A teaching career, followed by business interests that include co-founding both Cork’s Rochestown Park Hotel and Ireland’s biggest pallet manufacturing firm, have demanded their share of the Baile Mhic Íre man’s attention.
Add in passionate support for the GAA and the Irish language, and it becomes clear why pinning Seán down to recording 24 tracks for his double CD An Crúiscín Lán was no mean achievement.
The pinning-down fell to his long-time friend, composer Peadar Ó Riada, at whose Cúil Aodha studio the CD was finally recorded, with tomorrow’s launch date looming.
“I’ve been haunted with people asking me when was I going to do a CD, and that’s going on for the last five years,” admitted Seán, or Johnny, as he’s otherwise known. “When Peadar said ‘You’re launching it on the 26th’ and I saw the bileog [leaflet] with my name and the date on it, I said ‘I can’t pull out of this now’.”
The CD is the latest in a series of recordings of noted singers of Cork’s Múscraí Gaeltacht, under the auspices of sean-nós singing scheme, Aisling Gheal.
Among those whose work has already been released is the late Peáití Thaidhg Pheig Ó Tuama, maternal uncle of Seán and a formative influence on his singing style.
‘An Bothánín Íseal’ and an English version of ‘An Poc ar Buile’ are just two of the songs recorded by Seán on his CD from Peáití’s vast repertoire.
“I often saw my father with tears running down his face after Peáití singing or telling a yarn, and my father was in stitches with him. He was a remarkable man and gifted in many ways.”
The song that got away though, was sung by Peáití just before he died, and Seán would dearly love to find its words. “He sang a song for me that evening. He was telling me a story about when he was in hospital in Dublin and he asked one of the nurses attending him where she was from and she said Rathcoole. He said ‘I’ve a song called ‘The Pride of Rathcoole’. He sang it then, and he died that night. I haven’t heard anybody sing it since.”
If his uncle’s musical influence was missed, so too was that of his friend, fellow teacher Diarmuid Ó Súilleabháin, who died in a car crash aged 44, in 1991.
Members of Seán Ó Riada’s Cór Chúil Aodha since the 1960s, ‘Diarmuidín’ and Seán also sang with Éamon de Buitléar’s Ceoltóirí Laighean.
They performed lúibíní, or sung verse, winning first place in 1971 at Oireachtas na Gaeilge, in which Seán also enjoyed considerable solo success, winning the men’s singing competition the same year with renditions of ‘Na Cleaganna’ and ‘Na Géanna’, both included on the CD. Seán went on to host the Oireachtas in his hotel, receiving the Gradam an Oireachtais award in 2013.
“Diarmuidín was a huge influence because he was a master singer and had a beautiful sean-nós style, great emphasis on the words sung clearly and correctly, and he had this great knack of being able to think of a song for any particular occasion. He had such a repertoire and if I was making a mistake in something he would politely tell me that it was not correct and that I should sing it this way.
“We did a wonderful concert in Dublin in 1991 after the Oireachtas, in the Harcourt Hotel. It was supposed to finish at 11 but I think it didn’t finish until five and that was my last outing with Diarmuidín and he died. He was a huge, huge loss.
“There was very little singing done for a good time after. The shock of it wasn’t easy to get over.”
The album is dedicated to Seán’s brother, business partner, and “lifelong friend” Dónal, who died last May. Proceeds go to Macroom Hospital and Seán’s grateful thanks to friends and neighbours, wife Nóirín, and family.Though bittersweet memories are bound up in this personal reflective on his life and losses, the album is epitomised by title track ‘An Cruiscín Lán’ (The Full Jug), long established as Seán’s party piece.
“I enjoy drinking and I enjoy singing,” he says, “both of them in moderation!”
One of several lively drinking songs included, it raises a glass to a life lived to the full, professionally and musically.
- An Cruiscín Lán launch concert presented by Peadar Ó Riada, Ionad Cultúrtha, Baile Mhúirne, tomorrow night