Dónal Lunny was born in Tullamore on 10 March 1947. His father Frank was from Enniskillen and his mother, Mary Rogers, came from Ranafast in Donegal; they raised four boys and five girls. The family moved to Newbridge, County Kildare when Dónal was five years old.
He attended secondary school at Newbridge College and, in 1963, joined the Patrician Brothers’ school for the Intermediate Certificate year. As a teenager, Lunny joined an occasional trio called Rakes of Kildare, with his elder brother Frank and Christy Moore. They played mostly in pubs and were also booked for a couple of gigs.
In 1965, Lunny had enrolled at Dublin’s National College of Art & Design where he studied Basic Design and Graphic Design. He also developed an interest in metalwork leading him to become a skilled gold-and-silversmith, although he only practised the craft for a short time before devoting his energies fully to music. During his time in Dublin, he played in a band called The Parnell Folk, with Mick Moloney, Sean Corcoran, Johnny Morrissey and Dan Maher.
In 1970, Lunny formed a musical partnership with Andy Irvine. They created their own club night, downstairs at Slattery’s Pub in Capel Street, Dublin, which they called ‘The Mug’s Gig’. This featured Irvine and Lunny, and guest performers such as Ronnie Drew, Mellow Candle, and the group Supply, Demand & Curve. A year later, Lunny and Irvine played on Moore’s second album, ‘Prosperous’, which led the three of them, plus Liam O’Flynn, to form Planxty shortly thereafter. Their first professional performance took place in Slattery’s, in early 1972. The band became a leading proponent of Irish traditional instrumental music.
In 1974, Lunny left Planxty to form The Bothy Band, playing guitar and bouzouki. The Bothy Band quickly became one of the prominent bands performing Irish traditional music. Their enthusiasm and musical virtuosity had a significant influence on the Irish traditional music movement that continued well after they disbanded in 1979.
Lunny became a session musician on various projects, including Davey and Morris, the first album to feature Shaun Davey. He also played bouzouki on Kate’s songs Night Of The Swallow, And Dream Of Sheep, Jig Of Life, Hello Earth, and The Sensual World, and bodhrán on Jig Of Life. Kate contributed the track Mná Na hÉirann to Common Ground: Voices Of Modern Irish Music, a project produced by Lonny in 1996.
Meanwhile, in 1981, Lunny reunited with Moore to form Moving Hearts, along with a young uilleann piper, Davy Spillane. Following the example of the group Horslips, Moving Hearts combined Irish traditional music with rock and roll, and also added elements of jazz to their sound. The group disbanded in 1985.
Lunny diversified and became a producer. He was closely involved in the establishment of a new Irish record label: Mulligan Records, and produced and played on many of its early releases, the first of which was from Pumpkinhead. He was the producer and music director of the soundtrack of ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, a BBC TV documentary series charting the influence of Irish music throughout the world. He produced albums for Paul Brady, Elvis Costello, Indigo Girls, Sinéad O’Connor, Clannad, Maurice Lennon, Baaba Maal, and Five Guys Named Moe.
As an arranger, he has worked for The Waterboys, Fairground Attraction and Eddi Reader. Journey (2000) is a retrospective album. During 2003–2005, Lunny was part of the reunited Planxty concert tour.