Clannad (the name means ‘Clan from Dore’) came together because they were family – literally. Ciarán Ó Braonáin (the group’s leader, bassist and guitarist), Pól, and Máire (pronounced Moya) were brothers and sisters, while mandolinist Pádraig Ó Dúgáin and guitarist Noel Ó Dúgáin were their twin uncles.
All five grew up in two adjoining houses in Gweedore, a Gaelic-speaking parish of about 6,000 in the wild, mountainous Northwest county of Donegal in Ireland.
The O Braonáin’s father, Leo, ran a big band in the fifties, while the Ó Braonáin and Ó Dúgáin children grew up listening to Mrs Ni Braonáin’s Gaelic ballads (she was a music teacher in Gweedore) and the hodgepodge of music that Leo’s friends brought to both their home and Leo’s Tavern, the pub the elder Ó Braonáin started when he left his band.
By the time they were teenagers, Ciarán and company had abandoned other styles for the folk music of their area. Ciarán took up the bass, while Pól, Noel and Pádraig learned such stringed instruments as the mandolin, mandola and guitar, and in 1970 they entered and won the all-Irish Gael Linn ‘Slógadh’ competition and the Letterkenny Folk Festival. The latter victory included a Polydor recording contract.
The group decided not to introduce lead instruments such as pipes or fiddle if it meant going outside the clan and instead persuaded sister Máire to join on the harp.
Clannad toured sporadically as amateurs until 1975, when engineer Nicky Ryan and journalist Fachtna O’Kelly (who became manager of the Boomtown Rats) decided the group was destined for bigger things and offered to manage them full-time.
Throughout the late seventies, Clannad moved to the forefront of traditional Irish music with three albums – Clannad, Clannad II and Clannad On Tour (recorded in Switzerland) – notable for Máire’s backwoods contralto, the kind of seamless harmonies only a family can produce and a lush, string-oriented setting for haunting, ancient tunes.
Founding member Pádraig Duggan died in 2016 in a Dublin hospital after a recurring illness. He was 67.
Moya Brennan (Máire Ní Braonáin)
Pól Brennan (Pól Ó Braonáin)
Guitar, keyboards, flute, vocals
Ciarán Ó Braonáin
Bass, guitar, piano, synthesizer, vocals
Noel Duggan (Noel Ó Dúgáin)
Pádraig Duggan (Pádraig Ó Dúgáin)
Mandolin, guitar, vocals
Eithne (Enya) Ni Braonáin