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Sean O'Riada


Musicians of Cork: (Courtesy of The Knotted Chord Archive, 2002)
PLUS Biography (Courtesy of Ireland on Line site, 2005).

Sean O�Riada(1931-1971) Piano, harpsichord, bodhran, composer, arranger, academic.

Born in Cork. His father Sean Reidy from Kilmihil, Co. Clare studied fiddle with Patrick Kelly of Cree and his mother Julia Creedon, from Kilnamartra, Co. Cork played concertina and melodeon. His father was a Garda Sargeant based in Adare, Co. Limerick and it was here he started school and gained a passion for the Irish language through his first teacher, a Bother Long from Dingle, Co. Kerry.

Sean started violin at age seven and piano the following year. He played with the Limerick Club until going to secondary school in 1943, on a scholarship, to St. Finbarr�s Farranferris Seminary in Cork. He received another scholarship to attend University College Cork(UCC) in 1948 taking Arts with music(under Prof. Aloys Fleischmann), Greek, Latin and Irish.

He graduated with honours, married Ruth Coughlan in 1953, and was appointed assistant director of music at Radio Eireann. He resigned in 1955 and moved to Paris, where he played Jazz piano and freelanced on French radio, before returning to Dublin to work again with Radio Eireann, arranging the Radio Eireann singers and Light Orchestra. He also wrote original compositions for Symphony and Chamber orchestras as well as for solo voice and piano.

During this period he served as music director at the Abbey Theatre and continued to do radio broadcasts and work on film scores. His most famous film score was for "Mise Eire"(I am Ireland) in 1959, which portrayed the events leading to the foundation of the Irish State. Two others were "Saoirse"(freedom) and "Playboy of the Western World". His radio series "Our musical heritage"(also a book) was also hugely popular.

Sean started bringing different ensembles of traditional musicians together working on different sounds and finally formed the group Ceoltoiri Chualann, which he described as a �folk chamber orchestra�. They performed the music for the Bryan McMahons�s play, "The Golden Folk", at the Abbey and made their first stage performance at the Shelbourne Hotel.

After a visit, his first, to the Corca Dhuibhne(Kerry) Gaeltacht in 1959 he and Ruth began hosting informal Ceili nights at their home. There was a mix of traditional and classical musicians, poets, diplomats, tradesmen, and business men.

In 1962 Sean and family moved to Corca Dhuibhne for a year, writing for the Irish Times and freelancing with RTE(the new national radio/tv body).

In 1963 he was appointed assistant lecturer of music at UCC and the family moved to the West Cork Gaeltacht of Cuil Aodha, 10 miles from where his mother was born.

He made 16mm films, wrote music, fished, studied Indian and Oriental music and sat on National commissions and committees. He was also heavily involved in the local community and formed the choir C�ir Cuil Aodha for whom he wrote his first mass(first of three) based on saen-n�s singing.

In a tragically short life he made over 700 arrangements for traditional music, 25 orchestral arrangements of traditional Irish tunes, 120 choral arrangements of traditional song, wrote a play, a multitude of articles and essays, and some songs.

His traditional group Ceoltoiri Chualann were the forerunner of The Chieftains(original members of both included Paddy Moloney, Michael Tubridy, Sean Keane, Sean Potts and Martin Fay) and have influenced ensemble playing within traditional music right to this day. Other members were Sonny Brogan and Eamon De Buitleir on accordions(ironically, an instrument Sean said he had no time for), John Kelly fiddle, Dara O�Cathain and Sean O�Sea singers, Ronnie McShane bones, while Sean himself played harpsichord and bodhran.

Their originality was, in contrast to Ceili Bands, in allowing individual musicians play passages within selections and also bringing in harmony. They also gave the bodhran a profile in ensemble and reintroduced 18th century harp music, such as O�Carolan�s, to the traditional repertoire.

They made several albums including "� Riada sa Gaiety"(Gael Linn) in 1969 before disbanding in 1970. Before he died in 1971 he made a recording called "� Riada�s Farewell" on harpsichord. Thousands attended his funeral in C�il Aodha that October.(FV)

Se�n � Riada
Biography (Courtesy of Ireland on Line site, 2005).

Se�n � Riada was born in Cork on August Ist, 1931, while his father, a sergeant in the Garda S�ochana, was stationed in Adare, Co. Limerick. His mother was Julia Creedon from Kilnamartyra in the Barony of West Muskerry, and his father Sean Reidy of Kilmihil, Co. Clare. Both were of farming stock with strong cultural traditions; she a concertina and melodian player with many of the songs of her area, and he having once studied the fiddle with Patrick Kelly. � Riada's cradle songs were "Codlaigi Einini" from his father and "Cois an Ghaorthaidh" from his mother.

