The road to Sligo with trad legends Dervish

From the Great Wall of China to packed auditoriums in the Holy Land and more recently being the first Irish band to perform at the greatest music festival in the world, “Rock in Rio” on front of an estimated audience of two hundred and forty thousand people, Dervish have come a long way in seventeen years. Formed in 1989 by a group of five musicians, Liam Kelly, Shane Mitchell, Martin Mc Ginley, Brian Mc Donagh and Michael Holmes who came together to record an album of local music which was released as The Boys of Sligo.


Inspired by the project they decided to develop this informal gathering (which gathered weekly to play sessions in local pubs) into a working band under the name Dervish which was chosen as it related to any group of spiritual people who become enraptured by music.

Over the following two years Dervish honed their craft as a formative band. In 1991, Roscommon born singer Cathy Jordan and all Ireland champion fiddle player Shane Mc Aleer joined the band giving them the right balance to produce the first Dervish album Harmony Hill which was released in 1992.


It wasnt long before the impact of that album became apparent, winning widespread critical acclaim and the album was described by many as “a landmark Irish traditional album”.The impact of the recording was immediate. Its artistry, musicianship and maturity won outstanding praise from the media placing Dervish to the forefront of the bands working on traditional Irish music.


Substantial TV and radio exposure for the band and the album began to open all kind of doors. Dervish soon became one of the most sought after acts on the live music circuit worldwide and have continued to remain so over the years.

This demand led to the band touring continuously throughout 1993 and performing at all the major folk festivals. The enormous workload and the constant touring made it difficult for the band to work in the studio, but the following year their keenly awaited second album was released. “Playing with Fire” was released in 1994, and so again, began the band¹s worldwide travels to satisfy the demand created by both albums.


The high expectations for the recording were not only met, but also surpassed. Reviewers and critics alike lauded praise for “Playing with Fire” confirming Dervish status as the pre-eminent Irish traditional band. The album reached number 1 in the Irish Folk Music Charts and World/Roots music charts internationally and stayed on top for several months.

With their reputation firmly established, Dervish now set their sights on the American market, signing a deal with the New York-based Company Kells Music. The release of their two albums in the USA saw the demand for the band take off in dramatic terms. Performances at highly regarded festivals such as Wolf Trap and the Milwaukee Irish festival projected Dervish into a new sphere of operation on a worldwide scale.


Appearances at festivals such as City Stages in Birmingham Alabama seen Dervish bring Irish music far beyond the Irish/American music circuit in the US Recognition for the band¹s achievements followed with nominations and awards in a variety of traditional/Folk music polls including two in the IRMAs in Ireland.

In 1996 Dervish released “At the End of the Day”, which firmly established the band as a major force in world music, winning them the Hot Press Folk Album of the Year Award. In the same year, the band performed a series of shows in Hong Kong and Malaysia which opened the door to the Far Eastern market.


Since then Dervish have been a groundbreaking force within Irish music bringing the Roots of Irish music to almost all continents.

Dervish concert performances are a myriad of tones and moods ranging from high energy tunes, played with fluidity and intuitiveness, to beautifully measured songs, from charming lyrics of life and love, to inspiring melodies that lift audiences from their seats. All the elements are drawn together by Cathy Jordan’s masterful stage-presence.


Her stories to the songs and her interaction with the audience draws people into the music in a way very few performers can achieve. All this can be found in their fourth album “Live in Palma¹. As the name implies, it¹s a live recording of a scintillating performance in front of a captivated audience at Palma de Majorca¹s “Theatre Principal” in April 1997.


This double album has been hailed by critics as one of the best live traditional recordings of our time. It furnishes the listener with an opportunity to savour the atmosphere (music, melodies and witty banter) which only a live recording can provide and Dervish have done it both masterfully and effortlessly: the decision to record just made a few hours before going on stage and a performance such that a minimal amount of studio time was required to put the finishing touches to a virtually flawless concert. It worked a dream; the power of Dervish in concert was captured and “Live in Palma¹ was released to rave reviews by the international media.The same year the readers of Irish Music Magazine awarded Dervish Best Overall Trad/Folk Band of the Year.

1998 was another grueling year for the group. It started with a six-week coast to coast sell out tour of the USA and a first ever-Irish tour which enjoyed considerable success. That year also saw slight reshuffle of the group with Shane McAleer taking a career break. Luckily, a formidable replacement was found in Sligo¹s own Séamus O¹Dowd –a musician of high standing with a distinct Sligo style fiddle playing and incomparable guitar playing- further adding to the talents of the group. Just before the end of the year,the addition of fiddle player Tom Morrow -a native of Co. Leitrim and another All Ireland Champion complete the present line up of the band.


In 1999 the new look Dervish took to the studio, bringing with it a bigger sound prompted by the seven-piece line up Cathy Jordan (vocals, bodhrán, bones), Tom Morrow (fiddle, viola), Shane Mitchell accordion), Liam Kelly (flute, low whistle), Séamus O¹Dowd (guitars, harmonica), Michael Holmes (bouzouki) and Brian Mc Donagh (mandola, mandolin). Again it looked as if Dervish could do no wrong with the resulting album “Midsummer¹s Night” being voted Irish Trad Album of the Year by many publications.

To celebrate ten years together, Dervish released “Decade” in March 2001. “Decade” is a compilation of some of the finest tracks from their five highly acclaimed albums of Irish traditional music recorded over the last ten years. Around this period great innovation was happening in the Dervish rehearsal room and on stage which led to the release of “Spirit”. This was without doubt an album that gave a new focus to the arrangement and production of the band’s sound. This album had what was described as having, a firmly Roots feel but contemporary in its nature. The instrumentals were fresh in their arrangements and the songs has a new gloss in their production. “Spirit” confirmed Dervish as being a band with a musical mission in terms of the bands approach to the arrangement and production of traditional Irish music. In this year Dervish had their proudest moment to date when Sligo City Council bestowed the FREEDOM OF THE BOROUGH OF SLIGO ON THE BAND.This award was for their international artistic achievements and their dedication and promotion of their local heritage.

In Early 2006 The Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Mr Bertie Ahern invited Dervish to accompany (almost the entire Irish Government) on the countries biggest ever trade mission which was to China. Dervish performed to a gathering from the Chinese government on this trip further confirming the band as a national jewel of Ireland. In 2006 the band released an album from their rapidly expanding back catalog.This was an album that featured slower material recorded over the years.A Healing Heart was released and showed the softer side of Dervish. Presently Dervish are working on their most adventurous project to date details of which will be announced in early 2007 from this web site.

It’s now nearly 18 years since first coming together and with four of the original members still at the helm, Dervish are more in demand than ever. Their colorful career has taken them to every corner of the globe and has seen them share centre stage with such names as James Brown, The Buena Vista Social Club, Oasis, Sting, REM, Beck and many more. Dervish are one of the most respected acts of modern time in World/Roots music worldwide. Their musical genius and innovative approach will ensure that they will always be a leading force in Irish music bringing the world the joy and excitement and fun that is, traditional Irish music.

In October 2007 Dervish released to great acclaim their long-awaited new album “Traveling Show” the songs of which are produced by the legendary John Reynolds and instrumentals produced by Brian Mc Donagh and Dervish.

In 2019, Dervish is celebrating their 30th Anniversary with a tour in the United States and a global release of The Great Irish Songbook, a compilation album of traditional Irish folk songs with guest artists Steve Earle, Vince Gill, The SteelDrivers and more. Be sure to check out the bands most recent album The Great Irish Songbook 

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