Tributes paid to Luke Kelly as two statues of the musician are unveiled in Dublin

Ireland’s President Michael D Higgins has paid tribute to Luke Kelly’s “pivotal” role in Irish traditional music as he unveiled two statues to the musician.

The sculptures, which mark the 35th anniversary of his death, have been erected on either side of the River Liffey in Dublin.

The first sculpture was created by one of Ireland’s most prominent figurative sculptors, John Coll, who has also created the city’s Patrick Kavanagh and Brendan Behan statues.

It features a life-size bronze, seated Kelly singing and playing the banjo and is located on South King Street.

The second sculpture, a marble portrait head of the musician, was created by award-winning portrait artist Vera Klute.

Klute’s piece, which was commissioned by Dublin City Council, is over two metres high and was unanimously selected as the winner of a competition by the then lord mayor Christy Burke in 2014.

Mr Higgins said the musician and band member of The Dubliners, who died in January 1984, has left behind a rich legacy of life and song that continues to influence a new generation of Irish musicians.

“Urged by his example, they in turn continue to seek and deepen the connection in song, and with artistic excellence to the struggles of our times,” he added.

“Luke’s music was, of course, deeply influenced itself by the community and the working-class Dublin in which he grew up, a Dublin where children were ‘reared on songs and stories’, and music was an intrinsic part of daily life.”

Mr Higgins added that Kelly was “an internationalist and a proud socialist”.

He spoke of his “unique ability” to re-imagine and reinterpret the traditional music.

“He enriched it with his distinctive and unforgettable voice and the passion which permeated everything he did,” Mr Higgins added.

“Luke’s role was such a pivotal one, not only in the regeneration and invigoration of Irish traditional music but in its sharing with the public and thus inspiring a new generation to embrace this important element of our rich culture and heritage.”

Irish singer Damien Dempsey and the only surviving member of The Dubliners, John Sheahan, sang The Rare Old Times at the event.

Pupils from St Laurence O’Toole school surprised the crowd by appearing on stage wearing orange Afro wigs while singing some of his well-known songs.

Family friend and author of Luke Kelly A Memoir, Des Geraghty said: “The voice of Luke Kelly rang out loud and clear in the early 1960s to lift up the heart and soul of a dismal Dublin city.

“He captured the latent spirit of the Irish people and gave new hope and inspiration to the poor and oppressed in many a distant land.

“Like Joe Hill, the great American Union organiser and folk singer, his voice and passion for justice and liberty will never die.”

A concert for the music legend will take place in Liberty Hall on Wednesday evening.