After finishing as runner-up on a record seven occasions, persistence paid off for Cork singer Máire Ní Chéileachair as she lifted the Corn Uí Riada, the premier prize of sean-nós singing, at Oireachtas na Samhna in Killarney on Saturday.
Farran native Máire, who was also awarded the TG4 Gradam Ceoil singer of the year award in February this year, ensured the Corn Uí Riada remained in Cork for a second year in a row following last year’s success for Conchubhar Ó Luasa of Cúil Aodha.
Máire clinched the coveted cup with renditions of the songs ‘Seán ’s a Bhríste Leathair’ and ‘Aisling Gheal’, the latter holding personal significance since the song lends its name to the singing scheme under which she teaches students in the Múscraí Gaeltacht.
“It’s just lovely to have [the cup] and hard to believe,” said Máire.
“I had no idea, because I was a bit nervous for the first song. I knew I’d sung the second song well and I thought maybe there would be a chance that I’d get some prize but I never expected Corn Uí Riada, not at all.”
Having been strongly influenced by the Múscraí singing tradition familiar to her parents, who were both from Cill na Martra, Máire has gone on to become one of the most well-known modern exponents of the style. She delivers lecture modules on sean-nós singing at UCC, having retired from her teaching job at Ashton School in Blackrock, Co Cork.
Though she did not find the courage to sing in public until she was nearly 40, Máire quickly achieved honours thereafter, winning an All-Ireland at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann at her first attempt in 1996 and competing at Oireachtas na Samhna for the first time in 1997.
While earning second place in the Corn Uí Riada seven times had been seen as a mark of her consistency at the highest level, the cup itself had eluded Máire until Saturday.
Her second CD collection, its title Ceantar Glas Mhúscraí reflecting her affinity with her family’s native area, will be launched at Baile Mhúirne’s Ionad Cultúrtha on November 16.
To be able to bring the cup named in memory of Cúil Aodha composer Seán Ó Riada back to Múscraí, where it had resided last year and in 2014, won by Nell Ní Chróinín, will complete a golden year for Múscraí singing and for Máire Ní Chéileachair.
“It’s amazing; the gradam and then this and then the CD. I’ll go with the flow because it’ll come and go and I might as well enjoy it while the river is flowing.”