Seán Ó Riada, Irish composer and arranger of Irish traditional music, dies in London, England on October 3, 1971. Through his incorporation of modern and traditional techniques he becomes the single most influential figure in the revival of Irish traditional music during the 1960s.
Ó Riada is born John Reidy in Cork, County Cork on August 1, 1931. He receives his primary education at St. Finbarr’s College, Farranferris. He moves to St. Munchin’s College in Limerick where he completes his Leaving Certificate in 1948. He plays violin, piano, and organ, and studies Greek and Latin classics at University College Cork, with Aloys Fleischmann and graduates in 1952. While at College, Ó Riada is the auditor of the UCC Philosophical Society.
Ó Riada’s career begins in 1954 as a music director at Radio Éireann, after which he works at the Abbey Theatre from 1955 to 1962. He lectures in music at University College Cork from 1963 until his death in 1971. He leaves a lasting influence as founder and director of the ensemble Ceoltóirí Chualann beginning in 1961. Ó Riada becomes a household name in Ireland through his participation in Ceoltóirí Chualann, compositions, writings, and broadcasts. His best-known pieces in the classical tradition include Nomos No. 1: Hercules Dux Ferrariae (1957), but he becomes particularly famous for his film scores Mise Éire (1959) and Saoirse? (1960).
In 1963 Ó Riada is appointed lecturer in music at University College Cork. He moves to Ballyvourney, and not Cúil Aodha (a common misconception) in West Cork, an Irish-speaking area, where he establishes Cór Chúil Aodha, a male voice choir.
He becomes involved in Irish politics and is a friend of several influential leaders. Ó Riada drinks regularly at a local pub which still advertises itself as being his local. He develops cirrhosis of the liver. He is flown to King’s College Hospital in London for treatment and dies there on October 3, 1971, two months after his 40th birthday. He is buried in St. Gobnait‘s graveyard, Baile Bhuirne, County Cork. Willie Clancy plays at his funeral.
Two schools are named “Scoil Uí Riada” after him – a Gaelscoil in Kilcock, County Kildare, and another in Bishopstown, Cork City. In 2008, a life-sized statue is erected in the grounds of Sépéil Naomh Gobnait, Cúil Aodha.