WHAT is it about the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal competition and siblings? Just look at the delight on the faces of Cormac and Conchubhar Begley after the former, box in hand, had won last year’s event.
This year a Boston brother and sister are among the 15 traditional musicians who will compete for the beautiful medal and €2,000 prizemoney on Friday in Cork. The award will be presented by Peadar Ó Riada, son of the legendary man from Cúil Aodha whose name the competition bears.
“Irish people are reverting back to what it used to be like, where you had families who were poets, fighters, farmers, religious, medics, musicians, etc,” says Peadar. “Centralisation doesn’t suit us at all. We are of the country we have, the climate, the land, the music.”
Heather Cole-Mullen and her brother Adam will be among the 15 fiddlers who will take to the stage this year to compete for the gold medal, designed by Pádraig Ó Mathúna, ‘The Goldsmith’, originally from Cashel, Co Tipperary but now retired in Dún Chaoin, Co Kerry.
They, like many others studied music all over the world. Heather is now living in Mayo, but Adam will be one of five musicians travelling from the US to Cork for the final, and they will be joined by fiddlers from Kerry, Armagh, Dublin, Leitrim, Tipperary and Waterford.
“She came home to Mayo because the modern lifestyle, with its information technology, is to her advantage,” says O’Riada.
Other competitors confirm Ó Riada’s theory about family associations. Ciara Ní Bhriain, 18, one of the young competitors, is sister of the winner of the inaugural medal in 2011, Aoife.
Darragh Curtin, the grandson of legendary fiddler Con Curtin from Brosna, Co Kerry, is also competing. Last year he was named Fiddler of Dooney.
So where did the idea for this event come from? “Dad ran a competition back in the early 1960s called Fleadh Cheoil an Raidio which I based the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal competition on,” Ó Riada explains.
“One of the judges of this year’s event, Seán Keane, won dad’s event in 1962. Of course, he later went on to join The Chieftains.”
Ó Riada feels many of the current competitions are based too much on technical skill. “A tune can be well played but with little music in it. Language, empathy, heart, the Irish lilt all come with the dúchas, heritage. Competitors can be from Madigascar but can have that dúchas.”
This is the fifth year of the competition. It runs in a cycle in terms of the instrument, fiddle; flute; pipes and harp; concertina and box.
“It is open to anyone in the world, they just need to upload five unaccompanied tracks, a file number is then given to adjudicators, who pick 15. Then comes the fun, and cost, when we find out who they are. The first year we had a competitor from Russia, this year we have five Americans. We have only one prize, so competitors are in good company if they don’t win, such is the talent,” O’Riad says.
“Our judges are top-class musicians Connie O’Connell, Ciarán Ó Maonaigh and the aforementioned Seán Keane.”
Does he feel all this administration work is taking from his own creative talent?
“Voluntary work is getting harder, the banks don’t want to know any more when it comes to funding. I’m lucky to have my son Séamus help on administration, and I suppose there is continuity there also, but I have so much more I want to do and I’m running out of road.”
Now there’s one man who deserves a medal. A gold one at that.
- The final of the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal takes place on Friday in the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork. The event will be broadcast live on Cuireadh chun Ceoil, on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta at 7pm. On Saturday at the venue, there will be a concert of past winners