World-famous musician Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin passes away aged 67

By David Raleigh

Tributes have poured in for world-famous Munster musician and composer, Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, who has passed away in Limerick “after a prolonged illness”, his family said.

Prof. O’Súilleabháin was Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Limerick (UL), and Founder and Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, based at UL.

The 67-year-old Clonmel native passed away at Milford Hospice, situated close to UL, and is survived by his wife, Helen Phelan, a professor of music, their son Luke; sons Eoin and Mícheál (Moley) and their mother Dr Nóirín Ní Rian; and brother John.

Ó Súilleabháin was acclaimed as a music artist, composer, academic, and broadcaster.

President of UL, Dr Des Fitzgerald, tweeted it was “with enormous sadness” that Ó Súilleabháin’s family “has announced his death”.

The Irish World Academy is Music and Dance, paging tribute to its late Founder and Director, said it was “with profound sadness” they had heard of his passing.

The Irish Chamber Orchestra said it was “with a heavy heart” it had learned of the death of a “musician, composer, leader and great friend”.

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Josepha Madigan, said she was very saddened to hear the news of his passing.

She said: "As artiste and academic, he played a hugely significant role in, and has left an indelible mark on Irish music – through his performances, recordings and collaborations. Through his founding of, and work in, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at UL his role in education and mentoring has realised further generations of artistic talent in Ireland.

"Mícheál also played a significant role in the global promotion of Irish arts and culture, both in his memorable performances abroad and, as its first Chairman, he shaped the direction of Culture Ireland – the body responsible for the promotion of Irish arts overseas under my Department’s aegis.

"I would also like to offer my sincere condolences to his wife Helen, his sons Luke, Eoin and Mícheál and all his family and friends."

In the early 1970s, Ó Súilleabháin studied at UCC under the tutelage of Ireland’s most famous composers, Seán Ó’Riada, and, Aloys Fleischmann, before studying a PhD at Queens University Belfast with acclaimed ethnomusicologists John Blacking and John Baily.

The late Seán O’Riada’s daughter, and candidate in the 2018 Presidential Election, Liadh Ní Riada, tweeted: “Ar dheis Dé le Michéal Ó Súilleabháin. Legendary pianist & composer. A student of my father's and always spoke highly of him.”

“Michéal left a great legacy of wonderful compositions & arrangements. Suaimhneas sioraí,” Ms Ní Riada added.

A statement released by UL said: “It is with enormous sadness that the family of Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin have announced his death after a prolonged illness.”

“Mícheál was one of Ireland's best-known musicians, composers and academics.”

Ó Súilleabháin also recorded “a series of pioneering solo albums which re-positioned his chosen instrument, the piano, at the heart of Irish traditional music”.

See also: Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin: "I don’t always fit into the necessary boxes”

“His richly evocative collaborations with Mel Mercier, who succeeded him as CHAIR at UL, were a celebration of Ó Suilleabháin’s flinty sense of humour and love of musical exploration.”

Ó Súilleabháin “left a rich legacy through his own music, as well as the Academy he founded which attracted students from over 50 countries who enrolled on undergraduate and postgraduate courses”.

In 2016, speaking to the Irish Examiner, Ó Súilleabháin remarked: “I believe in an afterlife. The main evidence for which is nature...it is ridiculous to think there isn’t a presence behind it.”

“The notion of some sort of continuity after physical death is a no-brainer.”

“I wouldn’t like to be reborn as someone else, not even for a day, I’m so worn out trying to be myself.”

Ó Súilleabháin was awarded Honorary Doctorates of Music from University College Cork, (2005) and The Royal conservatoire of Scotland (2017), Ollamh na hÉigse (Inaugural award by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 2006); Honorary Alumnus Award (Boston College) and the O’Donnell Chair of Irish Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2012).

The Tipperary genius composer also “produced a series of CD recordings in America, the UK, and Ireland on the traditional music of the Shetland Islands, Donegal, Cape Breton Island and on Irish traditional musicians in the USA and in England.


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