Doran, Johnny (1908–50), uilleann piper, was one of four sons and five daughters of John Doran, horse dealer, and Kathleen Doran (neé McCann); the family were members of the travelling community. Although his father played the pipes, Johnny also learned his skills on the instrument from Johnny Cash, a horse dealer of Naas, Co. Kildare, who was a relative; Johnny Doran was a great-grandson of John Cash, a renowned Co. Wexford piper. The Doran family settled for a time in Rathnew, Co. Wicklow, and Johnny grew up there, teaching the pipes to his younger brother Felix (c.1915–1972), who himself became a celebrated musician. In his youth Johnny Doran travelled to Co. Clare with his father in search of opportunities for performance. From the late 1930s to the early 1940s, Doran made a very good living by playing at fairs and sporting events throughout the island; he lived in a horse-drawn caravan, which was generally parked at a distance from a town, and he would travel on his racing bicycle to local fairs and feiseanna. Unconventionally, he would play standing up, with his leg on the instrument's case to balance the chanter. His reputation as one of the most accomplished and unselfconscious traditional musicians of his day grew throughout his life.
He was married by 1937, but his income was reduced by travel restrictions during the second world war, which meant he had to stay in Dublin. On occasions he would play at the Piper's Club in Thomas St., Dublin, and was glad to receive the proceeds of voluntary collections. He also found work as a bricklayer's assistant to Andy Conroy, a piper from Roscommon. He often visited the Capel St. shop of the west Clare fiddler John Kelly. One night in November 1947 he called on Kelly, saying he was feeling unwell. Kelly, fearing the worst, quickly arranged to get some of Doran's tunes recorded that night by Kevin Danaher (qv) of the Irish Folklore Commission, at the IFC's offices in Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin. Doran played on a concert-pitch set of uilleann pipes made by Leo Rowsome (qv); he enjoyed the studio experience and promised to record more tunes at a later date, but this never happened. The IFC recordings, originally on 78-rpm acetate, are the only known recordings, and have been remastered and released with the title The bunch of keys: the complete recordings of Johnny Doran (1989). Kelly felt Johnny Doran was not at his best on the recordings, but they have been studied by musicians and musicologists alike, and are notable particularly for Doran's harmonic and rhythmic accompaniment skills with the regulator.
In 1948 Doran's caravan was parked beside a high wall on a derelict site at Christ Church, Dublin, near his parents’ house in New St. He was asked by Seán MacBride (qv) to play at Clann na Poblachta's final election rally in early February 1948. However, in a high wind on 30 January the wall collapsed on to the caravan, smashing it and seriously injuring Doran and others in the family. He was taken to the Meath Hospital and later to St Kevin's Hospital. Although crippled from the waist down, he and his wife Mary went back to travelling, their four daughters remaining in Dublin to attend a convent school. Johnny and Mary Doran were camped near Athy, Co. Kildare, in the autumn of 1949 when his health broke down again. Admitted to the local St Vincent's Hospital 27 October 1949, he remained in the care of the Sisters of Mercy until his death on 19 January 1950. He was buried in Rathnew cemetery. A small, thin, quiet, and well-dressed man, he drank little and did not smoke. He influenced many musicians during his career, notably Willie Clancy (qv), as well as a younger generation of pipers such as Paddy Keenan, Davy Spillane, and Finbar Furey. His nephew Mickey Doran, a son of Felix, also became a celebrated piper.