Clannad (Irish pronunciation: [ˈklˠan̪ˠəd̪ˠ]) are an Irish band formed in 1970 in Gweedore, County Donegal, by siblings Ciarán, Pól and Moya Ui Bhraonáin (in English, Brennan) and their twin uncles Noel and Pádraig Ó Dúgáin (Duggan).[1][2] They have adopted various musical styles throughout their history. Beginning as an acoustic folk group mainly performing rearranged traditional Irish songs in Irish, they expanded their sound with original songs in English, vocal harmonies, electronic keyboards, and elements of rock, Celtic, new age, smooth jazz, and Gregorian chant.[3]

Most recent line-up: Ciarán Brennan, Moya Brennan, Noel Duggan, Pól Brennan
Most recent line-up: Ciarán Brennan, Moya Brennan, Noel Duggan, Pól Brennan
Background information
OriginGweedore, County Donegal, Ireland
Years active1970–present
MembersCiarán Brennan
Moya Brennan
Pól Brennan
Past membersPádraig Duggan (deceased)
Noel Duggan (deceased)
WebsiteOfficial website

Initially known as Clann as Dobhar ('Family from Dore'),[4] they shortened their name to Clannad in 1973.[5] By 1979 they had released three albums and toured Europe and the US. From 1980 to 1982 they operated as a six-piece with their sister and niece Eithne (Enya). In 1982 they gained international attention with their single "Theme from Harry's Game".[4][6] They experimented with New Age and pop-influenced sounds in the 1980s and 1990s[7][8] and their music came to be defined as almost purely Celtic, making them innovators of that genre.[9] In 1997, after 15 albums, they took a break and pursued solo projects.[10] The band regrouped in 2007 as a four piece with Moya, Ciarán, Noel and Pádraig and completed a world tour in 2008.[11][12] In 2013, Pól rejoined and they released their first studio album in fifteen years.[13] Pádraig Duggan died in 2016 and the group embarked on their farewell tour in 2020 as a quartet.[14]

Clannad have won numerous awards throughout their career, including a Grammy Award, a BAFTA, an Ivor Novello Award, and a Billboard Music Award.[15] They have recorded in six different languages and scored eight UK top 10 albums. They were often more popular abroad than in their native Ireland, and are considered to have brought Irish music and the Irish language to a wider audience.[16][17]

History edit

Formation edit

Leo's Tavern in Meenaleck, County Donegal, the pub owned by Leo Brennan where members of Clannad first performed

Clannad was formed by siblings Ciarán, Pól, and Máire Brennan and their twin uncles Noel and Pádraig Duggan.[18] They grew up in Dore, a remote parish in Gweedore, County Donegal in north-western Ireland, a Gaeltacht region where Irish was the main spoken language.[19][20] They were raised as a Roman Catholic family of musicians: the Brennans' mother, Máire "Baba" Brennan (née Duggan), the daughter of the local headmaster, was a music teacher and their father, Leo Brennan, who played saxophone and accordion, was a member of the Slieve Foy, an Irish showband that had toured Scotland and Ireland.[21] In 1968, the Brennan and Duggan fathers bought and restored a dilapidated old tavern in nearby Meenaleck and ran it as a music bar called Leo's Tavern. Their children performed there together and developed their own act, with Ciaran and Pol Brennan on bass, vocals and bongos, Padraig and Noel Duggan on guitars, and elder Brennan sister Moya on harp and vocals.[22]

The five young musicians made their live debut in 1970 at a music competition held during the inaugural Slógadh Youth Festival in Letterkenny. Máire, the eldest member, who had learned the harp and could play "holy songs and Brian Boru", was elected lead vocalist. They had not intended to enter the competition, but were encouraged to try by the local police sergeant and family members,[23] and they submitted their entry form with ten minutes to spare before the post was to be collected.[24] They won the Slógadh competition prize of £500, a trophy and a recording contract with Polydor Records, although the band members were too young to sign it.[25] With help from a grandfather they had named themselves Clann as Dobhar, Irish for Family from Dore,[26] and they used this name until 1973, when they shortened the name to Clannad.[4]

