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Seán Ó Riada & Ceoltóirí Chualann

About

John Kelly Senior & Seán Ó Riada (1931 – 1971) first met around 1959 in Dublin and were close friends until Seán’s untimely death in 1971.

Though they first officially met through Eamonn De Buitléir in late 1959, Peadar, Seán’s son, believes that because of Seán’s work with Radio Éirinn 1954 he would have been aware of John before this.

John and Seán collaborated musically from early on in their relationship in Ceoltóirí Chualann as well as other projects. Seán and John also composed a march together (below), the first half was composed by Seán and John composed the second half.

During the later 1950’s Seán Ó Riada was musical director in the Abbey Theatre, Ireland. Ó Riada was looking for traditional musicians to perform in the play “The Song of the Anvil” by Bryan MacMahon. At the same time his own play, Caoineadh an Spailpín was running in the Damer theatre as part of the Irish language Drama Festival. With assistance from his friend Eamon de Buitléar, he recruited Paddy Moloney on pipes,  Sean Potts on tin whistle and Michael Tubridy on flute along with Abbey resident violin player Martin Faye and Abbey Props manager Ronnie McShane on percussion, for the Abbey production and Sonny Brogan on accordion and John Kelly on fiddle were recruited to the Damer.  Some of the Abbey team would also have to rush across town to participate in the Damer production which had a later starting time.

Details: Ceoltóirí Chualann. Location: Mansion House, Dublin. Date: At the Oireachteas, Thursday 25th October 1962.

Credit:  Courtesy of Peadar Ó Riada

Credit: Copyright Peadar Ó Riada. Photo of Ceoltóirí Chualann. Link.

Seán had been a regular broadcaster in Radio Éirinn and a new series on traditional music called Reacaireacht an Riadaigh was planned for the winter 1959/60.  He asked the combined musicians to join him along with Sean Nós singer Darach Ó Catháin. This resulting band performed, in the Shelbourne, in concert on stage, formally for the first time, during the Dublin Theatre Festival in 1961. It was a formal occasion and tickets were pre-booked. Ceoltóirí Chualann was the first band of it’s kind and laid down the template which has guided Irish music, in all it’s genres,  since. John Kelly was an integral part of this development. He also was of great influence over Ó Riada in his making of the eponymous Radio series Our Musical Heritage during which Ó Riada laid out to the nation, what our Irish Music was, how it differed to Western Culture and how it’s very unique and different parameters mirrored it’s people living on the most western isle off the coast of Europe.

Documents

Details: Front page. 

Details: Inside page of Ceiluradh Ui Chearbhallan, The Carolan Celebration, “Coirmchoil Chuimhneachain”, Tercentenary Commemoration Concert. 

Credit: John Kelly Senior’s personal collection

Details: Front page. 

Documents

Details: John Kelly Senior and actor from ‘The Song of the Anvil” play in the Abbey theatre in 1960. 

Credit: From John’s personal collection. 

Details: Tommy Potts & John Kelly Senior from ‘The Song of the Anvil” play in the Abbey theatre in 1960. 

Credit: Photo courtesy of Tim Furey, Tommy’s grandson. From Seán Óg Potts. 

Details: Tune written by ‘John Reidy’, Seán Ó Riada, found in John Kelly Senior’s copy of Ceol Rince na hÉireann by John Kelly Junior in 2014.

Credit: John Kelly Senior’s personal collection

Documents

Details: Inside page of christmas card from Ruth & Seán Ó Riada. 1968.

Credit: From John’s personal collection. 

Details: Outside page of christmas card from Ruth & Seán Ó Riada. 1968.

Credit: From John’s personal collection. 

Audio

Meeting Sean Ó Riada

Details: Philip King interview John Kelly. Producer: Julian Vignoles. Location: The Four Seasons Pub, Bolton Street, Dublin. Date: 17th February 1984.

Credit:  ‘The Green Groves’ radio programme, RTÉ Radio 2. Repeated by Peter Browne on his show ‘The Turning Wave’.

