Speeding fiddles and graceful whistles of Ireland filled Gasson Hall for the Gaelic Roots concert, titled “Remembering Seán Ó Riada and Ceoltóirí Chualann.”
Sponsored by the Boston College Irish Studies department, the concert on March 31 celebrated the work of Seán Ó Riada, an influential Irish composer who popularized traditional Irish music beginning in the 1950s. He reinvigorated the cultural Irish music scene through his work as a composer and with his band, Ceoltóirí Chualann, which included many future members of the Irish folk band The Chieftains.
Sheila Falls Keohane, a part-time faculty member in the Irish studies department and director of the Gaelic Roots series, introduced the event and Ó Riada’s son, Peadar Ó Riada, who spoke about his childhood and his father’s legacy. Keohane shared a quote with the audience from Ó Riada’s friend, poet Thomas Kinsella.
“It is not often that a single person, however gifted, can alter the character of a nation’s culture. Ó Riada managed to do this,” Keohane said, quoting Kinsella.
Peadar Ó Riada detailed his father’s Irish upbringing, speaking about his grandfather’s involvement with Sinn Féin, an Irish political party. He discussed his grandmother’s work hiding Irish Republicans in the hospital where she worked as a nurse during a time of political turmoil.
Peadar Ó Riada painted a picture of a hardworking Irish family that instilled in his father the importance of Irish culture and traditional Irish music, as his father introduced him to the fiddle when he was young.
After Peadar Ó Riada was born, his father got a job at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, where he realized the importance of arranging and playing traditional Irish music. It was in Dublin where Ó Riada formed Ceoltóirí Chualann, creating music that emphasized a central melody, which is a key feature of traditional Irish music. Peadar Ó Riada explained that he remembers the group rehearsing in the basement of their home.
“My experience of all of that time was love and joy are living,” Peadar Ó Riada said.
Ó Riada’s fame grew, and he composed songs that appeared in Hollywood films and on the radio, and they became influential to generations of Irish musicians. Peadar Ó Riada elaborated on the power of his father’s music by stating that the driving force of Irish music is emotion. He said the music is driven by experiences felt deeply in the heart.
“We never owned the land, like in other cultures. The land owned us,” Peadar Ó Riada said.
Ó Riada’s music traces the tradition and culture of Ireland in his expressive work for people of Irish descent, whether or not they live in the country.
Following Peadar Ó Riada’s talk, he performed a series of traditional Irish songs accompanied by musicians on the fiddle, traditional Irish drums, flutes, and pipes. The musicians included Joey Abarta, Anna Colliton, Keohane, Oisín McAuley, Jimmy Noonan, Sean Nós, and Máirín Uí Chéide.
Some of the featured pieces were “The Whinny Hills of Leitrim” and “Óró Sé do Bheatha ’Bhaile,” which the performers invited the audience to sing along to.
Siobhan Pender, MCAS ’22, and Margaret Ryan, MCAS ’25, read poems by Kinsella and Seamus Heaney between musical performances. The performers and students masterfully brought the works of Ó Riada, Kinsella, Heaney, and generations of Irish artists together in a night full of the Irish spirit.
Featured Images by Steve Mooney / Heights Editor