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Leading light of Irish music to give concert in Loughrea



Date Published: {J}

Composer and musician Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin will join forces with the Dublin-based Carolan String Quartet for a concert in the Lough Rea Hotel and Spa on Friday, March 19.

The event will feature compositions from Ó Súilleabháin, who is one of the most influential figures in Irish music through his work as a composer and performer, and also in his role as Professor of Music in the University of Limerick. He has held this post since the UL founded its chair of music in the mid 1990s, coming from UCC’s music department where he was to the forefront in promoting Irish music.

“Traditional music is in my blood and classical is in my training, and I love to bring them together,” he says, adding that he is fascinated by mixing the informality of traditional and the formality of classical.

“I’ve always been interested in the crossover between traditional and classical. It’s been a bee in my bonnet and it hasn’t gone away, so it wasn’t a passing phase, but it’s become deeper and deeper as I get older. I like the challenge.”

That interest first came to light in Mícheál’s self-titled album released in 1975 which explored Irish traditional music performance on piano, harpsichord, clavichord, harmonium, and mini Moog synthesiser. And much of his considerable body of work as a composer and performer since then has seen him continue that exploration.

“My own music is a crossover between traditional and classical, and that means I can take on some of the traditions of the countryside where I am playing. East Galway would be famous for traditional music and that will be reflected in the concert.”

The presence of the Carolan String Quartet will give an extra dimension to the concert, he feels.

“Very often I do solo piano work but when I build out the sound to include classical strings, it gives the music a richer colour and texture.”

But he’s not just tied in to performing with classical musicians and feels equally at home with performers from the Irish tradition.

“I’m fascinated by the way traditional music is passed on by ear. You don’t need to read music to learn traditional music – in fact it can be a disadvantage, because the eye can get in the way of the ear.

“Then you have classical music, which is the only musical form that uses the eye as it does, with notations and sheet music.”

Very often, Mícheál sees his role as being “to play outside the box”, bringing classical music where it wouldn’t normally be heard and likewise, bringing traditional music into places more associated with other genres.

“I’m poised in the middle, between the elements, with afoot in both worlds. That’s why I called one of my albums Between Worlds,” he says referring to the compilation album which was released on the Virgin label.

Purists in the word of traditional music have criticised him for his approach but he doesn’t mind.

“I can listen to it an encourage it and organise festivals of it [pure traditional music] but as a musician, it’s not what I do. I am attempting to integrate traditional music with the culture of the piano.”

There are also people in the classical world who disapprove of his musical path. Again, he doesn’t care.

“I love critics,” he says happily. “As a teacher, I’m always anxious to learn.

“As an academic and ethnomusicologist it’s good to explore all music to build up a tapestry. Music is an all pervasive art form, and we’re all engaged with it all the time, even when we’re not aware of it.

Mícheál has spent all his life in higher education and while some people might feel that academia curtails his ability to write and perform music, that’s not how he sees it.

“There’s an important symbiosis between the teaching and writing, a dialogue between the two, and I have no problem facilitating that with other people.”

In his role as Director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at UL, he does expend a lot of energy on administrative work and creative bureaucracy.

“But I’m lucky in that I have a lot of great people around,” he explains.

The Academy puts a strong emphasis on performance as well as theory in its courses, and a lot of the degrees are performance based, he says.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Galway in Days Gone By

The way we were – Protecting archives of our past



A photo of Galway city centre from the county council's archives

People’s living conditions less than 100 years ago were frightening. We have come a long way. We talk about water charges today, but back then the local District Councils were erecting pumps for local communities and the lovely town of Mountbellew, according to Council minutes, had open sewers,” says Galway County Council archivist Patria McWalter.

Patria believes we “need to take pride in our history, and we should take the same pride in our historical records as we do in our built heritage”. When you see the wealth of material in her care, this belief makes sense.

She is in charge of caring for the rich collection of administrative records owned by Galway County Council and says “these records are as much part of our history as the Rock of Cashel is. They document our lives and our ancestors’ lives. And nobody can plan for the future unless you learn from the past, what worked and what didn’t”.

