Charismatic and naturally gifted, he had great ambitions to be a classical composer, but it was his emotive score for the 1959 film Mise Éire which made him a household name.
As a founding member and director of the group Ceoltóirí Chualann, Ó Riada lifted traditional music out of the rural kitchen and gave it a place in a new modern Ireland.
To mark the 50th anniversary of his death on October 3, 1971, in a special edition of Nationwide - Seán Ó Riada on RTÉ1 on Friday, October 1, at 7pm, Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh meets family and friends of Ó Riada and visits Cúil Aodha in West Cork, which became his home for the last few years of his short life.
Ó Riada was born John Reidy in Cork city, and spent his early years in Adare, Co Limerick, where his father, a Garda sergeant, was stationed. He later attended St Finbarr’s College, Farranferris and whilst he was there he received musical education from Aloys Fleischmann (Senior).
Ó Riada played violin, piano and organ, and studied Greek and Latin classics at UCC, with Aloys Fleischmann (Junior) and graduated in 1952. While at college,he was the auditor of the UCC Philosophical Society. That year he became assistant director for Radio Éireann.
He died of cirrhosis, and was buried in St Gobnait’s graveyard, Baile Bhuirne.