Audio

Meeting Sean Ó Riada & the start of Ceoltóirí Chualann

“I met Seán Ó Riada about in 1959, early in ’59. He was living in the. Galloping Green this time. He was very interested in shootin’ an’ fishin’ an’ that. He had a couple of good guns in the house too, which I discovered afterwards. But Eamonn was over the gun department in … Eamonn de Buitléir was over the gun department in Healy’s (of Dame Street) and Seán and himself became great friends. So the music came down; Eamonn was pretty handy at the time at the mouth organ and accordion so they arranged sessions out in Galloping Green, in Seán’s place. Most of the players used to go out there. There might be Vincent Broderick and Tommy Reck and quite a number of players. I didn’t go out much; I think I was there one night, late. But when he decided to get a group together, Eamonn came in, Eamonn de Buitleir. I think it was late ’59 when Bryan MacMahon’s play was staged on the Abbey and Seán was lookin’ for a group of musicians to play in connection with the play. He came in, Eamonn de Buitleir came in, and he asked me would I go with him and to get Sonny Brogan. I said I’d be no good for a group for I have no experience. And I thought I was old that time even though I was fairly young. When Sonny heard it he reared up altogether: “Ah, I’d be no good in a thing like that.” So anyway to make we said for the fun of it we’d go and we rehersed for a couple of weeks. And sean was very thorough.

Am-ways, we said for the fun of it we’d go. We rehearsed for a couple of weeks. And mind you, it was hard too. But Setm was very thorough, there was a blacksmith in the play and we had to beat time with him Eamonn 0 Dualing (? unclear) was a blacksmith in the play. It was a great play. But Seán composed tunes for that too, to suit that play, including ‘We Are The Golden Folk’.

JKj    ‘The Song of the Anvil’.

JK     ‘The Song of the Anvil’ was the name of the play, of course, as I said before. But at the interval, back stage, we played a good bit of our own music and it used to be very great goin’. Sonny was clitterin’ away on the accordian. We had a new tune that time that we learned from Larry Reddigan, he was a fiddle player from New York, I think he was taught by Frank O’Higgins. He came home on a holiday and I think he had some beautiful tunes. One tune we learned that his father used to play. His father’s name was Tom Reddigan, and we called it ‘Tom Reddigan’s Reel’. It went like that:

( JK lilts the above reel.)

Well that tune (as played by the group?) inspired Seán, I think. That was what put the idea for formin’ a group into his head. Well, we were in the Abbey for about … ah, it was staged, I suppose, three or four weeks there. We had to go in dog-rough (with) bad clothes. This was a rough kind of a cast, very near the country. It went down very well. We started the group then. He picked his men for the group.

JKj                               What was the line-up?

JK    Seán was the leader, of course, Paddy Moloney the piper, Micheal Tubridy, the flute player, Martin Fay, fiddle, Sonny on the accordian and myself on the fiddle and Eamonn used play the accordian on special bits of it. And who else, now, would be in it? … There was Ronnie McShane, he used play the bones and the bodhrán a bit. No, he didn’t play the bodhrán, or did he? He played the bones anyway, but he was a great jester, we had some great sport.

We staged a few concerts around, here and there, and it went fairly well. The next thing we got a go on the radio; ‘Fleadh Cheoil an Radio’ and we had a lot of radio performances. He used to come up here durin’ the – – (?) and we often done four half hours on one Sunday. But that’d do for four weeks. This (programme) was goin’ on for every week for 21 or 22 weeks. And the following year then it happened again. So we went from stride to stride and branched out (with) concerts down the country. But I think you know what happened during that period. ‘Twas a period, like, … You said, like, “How much did he know about music?”

0 Riada’s ideas about Irish music? He was fluent in Irish music. I’ll go in to that, I’m goin’ to mention ‘Our Musical Heritage’ and his journey to Donegal, Sligo, Clare and Kerry. And I was with him, and Ruth, his wife, was in the throes of havin’ Cathal which was his youngest … second youngest or third youngest child.”

Credit: John Kelly Junior interview 1979.

Audio

Memories of Seán’s house in Galloping Green

Details: Philip King interview John Kelly. Producer: Julian Vignoles. Location: The Four Seasons Pub, Bolton Street, Dublin. Date: 17th February 1984.

Credit:  ‘The Green Groves’ radio programme, RTÉ Radio 2. Repeated by Peter Browne on his show ‘The Turning Wave’.

