The group initially formed in 1989 under the name the Boys of Sligo. At the urging of Sligo-based Sound Records, the original quintet of Liam Kelly (flute, tin whistle), Shane Mitchell (accordion), Michael Holmes (bouzouki), Brian McDonagh (mandolin, mandola), and Martin McGinley (fiddle) recorded a lone album of traditional instrumental tunes under this name before adding singer and bodhran player Cathy Jordan to the mix in 1991. Around this time, McGinley was replaced on fiddle by Shane McAleer and the expanded lineup began performing as Dervish.
With the release of 1993's Harmony Hill, Dervish began to establish themselves as a premier Irish traditional act, coloring the music with their distinctive tonal flair while steering clear of the temptation to use synths or any of the electric instrumentation adopted by many of their Celtic peers at the time. This all-organic approach served them well throughout their career as they proceeded to record a slew of well-regarded albums like Playing with Fire (1995) and Midsummer's Night (1999). Operating without a label, they managed their own business quite well; they toured Europe frequently, and recorded 1997's Live in Palma in Spain. During this period, they also made a trip to South America, where they performed at Brazil's massive Rock in Rio festival.
By the end of the '90s, fiddler Tom Morrow had come on board, replacing McAleer, and Dervish celebrated their first ten years as a band with the 2001 anthology Decade. Still an independent act, they continued to release high-quality albums like 2003's Spirit and 2005's A Healing Heart while cultivating their international fan base with frequent trips to the U.S., Europe, and beyond. In 2007, they represented Ireland in the Eurovision Song Contest and released their seventh studio album, Traveling Show. That same year also included a trip to China accompanying Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern on a state visit where they broke into an impromptu session on the Great Wall of China.
In 2012, Jordan issued a solo album, All the Way Home, returning to band business a year later for The Thrush in the Storm. In 2018, after operating without a label since 1991, Dervish signed with American folk and roots music specialists Rounder Records. Their first release for the label arrived a year later in the form of The Great Irish Songbook, which featured a number of high-profile guests including country singer Vince Gill, Americana star Rhiannon Giddens, and U.K. songwriter David Gray, among others. ~ Timothy Monger, Rovi