It is possible that, over the past five years or so of JMI, Seán Ó Riada has received more mentions in the magazine than any other Irish musical figure. While this may suggest some establishment-like status for the composer and musician, it is easy to forget that Ó Riada was a relatively young man when he tackled many of the issues that he is remembered for today. In the great majority of images we see of him he seems much older than he actually was – almost as if he was permanently in his late-forties – although he died aged only forty-one. At twenty-two he was appointed assistant director of music in Raidió Éireann, aged twenty-four he was made director of music at the Abbey, at twenty-nine he assembled Ceoltóirí Chualann and also wrote the music for the film Mise Éire, and aged thirty-one he gave the controversial Our Musical Heritage lectures on radio.
The numerous mentions in JMI of Ó Riada obviously say a lot about his significance as a cultural icon, but they are also a consequence of a running discussion in these pages on his musical significance. While he clearly inspired a profound sense of pride in Irish people, and the resonance of that achievement still lingers today (Mise Éire, recently re-relased on CD, is currently selling fast in shops), disagreement begins when his cultural achievement is extended to signify an equally profound musical influence across both traditional and Irish classical music. Voices from both genres have contested this.
It is perfectly natural that in an ongoing debate such as this, the actual vision – the aspiration – that was driving his work, could be overlooked. Often it seems that this is the case. Our lead article in this issue, by renowned singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, is a fascinating reminder.