seamus dubhghaill

Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


Leave a comment

Death of A. J. Potter, Irish Composer & Teacher

Archibald James (Archie) Potter, Irish composer and teacher who writes hundreds of works including operas, a mass, and four ballets, as well as orchestral and chamber music, dies suddenly in Greystones, County Wicklow, on July 5, 1980.

Potter is born in Belfast on September 22, 1918 to a Presbyterian family who, oddly, lives on the Falls Road, a republican (Catholic) stronghold. His father is a church organist and piano tuner who has been blind since childhood. His mother is, in Potter’s own words, “a raging alcoholic.” He escapes a rather grim childhood when he goes to live with an aunt in Kent, England.

Possessed of a good voice and natural musical ability, Potter is accepted as a treble by the world-famous choir of All Saints, Margaret Street. In 1933, after four years as a chorister, he is sent to Clifton College, Bristol. From there he goes to the Royal College of Music on a scholarship and studies composition under Vaughan Williams. While at the Royal College he wins the Cobbett prize for chamber music.

World War II interrupts Potter’s music education, and he leaves college to serve with the London Irish Rifles in Europe and the Far East. After the war he settles in Dublin, where he continues his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, gaining a Doctorate in Music in 1953.

Potter had already started composing chamber and vocal music before the war. Now, established in Dublin, he chooses the orchestra as his principal means of expression. His early pieces, such as Rhapsody under a High Sky and Overture to a Kitchen Comedy, show that he has absorbed Vaughan Williams’ pastoral style and his love of folk music. In 1952, both pieces are awarded Radio Éireann‘s “Carolan Prize” for orchestral composition by the adjudicator Arnold Bax. A year later Potter repeats this success when his Concerto da Chiesa, a concerto for piano and orchestra, also wins the Carolan Prize.

In 1955 Potter is appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he becomes an effective administrator and inspiring teacher.

In the 1960s, Potter turns to ballet, writing four orchestral scores for the Cork Ballet company. The first of these, Careless Love, becomes the composer’s own favourite of all his compositions. Several years later, following a successful battle with alcoholism, he writes what some regard as his magnum opus, Sinfonia “de Profundis” (1969). The première is given at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin on March 23, 1969 in a performance by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Albert Rosen. The Irish Times refers to the concert as a “major national event.” In December 1969, he receives a Jacob’s Award for the composition.

Potter’s last substantial work, an opera entitled The Wedding, receives its first public performance in Dublin in 1981, almost a year after his death.

Potter dies suddenly at his home in Greystones, County Wicklow on July 5, 1980, at the age of 61. He is buried in the nearby Redford cemetery.


Leave a comment

Birth of A. J. Potter, Composer & Teacher

Archibald James (Archie) Potter, Irish composer and teacher who writes hundreds of works including operas, a mass, and four ballets, as well as orchestral and chamber music, is born in Belfast on September 22, 1918.

Potter is born to a Presbyterian family who, oddly, lives on the Falls Road, a republican (Catholic) stronghold. His father is a church organist and piano tuner who has been blind since childhood. His mother is, in Potter’s own words, “a raging alcoholic.” He escapes a rather grim childhood when he goes to live with an aunt in Kent, England.

Possessed of a good voice and natural musical ability, Potter is accepted as a treble by the world-famous choir of All Saints, Margaret Street. In 1933, after four years as a chorister, he is sent to Clifton College, Bristol. From there he goes to the Royal College of Music on a scholarship and studies composition under Vaughan Williams. While at the Royal College he wins the Cobbett prize for chamber music.

World War II interrupts Potter’s music education, and he leaves college to serve with the London Irish Rifles in Europe and the Far East. After the war he settles in Dublin, where he continues his studies at Trinity College, Dublin, gaining a Doctorate in Music in 1953.

Potter had already started composing chamber and vocal music before the war. Now, established in Dublin, he chooses the orchestra as his principal means of expression. His early pieces, such as Rhapsody under a High Sky and Overture to a Kitchen Comedy, show that he has absorbed Vaughan Williams’ pastoral style and his love of folk music. In 1952, both pieces are awarded Radio Éireann‘s “Carolan Prize” for orchestral composition by the adjudicator Arnold Bax. A year later Potter repeats this success when his Concerto da Chiesa, a concerto for piano and orchestra, also wins the Carolan Prize.

In 1955 Potter is appointed Professor of Composition at the Royal Irish Academy of Music, where he becomes an effective administrator and inspiring teacher.

In the 1960s, Potter turns to ballet, writing four orchestral scores for the Cork Ballet company. The first of these, Careless Love, becomes the composer’s own favourite of all his compositions. Several years later, following a successful battle with alcoholism, he writes what some regard as his magnum opus, Sinfonia “de Profundis” (1969). The première is given at the Gaiety Theatre, Dublin on March 23, 1969 in a performance by the RTÉ Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Albert Rosen. The Irish Times refers to the concert as a “major national event.” In December 1969, he receives a Jacob’s Award for the composition.

Potter’s last substantial work, an opera entitled The Wedding, receives its first public performance in Dublin in 1981, almost a year after his death.

Potter dies suddenly at his home in Greystones, County Wicklow on July 5, 1980, at the age of 61. He is buried in the nearby Redford cemetery.


Leave a comment

Birth of Walter Beckett, Composer & Music Critic

Walter Beckett, Irish composer, teacher and music critic, is born on July 27, 1914 in Dublin. He is a cousin of the writer Samuel Beckett.

