Micheál Ó Súilleabháin, who was one of the best known Irish composers of recent decades, passed away today after a long illness, leaving behind a rich legacy of achievement.
Hot Press has learned tonight of the death of the composer and musician, Professor Micheál Ó Súilleabháin. He was just 68 years of age.
In a wide-ranging career, Micheál Ó Súilleabháin had numerous major achievements to his credit. He was, for example, the founder of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at the University of Limerick – where he was still involved as Emeritus Professor of Music.
He also worked closely with broadcaster Philip King on the River of Sound series, which ran on RTÉ. Hugely inspired by the work of Sean Ó Riada, his main interest was in the fusion of traditional Irish and classical music.
He was born in Clonmel in Co. Tipperary in December, 1950. He was married to the noted singer Nóirín Ní Riain, with whom he had two children Eoin and Micheál, both musicians of some note. After his first marriage split, he married his second wife, Professor Helen Phelan, with whom he had a son, Luke.
Limerick's first citizen, Mayor Daniel Butler, was quick to pay tribute.
"It was with great shock and sadness that I learned of the passing of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin," he reflects. "Truly one of Ireland's greatest composers and indeed the world's who created music that touched the soul and warmed the heart. My thoughts are with his family, friends and UL colleagues."
A statement has also been issued by the University of Limerick.
"It is with enormous sadness that the family of Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin have announced his death after a prolonged illness. Mícheál (b December 1950, Clonmel County Tipperary) was one of Ireland's best-known musicians, composers and academics,” it said. "Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Limerick and founder/Director at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance which he created in 1994, Micheál Ó Súilleabháin also recorded a series of pioneering solo albums which re-positioned his chosen instrument, the piano, at the heart of Irish traditional music – while also revealing the intersections where classical and traditional music could co-exist..
"His richly evocative collaborations with Mel Mercier, who succeeded him as CHAIR at UL, were a celebration of Ó Suilleabháin’s flinty sense of humour and love of musical exploration.
"Ó Súilleabháin left a rich legacy through his own music, as well as the Academy he founded which attracted students from over 50 countries, who enrolled on undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Music Therapy, Contemporary Dance Performance, Irish Traditional Dance Performance, Community Music, Festive Arts, Irish Traditional Music Performance, Classical String Performance, Ethnomusicology and others. He was hugely instrumental in the relocation of the Irish Chamber Orchestra from Dublin to its current home at the University of Limerick.
"Awards included Honorary Doctorates of Music from University College Cork, (2005) and The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (2017), Ollamh na hÉigse (Inaugural award by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 2006); Honorary Alumnus Award (Boston College) and the O’Donnell Chair of Irish Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2012). He studied at University College Cork (B.Mus.1972, MA 1973) with the composers Aloys Fleischmann and Seán Ó Riada, and in Queens University Belfast (PhD 1987) with the ethnomusicologists John Blacking and John Baily.
"He produced a series of CD recordings in America, the UK, and Ireland on the traditional music of the Shetland Islands, Donegal, Cape Breton Island and on Irish traditional musicians in the USA and in England.
"He is survived by his wife Professor Helen Phelan and their son Luke; sons Eoin (Andrea) and Mícheál (Moley), and their mother Dr Nóirín Ní Riain, and by his brother John.(Patricia).
"Ar Dheis Dé go Raibh Sé."