A Memoir by Bill Whelan 

Published by The Lilliput Press

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The Road to Riverdance by Bill Whelan is a skilfully attuned record of one of Ireland’s most famous and influential composers.

Riverdance exploded across the stage at Dublin’s Point Theatre one spring evening in 1994 during a seven-minute interval of the Eurovision Song Contest hosted by Ireland. It was a watershed moment in the cultural history of a country embracing the future, a confident leap into world music grounded in the footfall of the choreographed kick-line. It was a moment forty-five years in the making for its composer.

In this tenderly unfurled memoir Bill Whelan rehearses a lifetime of unconscious preparation as step by step he revisits his past, from with his Barrington Street home in 1950s Limerick, to the forcing ground of University College Dublin and the Law Library during the 1960s, to his attic studio in Ranelagh. Along the way the reader is introduced to people and places in the immersive world of fellow musicians, artists and producers, friends and collaborators, embracing the spectrum of Irish music as it broke boundaries, entering the global slipstream of the 1980s and 1990s. As art and commerce fused, dramas and contending personalities come to view behind the arras of stage, screen and recording desk.

Whelan pays tribute to a parade of those who formed his world. He describes the warmth and sustenance of his Limerick childhood, his parents and Denise Quinn, won through assiduous courtship; the McCourts and Jesuit fathers of his early days, the breakthrough with a tempestuous Richard Harris who summoned him to London; Danny Doyle, Shay Healy, Dickie Rock, Planxty, The Dubliners and Stockton’s Wing, Noel Pearson, Seán Ó Riada; working with Jimmy Webb, Leon Uris, The Corrs, Paul McGuinness, Moya Doherty, John McColgan, Jean Butler and Michael Flatley.

Written with wry, inimitable Irish humour and insight, Bill Whelan’s self deprecation allows us to to see the players in all their glory, vulnerability and idiosyncracy. This fascinating work reveals the nuts, bolts, sheer effort and serendipities that formed the road to Riverdance in his reinvention of the Irish tradition for a modern age. As the show went on to perform to millions worldwide, Whelan was honoured with a 1997 Grammy Award when Riverdance was named the ‘Best Musical Show Album.’ Richly detailed and illustrated, The Road to Riverdance forms an enduring repository of memory for all concerned with the performing arts.


Riverdance was composed especially for the interval act of the 1994 Eurovision Song Contest. The original 7 minute orchestral piece conceived for hard-shoe Irish dance was televised to a European audience of 300 million viewers. As a single release, Riverdance spent 18 weeks at No. 1 in the Irish charts and was a Top Ten hit in the UK.

Later that year Bill Whelan began to write Riverdance The Show and in February 1995 it had its first performance at The Point Theatre in Dublin. Since then it has been seen live by over 27.5 million people world-wide.  Both the album and videos have topped the charts around the world.

Bill was honoured with a 1997 Grammy Award when the Riverdance record was named the ‘Best Musical Show Album’.


Twenty-five years on, composer Bill Whelan went back into the studio to re-record the soundtrack to the show. He says “The music had moved into a very different position from when we first recorded it. On the original recording many of the players would have only heard the music a day or two before whereas in this case, the music had  been in the ether for a lot of the musicians, many of whom weren’t even born when I first wrote the score. As a result, these players come to this recording with a unique virtuosity – distinguished with both a familiarity and an energetic freshness”.

The album compositions marry a rich blend of ethnic influences, such as Russian, Spanish and Irish and features many of the world’s finest young musicians including: Mark Alfred who injects a new energy and excitement to this album with his drumming, world renowned Mandolin player Avi Avital, traditional and classically trained Fiddle player Zoe Conway, award winning multi-instrumentalist Tara Howley (Uilleann Pipes & Low Whistle), emerging Spanish Guitarist Amos Lora, two time All Ireland Fiddle Champion Pat Mangan, International soloists Emma McPhilemy and Emma Frampton (Soprano Sax), Damien Mullane (Accordion), finest Eastern European musicians Nedyalko Nedyalkov (Gadulka) and Peyo Peev (Kaval), teenage sensation Haley Richardson on Fiddle, the RTÉ Concert Orchestra and singers Lynn Hilary and Múireann Nic Amhlaoibh who makes her Riverdance debut with a moving performance of the show’s principle song Lift The Wings.


Riverdance: The Animated Adventure,follows an Irish boy named Keegan (Sam Hardy) and a Spanish girl named Moya (Hannah Herman Cortes) as they journey into the mythical world of the legendary Megaloceros Giganteus, who teach them to appreciate Riverdance as a celebration of life.  The film includes  original musical score from Bill Whelan and the film’s closing titles features a brand-new single, Light Me Up performed and co-written with Bill by Ireland’s new singing talent, Lyra.

Directed by Eamonn Butler and Dave Rosenbaum, Riverdance: The Animated Adventure has an impressive Irish voice cast, led by Pierce Brosnan and with John Kavanagh, Brendan Gleeson, Aisling Bea, Lilly Singh, Jermaine Fowler and Pauline McLynn.