Page last updated at 17:56 GMT, Saturday, 16 August 2008 18:56 UK

Irish folk singer Drew dies at 73

Ronnie Drew
A tribute song to Ronnie Drew was recorded earlier this year

Ronnie Drew, the legendary Irish folk singer and musician, has died at the age of 73, his family has announced.

Drew, the founder of The Dubliners, had been battling ill health for some time.

In a brief statement, his family confirmed he passed away at St Vincent's Private Hospital in Dublin at 1400 BST on Saturday.

Taoiseach Brian Cowen said Drew had been an "iconic figure in Irish music" over five decades who would be remembered worldwide for his music.

"I met him and admired his music, his unique singing voice was loved by so many people," he said.

"Ronnie, whether as part of The Dubliners or during his solo career, will also be remembered for his promotion of Irish music both at home and around the world.

"He bore his illness with bravery and will be sadly missed."

Drew underwent six months' treatment for throat cancer two years ago.

His wife of more than 40 years, Deirdre, died last year. The couple lived in Greystones, Co Wicklow.

He is survived by his two children and five grandchildren.

Drew's family said he passed away peacefully while they were at his bedside.

Ronnie was a champion of traditional Irish music and, with The Dubliners, he re-energised and refreshed our unique musical heritage
Republic of Ireland president Mary McAleese

"The family are very grateful for all the letters of support and wishes during the term of Ronnie's illness," they said in a statement.

They also thanked Professor Crown and the entire medical staff of St Vincent's Private Hospital.

Con Kavanagh, barman at O'Donoghues, where The Dubliners started out, said everybody gathering at the pub this evening was talking about Drew.

"When you mention Dublin, you mention Ronnie Drew - the two just went together," he said. "Everybody loved him."

Irish president Mary McAleese said it was with great sadness that she learned of Drew's death.

"Ronnie was a champion of traditional Irish music and, with The Dubliners, he re-energised and refreshed our unique musical heritage," she said.

Pub beginnings

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Ronnie Drew performs The Irish Rover with The Pogues on Top of the Pops in 1987

During his career, Drew recorded with many artists, including Christy Moore, The Pogues, Antonio Breschi and Eleanor Shanley.

Earlier this year, members of U2 joined fellow Irish musicians Sinead O'Connor, Shane MacGowan, Christy Moore and others to record a tribute song The Ballad Of Ronnie Drew.

All profits from the release of the single went to the Irish Cancer Society.

Speaking at the time of the recording, U2 frontman Bono said: "Ronnie is like the King of Ireland, and we are his subjects.

"This is a big fight for him. But like any fighter, it's easier if there's a crowd cheering."

Drew founded the Ronnie Drew Group in 1962, which later came to be known as The Dubliners.

The group included fellow Irish music legends Luke Kelly, Ciaran Bourke and Barney McKenna and they began by singing in the O'Donoghues pub in central Dublin.

Kelly was known for singing their soulful ballads and Drew will be best remembered for his gravelly-voiced renditions of songs like Finnegan's Wake and Dicey Reilly.

Drew sang one of the band's biggest commercial hits, Seven Drunken Nights, and the band appeared on the BBC's Top of the Pops.

They later appeared again on the show with Shane MacGowan and the Pogues to perform the single The Irish Rover.


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