There was the wave of reaction throughout the world of Irish traditional music at the retirement of collector / broadcaster, Dr. Ciarán MacMathúna from his radio series in late 2005. It was a move which he had flagged well for some months before that final broadcast. On Sunday morning, November 27th 2005 he broadcast his last Mo Ceoil Thú on his RTE Radio 1 slot. Many people, not into the genre, associated the programme with the ease of the traditional Sunday morning culture of rest and leisure.
The programmes featured music from all parts of the country and marked out the onset of the different events and seasons with appropriate pieces of music, poetry and song. He once described the programme as: “unashamedly nostalgic and wistful and a gentle introduction to Sunday mornings.”
On this Sunday night, December 28th the final Rolling Wave of 2014 is a tribute to one of Limerick City’s most famous
sons. Ciarán worked in Raidió Éireann and later RTÉ Radio and television for 50 continuous years. The programme will feature archive material and also some recordings not broadcast before when Ciarán and Peter Browne went for a walk around Limerick City and he shared some memories of his days growing up there. That’s at 10pm on RTÉ Radio 1 and it will be repeated on Lyric FM on Monday evening from 7 to 8pm.
On a local note: Ciarán proved a sound friend to the Patrick O’Keeffe Traditional Music Festival down through the years and he maintained a high level of interest in its welfare up to the time of his death on December 11th 2009.
At the launch of the RTE produced CD of the music of Patrick O’Keeffe at The Crown Hotel in October of 1993 he emphasised the importance of O’Keeffe in the Sliabh Luachra scheme of things. He urged musicians, and the younger ones in the packed house in particular, not to abandon the style of their own locality in case it became diluted or was lost to future generations. “Mind your own Music’ he implored all he met here in the course of the weekend.
On another of his trips to the Castleisland festival a lecture was arranged for the heritage centre in Scartaglin and, again, the importance of the music of the area was emphasised.
The technology of the time is hardly imaginable now as Ciarán told his audience of nights of trucks and huge batteries and thousands of feet of cables running out through pub windows and down streets. Engines had to be left running to charge the batteries which powered the recording equipment – and this was often during times of petrol rationing. It just served to underline the collectors’ determination in their search for material for preservation and posterity.
His life long dedication and contribution to Irish music is without equal and a fact recognised and honoured at NUI Galway in 1990.
Ciarán MacMathúna was born in Limerick City in November 1925 and was educated there and later went to UCD – where he did an M.A. on Irish Folk Songs. He taught briefly a Castleknock College and VEC and later took up a position with the Irish Place-names Commission.
In 1947 Radio Eireann set up a Mobile Recording Unit with: Prionsias O’Conluin, Sean MacReamoinn and Seamus Ennis at the helm.
In November of 1954 Ciaran joined Radio Eireann and in the spring of 1955 he began A Job of Journeywork a programme of traditional music and song. In 1962 he travelled to the USA to record material.
There were challenges ahead: The thinking, at that time, was that radio programmes wouldn’t transfer well to the new medium of television. On the first night of transmission, on New Year’s Eve 1961, Ciaran presented a programme from Spanish Arch in Galway and this later became Tar Isteach and later The Humours of Donnybrook.
In 1955 he married Dolly from Ardrahan, Co. Galway who was “a lovely singer of Irish songs,” according to the man himself. Their children: Padraic, Cronan and Deirdre are all very interested in music and play uilleann pipes and flute.
He was a member of the Cultural relations Committee of the Department of Foreign Affairs and won a Jacobs Award for Mo Ceoil Thu.
He always felt that RTE never got the credit it was due for its contribution to the promotion of Irish folk music more particularly at a time when it was neither fashionable or profitable. His admiration, kindness and encouragement to younger musicians extended to a belief that many of them play far better than their fathers and grandfathers ever did. He explained his reasoning in the course of one late night sitting here in Castleisland. He recalled that instruments were stored in damp houses and that the tuning was always in and out when they were taken out in the presence of a fire and heat of a crowded public or private house. Instruments were often carried on the bars or carriers of bikes and were at the mercy of the weather.
In a tribute at his funeral Poet, Séamus Heaney said of Ciarán: “Over a lifetime he helped the population of Ireland to realise the beauty, strength and value of their native cultural possessions, above all their musical culture. The musical instrument which Ciaran played to magical effect, and which entranced generations of listeners, was his own voice.”
The Rolling Wave tonight on RTÉ Radio 1 at 10pm. / Lyric FM on Monday night at 7pm.