They established themselves as an acoustic folk group, collecting material from old singers and story-tellers in Donegal[27] and building a repertoire of traditional Irish songs, arranged in a contemporary style for a full band. This approach attracted criticism at first because the Irish language was associated with poverty,[24] but as Pól Brennan recalled: "Once they said that [...] we just had to do it even more."[28][29] They also wrote original material, and covered songs by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Joni Mitchell.[30]

1973–1982: early years and six-piece band with Enya edit

In 1973, Clannad came in first place in the Letterkenny folk festival and were offered a deal with Philips Records, which they negotiated themselves.[31][30] Having secured a label, the group prepared material for a debut album. They recorded at Eamonn Andrews Studios in Dublin, choosing Irish and English songs and a cover of "Morning Dew" by Bonnie Dobson. Released in 1973, Clannad was met with initial resistance from the label because of the use of Irish, and the group soon found themselves more popular outside Ireland, particularly in Germany.[31] Later in 1973, Clannad competed for Ireland in the heat stages of the 1973 Eurovision Song Contest with the song "An Pháirc".

In 1974, the band followed their debut album with Clannad 2, released by Gael Linn Records and produced by Dónal Lunny, the founder of Planxty and The Bothy Band. Like their first album, Clannad 2 featured a mixture of English and Irish songs, with Lunny and members of the Bothy Band on additional instruments. It also featured the band's first use of a synthesizer.[28][30]

Their next album, Dúlamán (Seaweed), was released in 1976. It was named after the Irish folk song "Dúlamán", which became a stage favourite. The album was recorded at Rockfield Studios in Wales and was their first to be produced by Nicky Ryan. Clannad capitalised on their growing popularity in Europe by including liner notes in German and French and undertaking a tour of Europe.[31] At one show, the standing ovation the band received after an extended rendition of "Níl Sé Ina Lá (Níl Sé'n Lá)" from Clannad convinced them to continue as full-time musicians.[32][33] Recordings from a tour of Switzerland in 1978 were released in the following year as Clannad in Concert. Also in 1979, Clannad undertook a 36-date tour of North America, the most extensive by an Irish band at that time.[34]

At the 1982 Leeds Folk Festival

In 1980, Clannad became a six-piece band with the addition of younger sister Enya Brennan on keyboards and additional vocals. Ryan had invited her to join in order to expand the group's sound with extra vocals and electronic instruments. Enya's first recordings with Clannad were made as a guest musician on their fifth studio album, Crann Úll (Apple Tree), which was recorded in Cologne, Germany and released in 1980 on Tara Music. "Ar a Ghabháil 'n a 'Chuain Domh" featured a particularly full band arrangement which reflected their live jams, while "Lá Cuimhthíoch Fán dTuath" showed early hints of a more atmospheric side to the band's arrangements.

By the time Clannad entered Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin to record their next album, Fuaim (Sound), Enya had become a full-time member. This album continued the group's experimentation with electronic instruments, and Enya was featured on lead vocals on "An tÚll" and "Buaireadh an Phósta". Neil Buckley played clarinet and saxophone, with Noel Bridgeman on percussion and Pat Farrell on electric guitar. Fuaim was released by Tara Music in 1982. Nicky Ryan had brought Enya into the group to expand their sound, but felt they had reverted to their original musical style. After a band meeting during a 1982 European tour, managers Nicky Ryan and Roma Ryan left the group. Enya was feeling increasingly restricted in a band setting, and departed to pursue a solo career with the Ryans as collaborators.[35]

1982–1985: "Theme from Harry's Game" and Magical Ring edit

In 1982, the now five-piece Clannad signed to RCA Records and acquired Dave Kavanagh as their new manager. They accepted an invitation to record the title music for Harry's Game, a three-part television drama depicting The Troubles in Northern Ireland, based on the novel of the same name by Gerald Seymour. Seymour suggested that the band record music for the show.[36] Ciarán, Pól, and Máire wrote "Theme from Harry's Game" in a few hours. It was recorded in two days and became an atmospheric piece featuring a Prophet-5 synthesizer and over 100 tracked vocals, a departure from their usual acoustic folk sound.[36][28][4][30] Released as a single in October 1982, "Theme from Harry's Game" became the band's commercial breakthrough and caught international attention. It peaked at No.2 in Ireland and No.5 in the UK, and reached the top-20 in the Netherlands and Sweden. It remains the only UK hit single to have been sung entirely in Irish. Clannad's national exposure increased further when they performed the song on Top of the Pops.[37] From 1983 to 1987, Irish rock band U2 used the song at the end their concerts.[38]