Audio

Seán Ó Riada as a person

Details: Philip King interview John Kelly. Producer: Julian Vignoles. Location: The Four Seasons Pub, Bolton Street, Dublin. Date: 17th February 1984.

Credit:  ‘The Green Groves’ radio programme, RTÉ Radio 2. Repeated by Peter Browne on his show ‘The Turning Wave’.

Audio

Seán Ó Riada’s contribution to Irish Music

Details: Philip King interview John Kelly. Producer: Julian Vignoles. Location: The Four Seasons Pub, Bolton Street, Dublin. Date: 17th February 1984.

Credit:  ‘The Green Groves’ radio programme, RTÉ Radio 2. Repeated by Peter Browne on his show ‘The Turning Wave’.

Audio

Travels with Ceoltóirí Chualann

“But we had a wonderful journey. Our first atop was Ardara in Donegal and it was in the harvest time of the year and they were makin’ hay. I remember well they makin’ a reek of hay in a very lonely tract of land in between … I think it was between Charlestown (Mount Charles?) and Ardara and it rem­inded me of home because I made many a reek of hay myself in my young days. They built the reek in platforms. They started and they raised one end a bit and then they left a shelf. And then they put the hay up on that shelf and they dragged it across the whole reek until they, I presume, they finished it. We had platforms for puttin’ up the hay but … ‘Twas a grand thing. And there wasn’t many, there was around 15 or 16 (I) around the little reek.

We arrived in Ardara and all the boys were lined up. I’ remember John Doherty there and Vincent Campbell, a good few … Patrick … Johnny Gallagher. There was a big day in the hotel there.John was good, and he was well steamed up, John Doherty. He played some nice music. Oh, we had a great bit of a day there. So we came back down to Sligo that evening, down to Ballymoate. Not Ballymoate but Gurteen. We linked up there with Joe Dowd and Fred Finn and Peter Hdran and a number of musicians from the district. The music was recorded in Ned Conlon’s, I remember well. We had a great night there but it was about one o’clock when we finished, or maybe two. And then I stayed in a house of the McDermott’s outside the town with a grand old, kind, lady there. ‘Twas like a dream journey the whole way.

We left there the followin’ day and then ’tis how we came down to Miltown Malbay through Tuam and that country and we had a meal somewhere on the road. ‘Twas all glamour and great … SeLl’s little Mini Minor – he was so particular about the Mini Minor he only let me drive it one time in a car park some place around the hotel. But as we were comine we went through the Corkscrew Hills (Lisdoonvarna) to get the whole benefit of the scenery. And there was a lovely little bridge on the road someplace in a valley and SeLl. said ‘twould be a grand place for a tune. And I took out the fiddle and I sat on the wall and I played half a dozen tunes. And one of ’em was ‘Kitty’s Rambles’, a beautiful jig. And all of a sudden didn’t ten or twelve people and some women come over the hilltop and out right on the road. They heard the music. They were saving hay or doing something when they heard the music.

And there we had a great talk about the district. They said the sound of the music was comin’ beautiful through the fields and they couldn’t know what ’twas all about.

So we arrived in Miltown Malbay and we stayed there that night and we linked up Patrick Kelly. We did a recording with Patrick and Willie Clancy and more. I can’t remember who we took but I know Willie and Patrick was taken anyway and, I suppose, maybe Martin Talty and a lot of others around there.

We left there then and went across to Kerry and we had a line­up in Athea (Co. Limerick) of a concourse of concertina players. There was about twelve women lined up to play for Seim and all of them had concertinas of various sizes and forms. I saw the strangest makes of concertinas that I ever saw; some of them square and some of them very old. They were so enthusiastic! A man and his son came all the way, ten miles, and the man had a fiddle tied on the carrier of the bike. Sure I thought it would be rattled to pieces. But the son had an accordian and they squared out to play. The father was sayin’ the son wasn’t tuned with him or he wasn’t tuned with the son and they had a battle. And they used to stop in the middle of a tune: there was a great slap-up!

