went on to release the albums Shadow of Time (1994), A Different Shore (1995), and The White Horse Sessions (1997), an album featuring live concert performances mixed in with in-studio live performances, with their Windham Hill colleagues as their audience.

The White Horse Sessions proved to be the last Nightnoise album. Cunningham left the band following its release, and was replaced by Irish fiddler John Fitzpatrick. In a 1999 interview, Mícheál Ó Domhnaill stated that Nightnoise had not broken up, and that the band would be getting together again shortly. The band did indeed record new material (both original compositions and covers of classic songs), but they were all made for albums other than their own. Nightnoise officially disbanded towards the end of 2003.

Mícheál Ó Domhnaill moved back to Ireland in the late nineties, and collaborated with fiddler Paddy Glackin and others.

Death and legacy

Mícheál Ó Domhnaill in Ireland
July 7, 2006, Mícheál Ó Domhnaill died from a fall at his home in Dublin. He was 53 years old. His funeral was attended by members of The Bothy Band and numerous musicians from across Ireland and from further afield.

Although best known for his guitar innovations, Mícheál Ó Domhnaill was a respected singer and also played tin whistle, piano, and harmonium.

On May 24, 2007, a remarkable gathering of traditional Irish musicians and singers, including Paddy Keenan, Donal Lunny, Kevin Burke, and Mary Black, came together at Vicar Street in Dublin to celebrate the life and music of Mícheál Ó Domhnaill. His siblings, Tríona, Maighread, and Conall were among the performers.


With Skara Brae
  • Skara Brae (1971)

With Mick Hanly

With The Bothy Band
  • The Bothy Band (1975)
  • Old Hag You Have Killed Me (1976)
  • Out Of The Wind (1977)
  • After Hours (Live in Paris) (1979)
  • Best Of The Bothy Band (1983)
  • The Bothy Band - Live in Concert (1995)

With Kevin Burke
  • Promenade (1979)
  • Portland (1982)

With Relativity
  • Relativity (1985)
  • Gathering Pace (1987)

With Nightnoise
  • Nightnoise (1984, released under the group name, "Billy Oskay and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill")
  • Something of Time (1987)
  • At the End of the Evening (1988)
  • The Parting Tide (1990)
  • A Windham Hill Retrospective (1992, compilation)
  • Shadow of Time (1993)
  • A Different Shore (1995)
  • The White Horse Sessions (1997)
  • Pure Nightnoise (2006, compilation)

As Producer
  • Noel Hill & Tony Linnane (1978) (also plays Church Harmonium)
  • Touchstone - Jealousy (1984) (also contributes guitar and keyboards)


  1. Metz/Ní Mhaonaigh
  2. Irwin, Colin. "Micheal O Domhnaill." Obituary in The Independent. Independent News and Media Limited, 2006.
  3. Paddy Glackin was replaced by Tommy Peoples, who was then replaced by Kevin Burke in May 1976
  4. Harris, Craig. "The Bothy Band" in Allmusic
  5. Harris
  6. Zackheim, Ben. "Nightnoise." Musician Guide.
  7. Zackheim
  8. Irwin
  9. Kerr, Áine. "Musician Mícheál Ó Domhnaill Dies at 54" in The Irish Times July 10, 2006.

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