Eamon Martin recalls blasting Ó Riada score to masterpiece ‘Mise Éire’ at St. Columb’s

Archbishop Eamon Martin.
Archbishop Eamon Martin.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Eamon Martin, has fondly recalled turning up the volume of George Morrison’s masterpiece ‘Mise Éire’ as a schoolboy in the old St. Columb’s College in Bishop Street in order to better hear Seán Ó Riada’s iconic score to the film.

The Derry prelate was speaking at the launch of ‘The Masses of Seán and Peadar Ó Riada: Explanations in Vernacular Chant,’ a new book by Dr. John O’Keefe, which examines the composers’ religious works, and which was launched at Maynooth on Tuesday.

Archbishop Martin said he was first introduced to the music of Ó Riada Senior when he started secondary school in Derry in the early 1970s.

He explained: “In 1973, my first year at St. Columb’s College in Derry, I was introduced almost simultaneously to the beauty of Gregorian Chant and to the sacred music of Seán Ó Riada.

“As a twelve year old, I didn’t fully appreciate our music teacher’s insistence that in sacred music, the melody, however beautiful, must be the servant of the text, but it is a lesson that has stayed with me since,” he said.

Archbishop Martin said he remembered blasting the Ó Riada soundtrack to Mr. Morrison’s epic Irish language study of the Irish independence struggle, ‘Mise Éire,’ which leans heavily on one of the most famous of all Irish melodies, while a pupil at the local grammar school.

“Ó Riada was already known to us - in the music room we loved to turn up the volume for ‘Mise Éire’ - enjoying the quirkiness of Róisín Dubh played on the French Horn - but our teacher impressed on us that the greatest honour was to sing the prayers of the Mass in Irish words and melodies which were every bit as beautiful as the haunting and mysterious Latin chants that had been passed down to us over centuries,” said the leading clergyman.