And that day we met a man by the name of … A flute player. He played the whistle in a bar and he told me he had a brother in the ‘States, the greatest flute player that ever crossed the Atlantic Ocean. And he said his name was “McKenna,” he said. “My name is McKenna too,” he said, “but we’re known as “Kinnaw” here in this part of the country,” he sez. “That man,” he sez, “that made the records was John McKenna. He was known as “John McKennesl’ in the ‘States. I have letters to prove that,” he sez. “My brother didn’t write to us for the last thirty years or more, but that was the famous man that made the records that they’re all talkin’ about today, and today, and he was my brother.”

So I knew very well that he was wrong but I left him in his glory. I didn’t tell him because – maybe he’s dead now, that man – but he was full sure ’twas his own brother that was the famous John McKenna.   So, after that … We stayed in Listowel that night and I stayed in Joe Hillard’s house, the brother in law’s, and Seán stayed in the hotel, I think. We came back to Dublin the following day. We were out four or five days and we done about 900 miles, I think. So that’s that part of that story.

Seán Ó Riada had a programme every week for … I dunno how many weeks, maybe it stretched out to maybe 14 or 15 weeks, ‘Our Musical Heritage’ and he spoke of the different styles in the different … among the different players he met. The Donegal style, he contrasted _that with the Sligo style and the Sligo style against the Clare style and the West Limerick style was brought in and their music. They were very interesting programmes. It got considerable coverage and praise from the authoroties. They thought it was a breakthrough. But he was a wonderful man to speak about styles.

He wrecked (scorned) accordian players anyway, I know, at that period (a viewpoint) he mightn’t be too pleased with afterwards.

Well, I think I haven’t much more to say about that because it’s remembered by most people. I doubt if they have the records … if they have those recordings in Radio Eirinn at the moment. Some people say they haven’t. But the television series that we done, especially one on Christmas Night – it would be about 1965 – it was wonderful. It portrayed the old world (new world?) as against the . old world of Fionn Mac Cumhal from his days comin’ back and seein’ what was (today); hearin’ hot jazz and all that kind of thing. It was well presented and ’twas worth having and they regretted (losing) that. That’s gone, I hear, I don’t know how true it is.”

Credit: John Kelly Junior interview 1979.

Audio

Reaction to Ceoltóirí Chualann from other musicians

But how it was taken by our own cont­emporaries playin’ in the Church Street (Club) and in houses; they didn’t like us so well. There was an old man, Paddy White, one night in the bar in Church Street and there was a good crowd

around, John Egan and John Brennan and John Clarke – he was an old pipemaker and a very nice man. But Paddy spoke up and he looked around at the ladss

“Did you hear that crowd of musicians that does be playin’ there (on the radio) in the evenin’s? I does be listenin’ to them. They’re always stoppin’ and startin’. What kind of a crowd are them at all?”

Well, they gave it hell anyway and we used to hear these things whispered. They even put letters in the paper. At one stage ‘Fleadh Cheoil an Radio’ supposed to be a caption takin’ (away from) the glory of Fleadh Cheoil na hEirinn. Certain members, not of that club, but another club, took up the issue with Seian and threatened to send attorney’s letters in lieu of takin’ an action against (0 Riada) usin’ the name ‘Fleadh Cheoil an Radio’.

But SeAn didn’t

 

FC 5/A ctd.

But Sean didn’t give a damn anyway.

But there was one particular man there, a flute player, and he was the worst antagonist altogether. He was mad for spite and he was sayin’ this and sayin’ that and sayin’ the other thing. ‘Tomas all told back to SeAn. But Seim said one times

“Who are you talkin’ about?”

“We’re talkin’ about a certain flute player.”

“Well, listen, will you send that man over to me the next night and I’ll give him a job and we’ll see will he take it. I’ll offer him a job and we’ll see will he take it.”

And I’m sure that if SeLn sent for him too he’d be the first man that’d be there.

Credit: John Kelly Junior interview 1979.

Audio

Ceoltóirí Chualann – Repetoire and arranagements 

“Well the presentation (arrangement) of our group was the greatest part of our success. It was new that time and I suppose Sean 0 Riada saw that in orchestral form and other fields, classical music and that, you see. But he had a feeling that we couldn’t go along as a ceill band because we wouldn’t be playing for dances, he said, in the first place and (so) we couldn’t portray ourselves as a ceili band because, he said, people’d get tired of us. So he decided that he’d try a few new tricks out. So, between his presentation and his accounts of different things and a little bit of fun thrown in the new look group took wing, so to speak and people became very interested.

