Eleanor Shanley is one of Ireland’s finest singers of contemporary and traditional folk. She has a distinctive and powerful voice that is also capable of amazing sweetness and tenderness and, like Dolores Keane and Mary Black, she is an instinctive singer deeply rooted in her music. She was one of the first singers to appear in session on my old BBC folk show and was part of the wonderful St. Patrick’s Day party we had for the BBC in my old house in Connemara.
She hails from the beautiful glens of County Leitrim in the North West of Ireland and, like most young people of her generation in Ireland, grew up listening to a heady mix of music from country and rock to traditional dance music and song. When she left school she went to work in Dublin and it was there, while singing in a session in a pub called Ned O’Shea’s Merchant that she met De Danann, after Planxty, possibly one of the most influential and well-known Irish folk groups, led by the redoubtable Yorkshire Irishman, Alec Finn. Two weeks later the day job was history and she was on a tour of Wales, Finland and Sweden. For the next five years she toured the world with De Danann and recorded three of their finest albums with them – Jacket of Batteries, Half Set in Harlem and Wonderwaltz.
After leaving De Danann, Eleanor went on to have a great solo career recording 3 classic albums, Eleanor Shanley, Desert Heart and A Place of My Own, as well as making albums with people like Ronnie Drew and Eddie Reader.
Like Dolores Keane and Mary Black, Eleanor has set the standard to which many younger women singers aspire to and, like them, she has been a great role model. She still tours and records and she brings that essential quality of soul to everything she does. Whether she’s singing a contemporary song like Boo Hewardine’s Bell Book and Candle, Richard Thompson’s Galway to Graceland or the great traditional song The Bantry Girl’s Lament, she sings from deep within her, without artifice or gloss. Over the years, Eleanor has produced classic versions of many fine songs.