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The Irish Rovers are a popular and long-running Canadianmarker Irish folk group created in 1963 and named for the traditional song "The Irish Rover". The primary voices heard in the group's songs were Will Millar (tenor) and Jimmy Ferguson (baritone).


Will Millar had been singing in Irelandmarker with his sister since he was 10, and entertainment was what he knew best, so when he came to Calgary he met Les Weinstein, who managed to land him a television show and would later guide the boys on a long successful career. Will's younger brother George Millar, who was all of 16, and his friend Jimmy Ferguson came out from Toronto for a two-week holiday to stay with Will. They had been singing as a weekend hobby with Will's father and sister, and so Will invited the two young travellers to sing on his TV show. When holiday time was up, George and Jimmy asked if they could stay on, so Will enrolled George in a local high school and got Jimmy a job; both careers were short-lived when the trio made a hit in Calgary.

Will then invited his cousin Joe to come out and join the fun. Later, the boys became part of a popular folk club of the time called the Depression, a club that also kick-started the career of Joni Mitchell.

Restless for new horizons, Will had a notion for the Irish Rovers to try their luck in California, then the Mecca of folk music success, so piling into his old Jaguar car, with some financial support from Weinstein, the gallant little band invaded California. Their car broke down in Northern California, and fate had them meet Irish pub owners and an agent who helped them secure a gig at the popular Purple Onion in San Franciscomarker. The group subsequently began performing in folk clubs all over California. Wilcil McDowell joined the band in 1966, around the time the group was signed by Decca Records, when "The Unicorn" became a Number 1 hit all over the world.

The group is best known for their hit recording of Shel Silverstein's "The Unicorn" (1967) and Irish ditties "The Orange and the Green" / "Whiskey on a Sunday" (1968). They also hosted several variety TV programs in the 1970s on Canadian television. Although they recorded many albums after that, they weren't as successful commercially as "The Unicorn" until 1980, when the band had a crossover hit with a cover of Tom Paxton's "Wasn't That a Party?" The success of this out-of-character recording, which was performed in a country-rock style rather than the band's familiar folk style, led to the band rebranding itself as The Rovers and changing styles for the remainder of the 1980s, scoring follow-up hits with songs such as "Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy," "No More Bread and Butter," and the Christmas hit "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer." By the 1990s, however, the band was once again known as the Irish Rovers.

Will Millar left the group in 1995; he subsequently recorded solo works and also wrote a book entitled Messing Around in Boats. He went on to do some acting as well, playing postal carrier and boat owner Jimmy McVeigh on the Canadian comedy program The Red Green Show, and Jimmy, the crusty handyman in the 2005 Canadian slasher film Sleepover Nightmare. Millar, a neighbour and good friend of writer-director Boon Collins, was also the production designer of the film, along with his wife, Catherine Millar. The bulk of the film was actually shot on Millar’s property and in his home.

Founding member Jimmy Ferguson died in 1997. The remaining members of the group, augmented by new musicians, continue to tour as the Irish Rovers as of 2009.

The Unicorn: an Irish Public House

In January 1981, Will Millar opened the first Unicorn Irish pub in Torontomarker at 175 Eglinton Ave. East.
"Pubs were originally created as places where musicians, artists, and writers could congregate and talk…"
and so with this thought in mind, a chain of "free houses" under the banner of "The Unicorn" was born.The Unicorn Pub: Irish Rovers Freehouse, on the site of Expo 86, was host to the live recording of the band that can be heard on the Irish Rovers' Celebrate! The First 30 Years album.

The original location in Toronto is still in operation today.


  • The First of the Irish Rovers (1966)
  • The Unicorn (1967)
  • All Hung Up (1968)
  • The Life of the Rover (1969)
  • On the Shores of Americay (1971)
  • The Best of the Irish Rovers (1972)
  • The Irish Rovers Live (1972)
  • Tales to Warm Your Mind (1973)
  • Emigrate! Emigrate! (1973)
  • Greatest Hits (1974)
  • Children of the Unicorn (1976)
  • The Irish Rovers in Australia (1976)
  • Tall Ships and Salty Dogs (1979)
  • The Rovers (1980)
  • No More Bread + Butter (1981)
  • Party Album (1982)
  • Pain In My Past (1982)
  • It Was a Night Like This (1982)
  • Twentieth Anniversary (1984)
  • Party with the Rovers (1985)
  • Hardstuff (1989)
  • Silver Anniversary (1989)
  • The Boys Come Rolling Home (1992)
  • Years May Come, Years May Go (1993)
  • Celebrate! The First 30 Years (1994)
  • Celtic Collection: The Next Thirty Years (1995)
  • The Irish Rovers' Gems (1996)
  • Come Fill Up Your Glasses (1998)
  • Songs of Christmas (1999)
  • Down by the Lagan Side (2000)
  • Another Round (2002)
  • Live in Concert (2003)
  • 40 Years a-Rovin' (2005)
  • Still Rovin' (2007)


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