The Cork Gaeltacht village is set to become a cultural mecca over the August bank holiday weekend when Féile na Laoch, or festival of heroes, encompassing pop and Irish traditional music, opera, poetry, drama and dance marks 40 years since Ó Riada’s death, as well as what would have been his 80th birthday.
Christy Moore and Glen Hansard will share an open-air all-night stage with opera soprano Cara O’Sullivan, sean nós singer Josie Sheáin Jeaic Mac Donncha and jazz guitarist Louis Stewart.
The eclectic bill also includes two of the big names of Irish traditional music, Tony MacMahon and Martin Hayes; singer Seán Ó Sé and brothers Dainní and Eoiní Maidhcí Ó Súilleabháin; Scots Gaelic singer Flora MacNeil and bagpiper Allan MacDonald, as well as Phil Coulter, Waterboys fiddler Steve Wickham and pianist Míceál O’Rourke.
This melting pot of musical styles forms part of an aeríocht, which will be the focal point of the festival on July 31. Taking place on the banks of the Sullane river, a small stage in the centre will face the setting sun and, as the performances continue, the stage will rotate by degrees until it faces the sun at dawn, when a massed orchestra will perform Ó Riada’s score for the film Mise Éire.
Ó Riada, founder of the Irish traditional band Ceoltóirí Chualann, is equally famed for his choral music and, as part of the féile, Cór Chúil Aodha, the choir he formed in the village, will perform one of his masses.
The performance, to be broadcast on radio and the internet, evokes the first ever public performance of this mass outside of Cúil Aodha, which took place in Maynooth in 1967.
The festival, which also includes a film competition inspired by Mise Éire, a business seminar, lectures and an exhibition of past Irish heroes, has two summits. The first focuses on the date of Ó Riada’s birth on August 1 and the second on the date of his death on October 3, which will include a conference as well as a commemorative performance of his work, Aifreann 2, by Cór Chúil Aodha and the monks of Glenstal, the monastery which commissioned the music in 1969.
Ó Riada’s eldest son Peadar, who took over the leadership of the choir on his father’s death, is one of the organisers of Féile na Laoch, which promises to surpass previous Ó Riada commemorations in size and scope.
His plan is to celebrate not just his father’s work but that of the wider Irish and Celtic cultural diaspora once every seven years.
“All the commemorations up to now have been more weird and wonderful than each other,” explained Peadar Ó Riada. “But this is the 40th anniversary of my father’s death and we wanted to make sure that, even if a bus flattens me in the meantime, the commemorations will be organised every seven years.”