And then he delved into O’Carolan’s music, some of the hidden music, some of it written in three and four flats which was hard to dekipper (decipher). And he took up oul’ things that was lyin’ dormant for 600 years; ‘The March of the King of Laois’, ‘Rory 0’Mórga was a piece of music that was written 5 or 600 years ago. yery well And any man that reads music knows what it is to make out that old music. I think he was a great genius in that field. He brought out things out of ould manuscripts which he got down in university in Cork and here in Dublin and them places.

For instance, he was so interested that he brought Sonny and myself to Radio Eireann one day; and Petrie has two books – I think there’s a thousand tunes in each book or maybe a thousand and a half in each book. Well, he went over one book, I think it was an evening in the month of July, a very warm evening … He played I think it was over 5 or 600 tunes that evening with just the book before him and that strangely written kind of music. And he played all these. And anything that weld know, we’d put up our finger and anything we wouldn’t know, he’d keep on (playing). The whole objective) was (to discover) the similarity between the setting of the tune in the present day to what it was in Petrie’s time a hundred and fifty years before that. But we discovered anyway one tune that sticks out in my mind, one tune called ‘The Humours of Milltown” and it was no change in the world towards the way it is played in the present day. And it was given to him by Frank Keane which I told you of, of Dublin, he was from Kilferagh near Kilkee, a brother of Noel Keane and Sean Keane. He gave a hundred and fifty tunes to Petrie.

So we ended up in the bar, we were havin’ a few drinks. He thought he had a wonderful he had a wonderful evenin’s work done but we were sick of the blocdy things. Sonny and me were (sick of) listening to the whole thing. But ’twas great to see the way he went through it, like a flash of lightening.

But other aspects of the group was the use of the bodhrán which was never hardly seen before except in an old country weddinl. I only saw the bodhrán when I was a young lad. The last time I saw a bodhrán at a function like that was in ’45, the year I left home. ‘Twists in East Clare, around Tullycrine. But that created a bit of a sensation. And then the bones (played) by Ronnie McShane, he was another member of the band, created another bit of excitement.

And the Irish music was always reel playin’ … He never done anything against our reel playing or gave us no … (instructions?) That was all belonged to ourself, and hornpipes and all, he never stuck in, but he was very particular about the airs, his arrangements of airs. His twists and turns of airs and the way he made the real thing, he nearly brought the words of the song into the air. That had to be played perfect, and he saw to that. Any deviation from that (and) he used to get very vexed but he wouldn’t pretend. On the whole he was a very gentle man to work for and very nice with great aharissima (charisma). He was a glutton for work, a glutton for practise, for rehearsal. He’d do enough in half an hour as another man wouldn’t in a whole night. And when he laid out a programme he never went back (on it) whatever (happened). One time we had a little thing called ‘Maggie In the Wood’ “I know well what Mary wants” a little gutty of a tune do you see. And I said: “My God, we’ll destroy our name playin’ that oul’ hackneyed thing,” sez I, “everyone in Ireland know it. There’s nothing in it!” “Oh,” he sez, “’tis alright, John, but whenwe’re finished with it ’twill be worth hearin’   ,or something like that. He had them ways
of getting out of things.”

Credit: John Kelly Junior interview 1979.

Audio

End of Ceoltóirí Chualann

Details: Philip King interview John Kelly. Producer: Julian Vignoles. Location: The Four Seasons Pub, Bolton Street, Dublin. Date: 17th February 1984.

Credit:  ‘The Green Groves’ radio programme, RTÉ Radio 2. Repeated by Peter Browne on his show ‘The Turning Wave’.

Video

John Kelly talking about Seán Ó Riada.

Details: Date: Nov 1985. Location: Cultúrlann na hÉireann, Monkstown, Dublin.

Credit: Recorded by Mick O’Connor as part of the Coiste Ceoil of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Eireann.

Video

John Kelly Junior and Peadar Ó Riada playing the march.

Details: Filmed in Peadar Ó Riada’s house in Cúl Aodha in West Cork in January 2018.

Credit: Filmed by Feilimí O’Connor.

Musical Connections Musical Context

Seán Ó Riada & Ceoltóirí Chualann