Michael ''Jesse'' Owens

Irish ballad singer, guitarist, humorist and raconteur.
Full Bio

”My Heart Belongs to Dublin”

Dear Ol’ Dublin Town… There is one thing it’s most famous for, of that there is no doubt. It is the only place in the world to get a decent pint of stout.’’ – Jesse Owens


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The Holy Ground’ at the Abbey Tavern in Howth

Jesse Owens and Anne Byrne performing ‘The Holy Ground’ at the Abbey Tavern in Howth (Dublin, Ireland). This clip was taken from the documentary O’Kennedy’s Ireland. Filmed in the mid 1960’s.


Michael “Jesse” Owens has been a well-known Irish ballad singer/guitarist, humorist, and raconteur for over 50 years. Born Michael Francis Owens in Dublin, Michael is the eldest of six children. His father, a policeman, was so impressed with the great track star Jesse Owens at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, that when Michael took an interest in running several years later it only seemed appropriate to nickname him “Jesse”.

Ever since he was a child, Jesse wanted to play music, so his mother bought him his first guitar at the age of 16 and unbeknownst at the time put in motion a long and wonderful career. At the age of 18, Jesse joined the Dublin Fire Brigade and became known in Ireland as the “signing fireman”.

In 1959, Jesse joined singer Anne Byrne and together they became regulars on Irish TV for several years. Jesse also took the lead role in the famed Abbey Theatre’s Flann and Clemintin. From his early 20’s, Jesse was also a successful model, appearing in TV commercials, newspapers and magazines including Vogue and the New York Times. In 1966, he embarked on a vacation to New York City, a vacation that changed his life. In New York, he met Jerry Toner and Terry O’Neil, who had just opened the John Barleycorn Pub in Midtown. While at the pub, Jesse suggested that they host live Irish music, and thus the first nightly Irish singing pub in New York was established. Soon after, Jesse resigned from the Fire Brigade and immigrated to the U.S. to be the resident singer of the Barleycorn Pub, along with accordion player Paddy Noonan. When Jesse first arrived in New York he lived in the Lambs Club, where he was inducted as a member by Bert Lahr (famously known as the Lion from The Wizard of Oz).


In 1967 Jesse returned to Ireland to play for the summer and hooked up with Dublin born, all-Ireland accordion player James Keane. James returned to the U.S. with Jesse and together they played throughout the country at concerts, summer festivals, pubs and private parties for over 12 years. Some of their most notable performances were at the birthday parties of Jack, Robert and Ted Kennedy. Jesse and James spent four years playing at the John Barleycorn Pub and two years at Flanagan’s On First Avenue, both in New York City. In 1976 Jesse became a partner in Jim Brady’s Pub on Maiden Lane in the Wall Street area, where he worked (and performed) for over 30 years. Later, Jesse teamed up with fiddle player John Reynolds for almost twenty years. They were often joined by Timmy Sullivan, John Nolan, Joe Nesor, Keith Sammut, Tony Ryan and Jimmy Lavin.

For 15 summers, Jesse and his band played Sunday afternoons at the waterfront Warren Hotel in Spring Lake, NJ to thousands of people until it’s closing in 2001. Jesse made many lasting friendships in Spring Lake that he still maintains to this day. For many years, Jesse organized pub tours to Ireland bringing thousands of people from the U.S. to the Emerald Isle. These famous tours brought many people to the home of their forefathers. Many people returned with Jesse and the band year after year to tour throughout Ireland as the band played in well-known hotels and pubs. In 1999, through the hard work of good friends and many musicians and singers, Jesse was honored for keeping Irish music alive in New York. In 2005 Jesse received a proclamation from the City of New York and the “Man of the Year” award from the United Restaurant and Tavern Owners Association of New York. Jesse has three children, Kim, Michael and Brian. He and his lovely wife Maryann currently live in Bonita Springs, Florida, where Jesse still plays music and is known to have sessions with Paddy Moloney, Jerry Forde as well as local talent.

Get in Touch!


Contact Jesse


mjesseowens {at} hotmail {dot} com