Trad music finalists vie for Ó Riada gold medal

Peadar Ó Riada is following in the footsteps of his famous father Seán with the trad music competition.

Fifteen talented traditional musicians will take to the stage of the Rochestown Park Hotel in Cork this Friday to compete in the final of the Séan Ó Riada Gold Medal Competition, broadcast live on RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.

Composer, musician, and broadcaster Peadar Ó Riada, who presents Cuireadh Chun Ceoil on Raidió na Gaeltachta, initiated the competition, following in the footsteps of his famous father, Seán Ó Riada, who ran a similar competition on his radio programme in the 1960s.

Now in its fourth year, the competition has a four-year cycle in terms of what family of instruments is used. For this year’s competition, the instruments are the concertina, accordion and mouth organ.

Peadar Ó Riada says that between 40 and 60 musicians from all over the world enter the competition every year, with 15 finalists short-listed. The idea is to bring the listeners of Ó Riada’s programme together and build a worldwide network of traditional music fans who can record themselves at home thanks to technology.

There is a strong Munster contingent in this year’s competition. Bryan O’Leary, a grandson of legendary Sliabh Luachra box player Johnny O’Leary, as well as two of the talented Begley family from West Kerry, Niall and Cormac, are included. In all, there are four musicians from Kerry, five from Clare, two from Tipperary, one from Cork, one from Dublin and one from California, ranging in age from 12 to 50-something.

The American mouth organ contestant, Don Meade, is the producer of a series of Irish traditional music concerts held in New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House. He spent 10 years as a music columnist with the Irish Voice newspaper.

The adjudicators are master musicians, Charlie Harris, Mick Mulcahy and Noel Hill. “People from all over the world enter the competition,” says Ó Riada. “They enter anonymously with numbers that are assigned to their files. The adjudicators don’t know whether they’re listening to a three-year-old or a 90-year-old. They don’t know if the contestants are famous or people they’ve never heard of. They’re adjudicating purely on the music, the musicians’ musicality and their character.

“We’re not looking for technical ability. While technique is important, there needs to be creativity and soul in the music. Traditional music is a language that’s about communication. A traditional tune can never be played in the same way twice because it’s constantly evolving. But the best music changes in a subtle way.”

Commenting on the state of traditional Irish music, Ó Riada says: “It’s peculiar because it’s more popular abroad than at home. It’s like fresh water. People at home can take it for granted. I have listeners all around the world.”

Bemoaning “manufactured music” on TV reality shows, Ó Riada says that what’s important about traditional music is its originality. “You need a small amount of really authentic stuff coming up from the well all the time. It’s on that that you can build the Michael Flatleys of this world. If you don’t have that constant trickle of real stuff coming through, then the music will die off eventually. What has happened is that everyone has started thinking that technique is the most important thing.”

Ó Riada is pleased to report, though, that there is “a stunning generation of young musicians coming up. The only problem is that they’ve been reared in a different world with television, ipods, ipads and the divil knows what. But once the kids find out that it’s emotion that makes the tunes, they’ll be flying.”



FOR many of us, health insurance is high on the list of financial products which that we tend to avoid changing out of fear and confusion.Money and Cents: cover all the bases for best health insurance

Anya Taylor-Joy plays the titular Emma in the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s romantic comedy about the spoilt, meddling matchmaker who means well, says Laura HardingAnya Taylor-Joy: ‘Emma is my little monster’

Setting sail to travel the world as part of your job has a romance all of its own but for marketing manager Máire Cronin and engineer Mark Crowe it led to love.Wedding of the Week: Cruise ship co-workers Máire and Mark sail off into sunset

One of the genres that has seen exponential growth in the podcast world is the sleepcast. Open Spotify on your phone in the evening and a number of offerings are available, writes Eoghan O'SullivanThe Podcast Corner: podcasts that will put you to sleep

More From The Irish Examiner