Peadar Ó Riada aims to reawaken our sense of natural culture

Ireland’s bloody past should not be sanitised, Peadar Ó Riada tells Pet O’Connell, as he prepares for the premiere of his new work inspired by Pádraig Pearse

Peadar Ó Riada. Picture: Denis Scannell

APPROACHING the end of this year of centenary commemorations, it is hard to imagine what is left to say about the Easter Rising that has not already been expressed in verse, drama, music, or at the myriad State and community events.

Yet, while the sacrifice made by the Rising leaders has been copiously commemorated, their ideals have not been fully honoured, according to composer Peadar Ó Riada.

His latest work, Onóir, to be premiered at the National Concert Hall on October 30, attempts to “conjure the primal consciousness of the Irish” and honour the 1916 leaders by reawakening the sense of national culture and community they espoused.

“I wanted to start a conversation, because I think 1916 has been shrink-wrapped and packaged,” says Ó Riada.

“It’s been commemorated in a way that’s very intelligent, but very safe and it has consigned 1916 to history and divorced it from our everyday lives, which is not what the leaders of 1916 intended.”

Ireland’s bloody past and the wrongs inflicted on its people should not be sanitised, he believes, and in Onóir (honour) he draws directly on that past, while examining the Rising leaders’ vision for the country.

Onóir is, he says, “having respect for our morals. This has been dissipated by modern culture, to the detriment of community and family, and it is the antithesis of what those lads did when they gave their lives in 1916”.

Two pieces composed for Onóir give musical form to poems by Pádraig Pearse, regarded as the voice of the Rising. ‘Móra Duit, a Thír ár nDúchais’ is one of Ó Riada’s favourite poems.

“In it, one finds how he [Pearse] felt emotionally about this island. If you love the nation you won’t have people starving in doorways. That’s what it means to me. It’s a most wonderful poem and I tried to approach it simply.”

Of a second piece, ‘Mionn an Phiarsaigh’, Ó Riada says: “Pearse composed this oath or curse or outburst of rage when he comprehended the extent of the past horrors played on us as a nation. The intellectual analytical process tends to sterilise these events so that emotions are kept in check.”

Giving vent to these emotions is crucial, says Ó Riada and, in the lament ‘Caoineadh Náisiúin’, he mourns the horrors that preceded Ireland’s independence.

“Like a rape victim, we’re in a post-colonial, post-victim stage, where we don’t want to rock the boat; we don’t want to embarrass people, but these things live in our consciousness,” he says. “We need to start addressing this fact, or it will erupt and it will not be a pretty sight.”

The shaping of Ireland’s cultural identity is explored throughout Onóir but crystallised in ‘Fianna Éireann — An Tosach’, its words written by the late scholar Mons Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, who died last July, the week Onóir was recorded on CD.

An attempt to “create all the mythology of Ireland in one discernible stream”, Ó Riada recites the first seven minutes of the monsignor’s epic verse, of which a full-blown musical interpretation is among his future projects.

A work by Ó Riada examining the national cultural consciousness draws inevitable comparison with Mise Éire, the celebrated composition of his father, Seán Ó Riada.

Seán’s 1959 score for George Morrison’s Gael Linn documentary, its title taken from Pearse’s poem, remains the defining soundtrack to Ireland’s struggle for independence from 1890s to 1918.

Commissioning Peadar’s work half a century later, Gael Linn sought a commemoration that would “draw on the rich tradition of Irish music and song, but would reinterpret it for a modern audience,” says chief executive Antoine Ó Coileáin.

Peadar refutes any suggestion this is his own Mise Éire.

“I wouldn’t be in the same category. I’m not such a good composer. I’ve just put a few things together,” he says.

  • Onóir, performed by traditional group Téada with Cór Chúil Aodha, Cór Ban Chúil Aodha, uilleann piper Mick O’Brien, and harpist Oisín Morrison, premieres at Dublin’s National Concert Hall on October 30, with CD by Gael Linn. See: www.nch.ie 



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