At the age of four he went to the Christian Brothers' School in Adare. His first teacher was Brother Long from Dingle, who set the foundation for his strong passion for the Irish language. At the age of seven he got his first violin lesson from Granville Metcalfe who used to come out to Adare from Limerick once a week to teach music. A year later he began to study the piano. When he was ten he joined the Limerick Club and performed with them until he left Adare to go to boarding school. During this period he also studied theory, counterpoint and harmony with Professor Van de Veld. In 1943 he won a scholarship to Farrenferris Seminary School in Cork, from where he matriculated in 1947, and, being too young to enter University, he spent the following year in St. Munchins in Limerick where he took his Leaving Certificate.

He entered U.C.C. in 1948 on a scholarship and read first Arts with Music as a subject. He also took Greek, Latin and Irish. U.C.C. in those days was small, and exciting because of the number of foreign students who flocked there after the Second World War. � Riada plunged into a wide course of reading and talking which was oriented towards the ancient and modern cultures of Europe. In 1957 he graduated with honours in Music.

In September, 1953 he married Ruth Coghlan and they had seven children, Peadar, Reitseal, Eoghan, Alasdar, Cathal, Sorcha, Liadh. The last two children were born after he had moved to the Gaeltacht but the whole family were brought up through Irish.

Also in 1953 he was appointed Assistant Director of Music in Radio Eireann.
Dr. Arthur Young was his Co-Assistant Director, and in those good old days they graciously attended symphony concerts and gave short shrift to various "trad fids" who came up for audition, and also to various deputations from the country, including a very persistent petitioner from Cuil Aodha, whose house Sean was destined to buy ten years later.

0 Riada resigned from Radio Eireann in 1955, and, in a logical extension to all of his classical reading and studies, took off to starve in a garret in Paris. Here he met many artists and musicians through R.D.T.F. But here also he turned towards the Aisling which had been hovering over all his life and he ended up by saying to his wife "I'd rather be breaking stones in Ireland than be the richest man living in Europe".

Back in Dublin, he began the most prolific period of his life, starting with many arrangements for the Radio Eireann Singers and Light Orchestra, doing original compositions for Symphony Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra, writing for solo voice and for piano. During this time he was working as Music Director of the Abbey Theatre. This position gave him a good deal of spare time and allowed him to do many radio broadcasts and to work on incidental music for films.

Side by side with the flowering of 0 Riada's European classical creativity another theme began to emerge during those seven years. The spirit of this theme was first expressed in the music which he wrote for the film Mise Eire. The impact of this particular music on the nation in 1959 was dramatic and immediate and it marked the beginning of 0 Riada's rapport with the people of Ireland and their culture. He began a deep study of Irish traditional music which resulted in a radio series entitled "Our Musical Heritage". He proceeded to experiment with combinations of musicians to evolve Ceoltoiri Chualann. This group was first presented to the public as a folk or traditional orchestra providing the incidental music for the Abbey Theatre presentation of the Honey Spike, a play by Brian Mc Mahon. Their first formal appearance as a stage group was at the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin.

While he was still in Dublin, he made his first contact with the Gaeltacht when he spent the summer of 1959 with his family in Bru na Gr�ige (Corca Dhuibhne) at the invitation of an tAthair Tadhg 0 Murchu. it was after this visit, which made a deep impression on them, that the 0 Riadas began to hold the now famous Ceilidhe at their home in Galloping Green, which brought together all the strands of Sean's various interests - muintir na Gaeltachta, traditional and classical musicians, poets, diplomats, plumbers and business men.

Finally, and once more in a logical extension of his cultural development, he resigned from the Abbey in 1962 and moved to Corca Dhuibhne where he lived for a year doing freelance work for R.T.E. and writing for the "Irish Times", until in October, 1963 he was appointed assistant lecturer in Music at University College, Cork.

On his appointment he moved to Cuil Aodha to live in An Draighean. Here, ten miles from where his mother was born, 0 Riada felt he had come home. Henceforth he regarded all trips to Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Edinburgh, London, Canada, America for lectures, concerts, recordings and festivals, in the nature of forages from his home base to bring back spoils and to further the interests of the Naisiun Gaolach. He made 16mm. films, wrote music, went fishing, studied Indian and Oriental Music, sat on National Commissions and committees, and generally was deeply involved in the community. He formed a choir and and wrote his first Mass for them. His fascination with things spiritual led him to write a further two Masses (Glenstall and an Irish Government commissioned Requem). He died on the 3rd of October, 1971 in Kings College Hospital after a short illness brought on by the effect of excessive alcohol use on an inhereited weak liver. He lies buried in Reilig Gobnatan.

In December of 2004 the � Riada family handed the complete archives of Se�n � Riada over to University College Cork. These archives contain his music manuscripts, papers and correspondence, musical instruments, photographs, library, and many personal artefacts. The � Riada family are very happy with this outcome and think that UCC, considering their long relationship with Se�n � Riada is the most appropriate place to preserve this extensive, complete and valuable collection.

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