"Two minutes of haunting vocal magic—the sort of thing Clannad have been doing for years—and all of a sudden everybody wants to know who they are."

Belfast Telegraph, November 1982[36]

Following this success, the group released their seventh studio album, Magical Ring, in March 1983. In addition to "Theme from Harry's Game", it featured a mix of original and traditional Irish songs plus a cover of "I See Red" by Jim Rafferty. The album peaked at No.26 in the UK, and became the group's first album to be certified gold by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI).[39] Two singles were released from the album: "I See Red" went to No.19 in Ireland and No.81 in the UK, and "Newgrange" reached No.30 and No.65, respectively. In April 1983, Clannad were awarded a Hot Press Music Award for their impact on Irish music in the previous year.[40] Around this time, Maire noted that although the group had lost fans of their traditional folk sound, they had gained new ones as a result of their commercial success.[37]

A month after Magical Ring was released, the band were commissioned to score the 26-episode television drama series Robin of Sherwood, which was broadcast on ITV from 1984 to 1986.[40] They created music for a range of characters and events related to the legend of Robin Hood and, for the first time, they recorded entirely in English. In May 1984, a soundtrack album from the series was released as Legend and reached No.9 in New Zealand and No.15 in the UK. The theme tune of the series was released as a single entitled "Robin (The Hooded Man)" that went to No.19 in Ireland and No.42 in the UK. Clannad won a BAFTA for Best Original Television Music, the first Irish band to win it, in 1985.[28] In 1984, the band embarked on their first major concert tour of the UK, which was followed by a 18-month world tour, including dates across the US and USSR.[41][37]

1985–1989: Macalla and Sirius edit

In 1985, Clannad released their next album, Macalla (Echo), which was recorded in Switzerland, England and Ireland. Apart from one traditional song the album contained all original material, and yielded a hit single, "In a Lifetime", a duet with U2 singer Bono, which began with Máire teaching Irish to Bono during the introduction.[42] The album featured numerous backing musicians, who continued to work with the band on tour, including ex-King Crimson saxophonist Mel Collins, Moving Hearts' guitarist Anthony Drennan, and drummer Paul Moran. Also on board was producer Steve Nye, who oversaw the pop-flavoured "Closer to Your Heart" and the ballad "Almost Seems (Too Late to Turn)" which became hit singles. "Almost Seems" served as the Children in Need charity single in 1985. In 1986 the band put out their first compilation album, The Collection.

In October 1987, Clannad worked with American producers Greg Ladanyi and Russ Kunkel, drummer of James Taylor's band, on their next album, Sirius. The album was given a contemporary pop-influenced sound and production, creating the impression that it was recorded in the US, although it was recorded in the UK and mixed in Los Angeles.[30] Máire Brennan recalled that the band had been at an experimental stage at the time and said Ladanyi and Kunkel had not listened to their previous records. Ciaran thought the music had been "sandpapered down to be a radio-friendly album", and that the production had relied too heavily on a computer.[30] Sirius featured "Something to Believe In", a duet with Bruce Hornsby on vocals and keyboards, and guest appearances by Steve Perry and J.D. Souther. In February 1988, the band began a world tour which included dates across Europe, Australia and the US, to commemorate their fifteenth anniversary.[43]