Beckett studies organ with George Hewson and harmony with John Francis Larchet at the Royal Irish Academy of Music (RIAM), in addition to music at Trinity College Dublin where he is conferred with a Mus.D. (Doctor of Music) in 1942. He lives from 1946 to 1963 in Venice, where he teaches English and piano. He also writes reviews from abroad for The Irish Times and makes a series of orchestral arrangements of Irish traditional music for Radio Éireann.

In addition to Beckett’s activity as a music critic for The Irish Times, he also writes biographical articles for dictionaries, in particular for the first edition of Die Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart. His books include studies on Franz Liszt and ballet music.

Beckett’s more ambitious musical works from the 1940s and 1950s are a Suite for Orchestra (1945), Four Higgins Songs (1946), The Falaingin Dances (1958) and a Suite of Planxties (1960) for harp and orchestra.

In 1963 Beckett moves to England, where he teaches music at various schools before returning to Ireland in 1970 to succeed A. J. Potter at the RIAM as professor of harmony and counterpoint. In the 1980s he produces a number of remarkable works such as Quartet for Strings (1980) and Dublin Symphony (1989) for narrator, chamber choir and large orchestra. While he is never a modernist, his later works nevertheless contain some advanced harmony, particularly in the quartet.

Beckett is forced to retire from the RIAM in 1985 after suffering a stroke. In 1986 he is elected a member of Aosdána and an Honorary Fellow of the RIAM in 1990. He dies in Dublin on April 3, 1996.


Leave a comment

Death of Eoin McKiernan, Scholar of Irish Studies

eoin-mckiernanEoin McKiernan, early scholar in the interdisciplinary field of Irish Studies in the United States and the founder of the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI), dies in Saint Paul, Minnesota on July 18, 2004. He is credited with leading efforts to revive and preserve Irish culture and language in the United States.

Born John Thomas McKiernan in New York City on May 10, 1915, McKiernan adopts the old Irish form of his name, Eoin, early in his life. While in college, he wins a scholarship to study Irish language in the Connemara Gaeltacht in the west of Ireland. In 1938, he marries Jeannette O’Callaghan, whom he met while studying Irish at the Gaelic Society in New York City. They raise nine children.

McKiernan attends seminary at Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception and St. Joseph’s College in New York, leaving before ordination. He earns degrees in English and Classical Languages (AB, St. Joseph College, NY, 1948), Education and Psychology (EdM, UNH, 1951), and American Literature and Psychology (PhD, Penn State, 1957). Later in life, he is awarded honorary doctorates from the National University of Ireland, Dublin (1969), the College of Saint Rose, Albany (1984), Marist College, Poughkeepsie (1987) and the University of St. Thomas, Saint Paul (1996).

Passion for Irish culture is the dominant undercurrent of a distinguished teaching career in secondary (Pittsfield, NH, 1947–49) and university levels (State University of New York at Geneseo, 1949–59, and University of St. Thomas in Saint Paul, MN, 1959–72). McKiernan serves as an officer of the National Council of College Teachers of English, is appointed by the Governor of New York to a State Advisory Committee to improve teacher certification standards and serves as a Consultant to the U.S. Department of Education in the early 1960s.

McKiernan suggests to the Irish government in 1938 that a cultural presence in the United States would promote a deeper understanding between the two countries, but he eventually realises that if this is to happen, he will have to lead the way. His opportunity comes in 1962, when he is asked to present a series on public television. Entitled “Ireland Rediscovered,” the series is so popular that another, longer series, “Irish Diary,” is commissioned. Both series air nationwide. The enthusiastic response provides the impetus to establish the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI) in 1962. In 1972 he resigns from teaching to devote his energy entirely to the IACI.

Under McKiernan’s direction, the IACI publishes the scholarly journal Eire-Ireland, with subscribers in 25 countries, and the informational bi-monthly publication Ducas. The IACI still sponsors the Irish Way (an immersion program for U.S. teenagers), several speaker series, a reforestation program in Ireland (Trees for Ireland), theatre events in both countries and educational tours in Ireland. He continues these educational Ireland tours well into his retirement. At his suggestion, the Institute finances the world premiere of A. J. Potter‘s Symphony No. 2 in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Troubled by the biased reporting of events in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, McKiernan establishes an Irish News Service, giving Irish media and public figures direct access to American outlets. In the 1990s, he is invited by the Ditchley Foundation to be part of discussions aimed at bringing peace to that troubled area and is a participant in a three-day 1992 conference in London dealing with civil rights in Northern Ireland. Organized by Liberty, a London civil rights group, the conference is also attended by United Nations, European Economic Community, and Helsinki representatives.

McKiernan also founds Irish Books and Media, which is for forty years the largest distributor of Irish printed materials in the United States. In his eighth decade, he establishes Irish Educational Services, which funds children’s TV programs in Irish and provided monies for Irish language schools in Northern Ireland. Irish America magazine twice names him one of the Irish Americans of the year. In 1999, they choose him as one of the greatest Irish Americans of the 20th century.

McKiernan dies on July 18, 2004 in Saint Paul, Minnesota. On his death, The Irish Times refers to him as the “U.S. Champion of Irish culture and history . . . a patriarch of Irish Studies in the U.S. who laid the ground for the explosion of interest in Irish arts in recent years.”