Peadar Ó Riada: I’m thankful I can do what I love every day

As Peadar Ó Riada is named the June Cork Person of the Month, COLETTE SHERIDAN catches up with the cultural hero
Peadar Ó Riada: I’m thankful I can do what I love every day
Peadar Ó Riada, who has been named Cork Person of the Month. Picture: Domnick Walsh 

COUNTY Cork cultural hero, Peadar Ó Riada, is being recognised for his work as a musician and composer.

He has been named the June Cork Person of the Month and his name now goes forward for possible selection as Cork Person of the Year at a gala awards lunch in January next year.

The eldest child of the renowned composer, Sean Ó Riada, Peadar was going on 17 when his father died. Six years later, his mother died. While the deaths were devastating for the seven children left behind, Peadar says that he and his siblings “stuck together like glue”.

“The result is that we never had a row with each other,” he says, “We don’t understand rows in families.”

He said the musical siblings brought each other up.

“We went through the growing up part together. It was like a relay race. We kept the house going and it’s where I live now (with his wife and two children). We had the community around us and they minded us. We had very good neighbours.

Composer and Musician Peadar Ó Riada. Picture: Denis Scannell
Composer and Musician Peadar Ó Riada. Picture: Denis Scannell

“We’re now all good and are doing interesting things. All of us are musical. We never saw music as a special thing. It’s just part of our lives. We also had a co-operative, producing handcrafts.”

When his father died, Peadar, who graduated with a music degree from UCC in 1976, was already involved in Cór Cúil Aodha. He has been a director of that choir since 1971. He has composed extensively for it, producing a large body of liturgical and secular works for the male voiced choir in the Irish traditional idiom.

In 1986, he founded the all-female choir, Cór Ban Cúil Aodha. He has also founded an Irish cultural trust and in 2011, he founded the international festival, Féile na Laoch, commemorating his father.

Speaking of his achievements, Peadar says: “It’s great to be recognised by the people of Cork, who have supported me throughout my career. Irish traditional music is my passion and I am thankful that I have been able to do what I love every day.”

Peadar is appreciative of his life in the village of Cúil Aodha in the Gaeltacht region of Muscraí.

“I sit on top of the mountain here and I view the world,” he jokes. But it’s an apt image as Peadar is of a philosophical bent, observing, partaking and celebrating his stimulating life.

Although he has visited “lots of peculiar places, I never felt the urge to leave Cúil Aodha. Life is too short. You have to live while you have life.

“A lot of people spend their time looking for something that doesn’t really exist. They’re chasing dreams without stopping and looking at what they really want. A lot of the time, they frustrate themselves because they haven’t noticed what’s around them.

Composer and Musician Peadar Ó Riada.Picture: Denis Scannell
Composer and Musician Peadar Ó Riada.Picture: Denis Scannell

“Every morning when you wake up, you should appreciate it because it’s wonderful to be alive. Just think of the fresh air. We’re lucky to live on this island despite all the hardship people have gone through,” he said.

Asked what was the best advice Sean Ó Riada gave to his offspring, Peadar says his father “always said to us to be uasal (noble). He said never tell lies and be generous. If people do nasty things to you, don’t reciprocate it. Just step back. It stood to us very well.”

Peadar says he is a spiritual person.

“We all are. It’s part of Irish culture. The brand isn’t important. I’d say we were Christian before Christianity arrived. We had Brehon laws about being welcoming and about generosity which kept our society together. You always had to welcome the stranger and you had to be generous to them. You had a duty to provide shelter for them. That meant you got the same when you went into some other territory on the island. That was a kind of social welfare structure. We had different fundamental laws and they still exist with us because we’re disposed towards helping others. You find that with missionary work around the world. It’s a peculiarly Irish trait.

“All you have to do is look at the per capita contribution the Irish make through charity compared to other nations.”

Another aspect of Irish life is the fact that everyone knows everyone else.

Peadar Ó Riada, now goes forward to the final of the Cork Person of the Year in January 2021. Picture: P.Healy.
Peadar Ó Riada, now goes forward to the final of the Cork Person of the Year in January 2021. Picture: P.Healy.

“For example, take Michael D Higgins. He’s somebody I’m very fond of. We get on really well. So you can imagine how tough it was when my sister, Liadh, was going for the presidency (for Sinn Féin), up against Michael D. But as long as we stayed loyal to each other, that was stronger than any conflict.”

Peadar adds that politics “have changed completely in this country. I think the sooner we get back to people being brutally honest, the better. There’s too much manipulation going on.”

Promising to be frank and open in his autobiography (a work that has been-in-progress for a long time), Peadar was asked by a publisher to write about his life as far back as 1987.

“They were aware that I had seen a lot in the ’60s and there were a lot of strange things happening in government. I thought it would be good to record it. But I was too young at the time. But by degrees, I’ve been taking notes.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever finish the book or whether somebody will finish it for me. Its purpose is not to be a PR operation. It’s to record things that happened.”

During lockdown, Peadar decided that Cór Cúil Aodha should provide a service online. “We did 24 broadcasts, using a skeletal crew from the choir. I got permission from the superintendant and our local priest so we locked down in the church and belted away. it meant I had to write a psalm every week and set it to music. That was one good side effect of lockdown. We’re still doing it, broadcasting every Sunday morning at 10 o’clock. It’s broadcast on the choir’s Facebook page and the strange thing is that families are meeting each other on the site throughout the world. At the start, we light candles for people who’ve died or for people who are sick.”

Peadar is certainly doing his bit during the pandemic. Over the rest of the summer, he will be releasing 19 tunes on YouTube and on his website. The idea is that with no Fleadh Cheoil this year and no competitions, people can learn the tunes and it will be a way of remembering the upside of Covid-19.

He speaks of the importance of community. With climate change leading to extremes of weather, Peadar says we have had a forewarning of what is likely to come.

“We’ve had a wake-up call. We should be working together, with families first, followed by extended family and then community. That is the process by which we will survive. We need our communities to be self-reliant.”

A professional bee-keeper, Peadar is ecologically aware. His fear is that the climate will become even more extreme.

“For example, as we can see in northern Siberia, the permafrost is melting which is part of a cycle that can’t be stopped.” It results in carbon gases being released that fuel global warming.

Peadar may live in a small Irish-speaking village but his concerns are wide-ranging. See www.peadaroriada.ie.

Cork Person of the Year organiser Manus O’Callaghan said: “Peadar’s own contribution to the Cork cultural and artistic scene has been wide-reaching. Of course, you can’t mention the Ó Riada family name, without thinking of Mise Eire. The emotional energy of that piece of music is deeply affecting in Ireland. Indeed many feel it should be our National Anthem.“

Peadar’s name will now go forward for possible selection as Cork Person of the Year at an awards lunch on January 15 next at Rochestown Park Hotel. Sponsors of the awards scheme are the Irish Examiner/The Echo; RTÉ; Southern; Lexus Cork; AM O’Sullivan PR; Cork Crystal; Tony O’Connell Photography; CAVS; Musgrave MarketPlace.

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