In between their 1988 tour dates, the group scored three episodes of the BBC wildlife documentary series Natural World about the Atlantic Ocean, which were broadcast in January 1989. A soundtrack album of the score was released as Atlantic Realm and went to No.41 in the UK. In addition, Clannad released a second compilation album, Pastpresent, which focused on their output 1982-on, with two new tracks: "The Hunter" and "World of Difference". The album was a commercial success, peaking at No.5 in the UK, where it was certified Platinum for over 300,000 copies sold.[44] It was promoted with a sell-out UK tour and the release of a double A-side single, "Hourglass" with "Theme from Harry's Game", although "Harry's Game" was not on the compilation. Clannad provided music for The Angel and the Soldier Boy, an animated film narrated by actor Tom Conti. Ciarán and Pól Brennan wrote the music, which was performed by the band. A soundtrack with the same name was released in 1989. Also in 1989, Clannad won four Clio Awards for their music used in a US advertisement produced by An Bord Fáilte.[44]

1989–2000: four-piece band, Anam, Banba, and Lore edit

In 1989, Pól Brennan left Clannad to work with Peter Gabriel as a producer for the WOMAD arts festival and as an acoustic specialist.[31] The band continued as a four-piece and wrote, arranged and recorded their next album, Anam (Soul), in under three months, with Ciarán Brennan becoming their producer and primary songwriter.[30] Released in October 1990, the album peaked at No.14 in the UK. Its US release followed in 1992 and included "In a Lifetime" and "Theme from Harry's Game", which had appeared in the film Patriot Games (1992) and a Volkswagen television advert, boosting the group's recognition.[31][30] The interest generated by the Volkswagen advert saw Anam reach No.46 on the US Billboard 200, the group's highest position on the chart.[45] In 1996, the album reached gold certification in the US after selling 500,000 copies.[46] The track won a Billboard Music Award for World Music Song of the Year. "Rí na Cruinne" was included on One World One Voice, a charity album intended to raise awareness of environmental issues.

In 1990, the group's sister/niece Bridin Brennan joined the group for live performances, supplying additional instruments and backing vocals. Around this time a documentary on the band's 20-year history was produced, entitled Clannad in Donegal.[47] In 1991, Clannad released a cover version of "Both Sides Now" by Joni Mitchell on which they duetted with singer Paul Young. The track had been recorded for the Blake Edwards film Switch.

In late 1992, the group started working on material for their next album, Banba. Ciarán wrote fifteen songs in his home studio, and he and Maire picked out tracks to develop further and produced demos, then arranged the best parts into complete songs.[30] Released in May 1993, the album went to No.5 in the UK and No.110 in the US. It featured "I Will Find You", written for the film The Last of the Mohicans (1992) and had Máire singing in English, Mohican, and Cherokee. Maire said director Michael Mann had liked their Irish songs, but they were unsure of writing a song about early American history in Irish and opted instead to use native languages. An English version was also recorded.[30] Banba was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Age Album and, like its predecessor, it achieved Gold certification in the US after selling 500,000 copies.[46] The album was supported by Clannad's 20th anniversary UK tour, which ended in July 1993 with a concert at Lincoln Castle.[48]

By early 1996, Clannad had recorded and finished the next album, Lore, but its release was delayed after the band tried to leave BMG and sign a worldwide deal with Atlantic Records, their US distributor.[49] Released in March 1996, the album, which featured American drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, reached No.14 in the UK and debuted at No.1 on the Billboard Top World Albums chart, displacing Gipsy Kings after their 24-week run at the top.[50] "Croí Cróga" ("Brave Heart") was originally written for the Mel Gibson film Braveheart (1995), but did not make the final cut.[49] "Farewell Love" was used in the soundtrack of the Irish drama film A Further Gesture (1997). Clannad's tour to promote the album included their first sell-out shows in Japan.[51] In 1996, Clannad received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Irish Recorded Music Association. In April 1996, the group split with their manager, Dave Kavanagh, after 14 years.[52]

Clannad returned in 1997 with the album Landmarks. In the song "Of This Land", Máire sang about Ireland's past and future. The track "Fadó" ("Long Ago") demonstrated the influences of Celtic history on the band's music. In 1999 Landmarks won the group a Grammy award for Best New Age Album. Also in 1999, the group wrote "What Will I Do" for the Kevin Costner romantic drama film Message in a Bottle.

