Ireland House Oral History Collection

Larry Kirwan


18 October 2011

3 hours, 1 minute

Preferred Citation:

Ireland House Oral History Collection, Archives of Irish America, New York University

Biographical Note:

Larry Kirwan was born in Ireland in1954. Kirwan migrated to New York City at the age of 21. He grew up with four siblings, two sisters and two brothers. One of his brothers was Kirwan's only other family member to immigrate to America. Kirwan moved in with his widowed maternal grandfather when he was eight years old to help him around the house. Kirwan bypassed university in favor of caring for his grandfather. He did, however, enroll in accounting classes. While living with Hughes, Kirwan and his grandfather frequently discussed Irish politics and Republican figures. Around the age of 12 Kirwan decided to learn the guitar but never received any formal training. He played in Elvis Murphy's Showband, which both improved his guitar skills and introduced him to the rock and roll scene.

When he moved to New York, Kirwan lived in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. The freedom he enjoyed in the city led to an entirely different lifestyle and social scene than he experienced in Ireland. He began playing music in the Bronx, where Irish immigrants from the 1950s came out to listen to his music. Kirwan and Pierce Turner comprised a New Wave band, the Major Thinkers. Kirwan took a break from playing in bands after the breakup of the Major Thinkers, and for about four years wrote plays. After this hiatus he began performing with the band Chill Faction, an experimental and improvisational group consisting of different musicians and the poet Copernicus. He later met Chris Byrne in a bar following a performance by Byrne's disintegrating band. Kirwan agreed to play with him, and thus, Black 47 was created. Black 47 was a confrontational band by nature, due to its combination of highly political songs and aggressive performance style. It merged hip-hop beats and loud guitar with the "sacred" sound of Irish pipes.

Kirwan is a firm believer in music as a motivator for social change, though he is skeptical that it will return to its former role as a primary form of protest. Currently, Kirwan has a radio show on SIRIUS Radio called Celtic Crush. He discusses various topics of his choosing as well as showcases contemporary Celtic rock. He also writes a weekly column for the Irish Echo, addressing a variety of progressive topics. As for performing, Kirwan recorded an album of children's songs called Keltic Kids that both children and parents can enjoy. Black 47 is currently on a break, but has a few shows scheduled for December 2011.