My father once told me that when Seán Ó Riada died, people were left bereft. The nation had lost a champion of our Gaelic culture, at a tragically young age.
Ó’Riada’s immense contribution to the revival and conservation of traditional music, seannós singing, and other forms of our ancient culture, was achieved in an astonishingly short period of time. Although he is famed as a composer and arranger, what many of his peers also deeply appreciated was that he raised up traditional music, articulating for a new generation that it was a treasure to be loved, admired and appreciated.
Ó’Riada, like the other standard bearers that came to the fore at the time, understood that much of what was best about the tradition was not folk music but had instead a lineage that stretched back to when Gaelic music was championed and commissioned by kings and chieftains.
He ably and confidently articulated this important distinction, which many traditional musicians and singers knew to be true but which had been blurred by the uninformed and sometimes mendacious commentary.
As he explained in this interview, the traditional music of Ireland was highly-developed music, very complex, very sophisticated”.
While O’Riada’s untimely passing at just 40 was a tragedy, his loss was, of course, most keenly felt by his wife Ruth and their seven young children. Sadly, Ruth also died six year’s later of cancer.
Tonight on TG4, at 9.20pm, Ó Riada’s granddaughter, Doireann Ní Ghlacáin, will look back at his life in a new documentary entitled ‘Seán Ó Riada – Mo Sheanathair’.