2000–present: hiatus, five-piece reunion, Nádúr, and final tour edit

Clannad returned as a five piece in January 2007

Between 1999 and 2007, Clannad were largely inactive while individual members pursued solo projects. In 2003, BMG/RCA released the greatest hits album The Best of Clannad: In a Lifetime, which peaked at No.23 in the UK. In the following year, the Duggan twins recorded together for the first time outside of Clannad and released an album, Rubicon, under the name The Duggans.

Clannad reunited for a one-off performance in 2006 during Moya Brennan's solo concert in De Doelen, the Netherlands, which was dedicated to their parents, Leo and Máire Brennan. The whole of Clannad, including former member Pól Brennan and sister Deirdre, performed five songs together in the second half of the concert. Leo and Máire, who were present, did not know that this was planned. The performance was greeted with standing ovations from the audience.[53] In January 2007, the five original members of Clannad performed at the Celtic Connections Festival in Glasgow. In the following month, the group received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the annual Meteor Ireland Music Awards in Dublin.

In March 2008, Clannad began their first UK tour in over 12 years.[54] In May 2008, Clannad's version of the traditional song "Down by the Salley Gardens" was featured in the listening paper for Music GCSE from the Oxford, Cambridge and RSA Examinations exam board. Also in 2008, two compilation albums were released: Celtic Themes: The Very Best of Clannad and Beginnings: The Best of the Early Years.[55] In 2009, Clannad were nominated for an IMA Award for Best Revival Act.[56][57]

In 2011, Pól Brennan returned to the group as a full-time member for the first time since 1990. He said later that the most exciting thing about his return was writing songs with his brother Ciarán again.[58] In January 2011, two additional concerts were scheduled at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin after high demand for tickets. The group appeared on RTÉ's The Late Late Show on 21 January, performing "Theme from Harry's Game" with vocal ensemble Anúna. It was their first appearance on the show in 14 years.[59]

In September 2013, Clannad released Nádúr, their first studio album since 1998.[60] It was the band's final album before the death of Padraig Duggan in 2016. They began an international tour in October 2013 which started in Australia and New Zealand and continued through 2014. In 2016, Moya Brennan announced she had been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive lung disease that required her to rephrase the vocals to some songs.[58]

In February 2020, BMG announced the release of In a Lifetime, a greatest hits set to commemorate the band's fiftieth anniversary. Released on April 3 by BMG, the album was available on CD, vinyl, digital platforms, and a deluxe edition that contained over 100 tracks spanning their career. The set included two new tracks, "A Celtic Dream" and "Who Knows Where the Time Goes", their first recordings since Padraig Duggan's passing.[61] The album coincided with the In a Lifetime Tour, their final tour as a group, which was to take place in the UK and North America between March and October 2020.[61] The tour was postponed after several shows because of the COVID-19 pandemic[62] and resumed in 2021. Noel Duggan died on 15 October 2022, aged 73. The band performed a farewell concert at the 3Arena in Dublin on 18 February 2023.[63] The tour concluded in Seattle, Washington on October 9, 2023, after which Clannad planned to disband, with individual members pursuing solo projects.[63]

Musical style and legacy edit

The original Clannad line-up at the 2006 Meteor Awards:Pádraig Duggan, Pól Brennan, Moya Brennan, Ciarán Brennan and Noel Duggan

"There's a feeling in all our music, an ambience that stems directly from where we were brought up and to have to define our sound, I always say that if they were to visit Gweedore they wouldn't need to ask." – Ciarán Brennan[64]

When Clannad first started out in the early 1970s, their music and sound stemmed solely from their traditional Irish background. They popularised such old songs as "Dúlamán", "Teidhir Abhaile Riú" and "Coinleach Glas An Fhómhair", and these songs remained favourites at their concerts. After departing from their folk and traditional background in 1982, they created a new sound that was to define the meaning of New Age and Celtic music. When "Theme from Harry's Game" and "Newgrange" were first heard, radio stations all over the world were fascinated by an unearthly and spiritual sound that they had not heard before.[65] One critic said "the tunes were steeped in the old ways, but the production and the arrangement was fresh and inventive". This transition in Clannad's career is often seen as the birth of Celtic music, and they are regarded as pioneers of the genre. They are also noted for their melodious harmonies, which have been at the heart of their music since their first album. Legend (1984) was based on English folklore, and with later albums Clannad delved further into the realms of electronica and pop. Many of their singles entered pop charts around the world and widened their fan base. Despite their success with this genre of music, the group maintained a link with their Gaelic roots, giving traditional Irish songs such as "Tráthnóna Beag Aréir" and "Buachaill Ón Éirne" the Clannad treatment.

