Thursday, December 19, 2013

December 19: Irish folk singer, Tommy Sands, is 68-years-old today.

Tommy Sands - not to be confused with the ’60 teenage idol in the U.S.- is a folk singer, song writer, radio broadcaster, and political activist. He performed with his three siblings and was the prime song-writer for the Sands Family, one of Ireland's most influential folk groups of the 1960s and '70s. 

The Sands Family song repertoire largely consists of their own compositions plus traditional Irish songs.


The Irish Tommy Sands was born on the family farm on the 'Ryan Road' in the townland of Ryan, near Mayobridge, County Down, Northern Ireland. His parents both came from families of singers, musicians and storytellers and encouraged a love of Irish culture and tradition in their seven children. His father Mick- known to all as 'The Chief' - and six uncles played the fiddle. His mother, Bridie, played the accordian. 

Their home in the foothills of the Mourne Mountains, was a focal point for Catholic and Protestant neighbours from nearby farms to enjoy music and Craic. The Sands Family (Tommy, Eugene, Ben, Colum and Anne) started public performing in local halls and pubs, then they won a 'Folk Group' contest in "Old Shieling Hotel" in Raheny, Dublin.

This led to a three-week booking in New York in the early 1970s followed by further tours in the U.S. and Canada. They also performed a St Patrick's Day concert appearance in Carnegie Hall.

Sands initially attended college to study theology and philosophy, but dropped out and began to walk the 120 miles home to concentrate on his music career. Along the way a car filled with his siblings picked him up to perform at a concert.

Their 35 year touring career includes regular tours throughout continental Europe, especially Germany, plus the UK, and Ireland. One notable highlight was performing in Moscow's Luzhniki 'Olympic' Stadium. During the 1975 'Sands Family' tour of Germany Tommy's brother Eugene was killed in a road accident.  Since the early 2000s the Sands Family have restricted touring to an annual tour of Germany and Ireland.

In September 2008 Tommy Sands was invited to perform at the Library of Congress with his daughter Moya and son Fionan, as part of the Rediscover Northern Ireland Program. The event was co-sponsored by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and the American Folklife Center. Tommy Sands has hosted Country Ceili, a radio show on Downtown Radio in Newtownards since 1976.

In May 2002 he received an Honorary Doctorate from The University of Nevada, Reno for his outstanding work as musician and ambassador for peace and understanding.

His song "There Were Roses" has been described as "... certainly one of the best songs ever written about the "Irish Problem." The song recounts how a Protestant friend of Sands, was murdered in Newry by republican paramilitaries. In the aftermath loyalist paramilitaries "prowled round the Ryan Road" for a Catholic to kill in retaliation; ironically, the man they selected, Sean O'Malley (name changed), had been a good friend of the Protestant victim and also of Sands.

In 2005 he published his autobiography, The Songman – A Journey in Irish Music. In Belfast, during the depths of The Troubles in August 1986, Sands organised a "Citizen's Assembly" which included many of Ulster's top artists and literary figures.

In June 2010 Sands accepted the invitation of Palestinian and Israeli activists conducting a joint campaign at the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, to come and perform at a rally held to protest extreme right Israeli settlers evicting Palestinian Sheikh Jarrah residents and taking over their homes.

With a new album and more concert dates than ever, Tommy now tours with Fionan and Moya. With Tommy on vocals/guitar, Moya on fiddle/vocals/bodhran/whistle, and Fionan on mandolin/banjo, the sound is livelier than ever. Their performances include concerts and educational programs at performing arts centers, folk clubs, and schools.

 The music moves from traditional Irish to contemporary folk, and Tommy's lyrics evoke images of Ireland and make edgier commentaries on social consciousness.


For more about Tommy, visit his Website at -


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