Archivists and librarians are often unfairly regarded as being dry, academic types, but that’s certainly not true of Patria. Her enthusiasm is infectious as she turns the pages of several minute books from Galway’s Rural District Councils, all of them at least 100 years old.

Part of her role involved cataloguing all the records of the Councils – Ballinasloe, Clifden, Galway, Gort, Loughrea, Mountbellew, Portumna and Tuam. These records mostly consisted of minutes of various meetings.

When she was cataloguing them she realised their worth to local historians and researchers, so she decided to compile a guide to their content. The result is For the Record: The Archives of Galway’s Rural District Councils, which will be a valuable asset to anybody with an interest in history.

Many representatives on these Councils were local personalities and several were arrested during the political upheaval of the era, she explains.

And, ushering in a new era in history, women were allowed to sit on these Rural District Councils – at the time they were not allowed to sit on County Councils.

All of this information is included in Patria’s introductory essay to the attractively produced A4 size guide, which gives a glimpse into how these Rural Councils operated and the way political thinking changed in Ireland during a short 26-year period. In the early 1900s, these Councils supported Home Rule, but by 1920, they were calling for full independence and refusing to recognise the British administration.

“I love the tone,” says Patria of the minutes from meetings. “The language was very emotive.”

That was certainly true of the Gort Rural District Council. At a meeting in 1907, following riots in Dublin at the premiere of JM Synge’s play, The Playboy of the Western World the councillors’ response was vehement. They recorded their decision to “protest most emphatically against the libellous comedy, The Playboy of the Western World, that was belched forth during the past week in the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, under the fostering care of Lady Gregory and Mr Yeats. We congratulate the good people of Dublin in howling down the gross buffoonery and immoral suggestions that are scattered throughout this scandalous performance.


For more from the archives see this week’s Tribunes here

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Archive News

Galway have lot to ponder in poor show



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013




GALWAY’S first serious examination of the 2013 season rather disturbingly ended with a rating well below the 40% pass mark at the idyllic, if rather Siberian, seaside setting of Enniscrone on Sunday last.

The defeat cost Galway a place in the FBD League Final against Leitrim and also put a fair dent on their confidence shield for the bigger tests that lie ahead in February.

There was no fluke element in this success by an understrength Sligo side and by the time Leitrim referee, Frank Flynn, sounded the final whistle, there wasn’t a perished soul in the crowd of about 500 who could question the justice of the outcome.

It is only pre-season and last Sunday’s blast of dry polar winds did remind everyone that this is far from summer football, but make no mistake about it, the match did lay down some very worrying markers for Galway following a couple of victories over below par third level college teams.

Galway did start the game quite positively, leading by four points at the end of a first quarter when they missed as much more, but when Sligo stepped up the tempo of the game in the 10 minutes before half-time, the maroon resistance crumbled with frightening rapidity.

Some of the statistics of the match make for grim perusal. Over the course of the hour, Galway only scored two points from play and they went through a 52 minute period of the match, without raising a white flag – admittedly a late rally did bring them close to a draw but that would have been very rough justice on Sligo.

Sligo were backable at 9/4 coming into this match, the odds being stretched with the ‘missing list’ on Kevin Walsh’s team sheet – Adrian Marren, Stephen Coen, Tony Taylor, Ross Donovan, David Kelly, David Maye, Johnny Davey and Eamon O’Hara, were all marked absent for a variety of reasons.

Walsh has his Sligo side well schooled in the high intensity, close quarters type of football, and the harder Galway tried to go through the short game channels, the more the home side bottled them up.

Galway badly needed to find some variety in their attacking strategy and maybe there is a lot to be said for the traditional Meath style of giving long, quick ball to a full forward line with a big target man on the edge of the square – given Paul Conroy’s prowess close to goal last season, maybe it is time to ‘settle’ on a few basics.

Defensively, Galway were reasonably solid with Gary Sice at centre back probably their best player – he was one of the few men in maroon to deliver decent long ball deep into the attacking zone – while Finian Hanley, Conor Costello and Gary O’Donnell also kept things tight.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Archive News

Real Galway flavour to intermediate club hurling battle in Birr



Date Published: 23-Jan-2013


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