While the rock-infused Sirius and the pop-inclined Macalla were successful, the style that the band created themselves has left the greatest legacy. Its influence can be found in the soundtrack of the film Titanic, where composer James Horner imitated Clannad's musical style[15] and the soundtrack sounded so much like Clannad that it has been mistakenly attributed to them.[66] The band's 'Celtic mysticism' is a recurring theme in the film Intermission.[67] Lead singer Moya Brennan said that Clannad's "otherworldly" and "ethereal" sound came from the ancient hills and glens that surrounded Gweedore.[68] Traces of Clannad's legacy can be heard in the music of many artists, including Enya, Altan, Capercaillie, The Corrs, Loreena McKennitt, Anúna, Riverdance, Órla Fallon and U2.[69][70] Bono said Moya had "one of the greatest voices the human ear has ever experienced".[71]

A Japanese visual novel released in 2004, which spawned a 2007 film and a 2007–08 television series based on it, was named after the band because screenwriter Jun Maeda mistakenly believed it to mean the word "family" in Irish.[72]

Brennan family edit

The Brennans are Ireland's most successful music family; in 2005, the combined record sales of Clannad and Enya exceeded 70 million.[73] Leo Brennan (born Leopold Henry Brennan-Hardin)[74] and Máire "Baba" Duggan are the parents of the Brennan siblings Máire (Moya), Ciarán, Pól, Deirdre, Leon,[75] Eithne (Enya), Olive, Bartley, and Brídín. Brennan was a musician who played in an Irish showband, the Slieve Foy, and Duggan was an amateur musician who taught music at Gweedore Community School and lead the local choir, Cór Mhuire Doire Beaga. The family lived in Dore, a parish in Gweedore, County Donegal.

In 1968, the pair bought Leo's Tavern in Meenaleck for £1,500.[23]

Members edit

Current members
  • Ciarán Brennan – bass, guitar, keyboards, mandolin, vocals (1970–present)
  • Moya Brennan – vocals, harp (1970–present)
  • Pól Brennan – flute, guitar, percussion, whistles, vocals (1970–1990, 2011–present)
Former members
  • Noel Duggan – guitar, vocals (1970–2022; his death)
  • Pádraig Duggan – guitar, mandola, mandolin, vocals (1970–2016; his death)
  • Enya Brennan – keyboards, percussion, vocals (1980–1982)

Discography edit

Studio albums edit

EPs edit

  • Christmas Angels (1997)

Live albums edit

Videography edit

Bibliography edit

Sheet music book for 'Past Present'
  • A Woman's Voice (1991)
Eddie Rowley in conversation with Máire Brennan
sometimes called God of Peace
Later subtitled: The Autobiography of the Voice of Clannad
Detailing Clannad's journey as a band

Awards and nominations edit


  1. 1982: 1982 Ivor Novello Awards, Best Soundtrack for "Theme From Harry's Game"
  2. 1984: 1984 BAFTA Awards, Best Television Music for "Robin of Sherwood"
  3. 1992: Billboard Music Award, World Music Song of the Year for "Rí na Cruinne"
  4. 1999: Grammy Awards of 1999, Best New Age Album for "Landmarks"
  5. 2007: Meteor Music Awards, Lifetime Achievement Award
  6. 2014: BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards, Lifetime Achievement Award


  1. 1982: 1982 BAFTA Awards, Best Television Music for "Harry's Game"
  2. 1994: Grammy Awards of 1994, Best New Age Album for "Banba"
  3. 1996: Grammy Awards of 1996, Best New Age Album for "Lore"
  4. 2009: Ireland's Music Awards, Best Revival Act

References edit

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