Is “God Save The Queen” really based on an 18th century Irish tune?

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THE intriguing question of whether the British national anthem, God Save The Queen, is in fact based on a 17th century Irish tune was among the many fascinating ideas offered at a symposium held as part of the annual Oireachtas na Gaeilge festival. , part of which was held at the Músraí Gaeltacht on weekends.

it was a theory held by ‘Mise Éire’ composer Seán Ó Riada, his son Peadar said at the Oireachtas na Gaeilge Symposium at the Mills Inn Museum as part of a series of events to honor the composer on the fiftieth anniversary of his death in 1971.

Speaking at the event, Peadar recalled a time when his father was trying to establish himself as a European composer living in Paris where he made a living as a jazz pianist.

“I remember that my mother told me that he had composed a number of sonatines for Radio Paris but that this station seemed to disappear and all traces of the compositions had been lost.

“I have always maintained that this station existed and that the sonatines did exist.

“Fifteen years ago my cousin Luke Verling went to Paris and looked for the station and found that a station like Rea was actually there, that it had been taken over by another company and he looked and searched and he found the tapes. “

Peadar told the audience he thought he had a good memory and offered the sonatin experience as “kind of proof”.

He spoke of the time, nine years later, when the family lived in Cúil Aodha and when the Second Vatican Council took place.

“Seán had a number of friends at the University of Maynooth, the professor of history, Fr. Tomás Ó Fiaich (later Cardinal Ó Fiaich) and the professor of Irish, Fr. Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, who were classmates of the local vicar of Baile Mhúirne, Fr Donncha Conchúir.

“They would send him, Fr Ó Conchúir, the Irish translations of the Mass on long yellow pages and the priest and Seán would spend hours poring over those translations because Seán was an ardent classical scholar and loved ancient Greek. and Latin.

He said it was important to realize that the ancient Greek texts provided a much more accurate version of the Gospels and other spiritual texts and, for this reason, the Irish version of the Mass was probably the most accurate.

He also recalled the first time the Ó Riada Mass was heard in public, it was at Maynooth University in 1967.

“There was a young boy with the choir, Diarmuid Ó Buachalla, and he was actually sleeping on the church organ.

“I remember the church was overflowing with student priests.

“At the end of Mass, the students threw their leaflets in the air and it was a wonderful experience. “

He also remembers Tomás Ó Fiaich dancing outside the sacristy with a bottle of whiskey to celebrate the momentous event of an Irish mass celebrated in Maynooth.

While a dominant narrative in later documentaries about Seán Ó Riada and his time at Cúil Aodha was one that the composer had a “creative block” and was depressed and drinking, the image presented by Peadar to the symposium was that of a man who was busier than ever.

During Ceoltóíirí Chualann’s ten years or so from 1959 to 1970 he had composed around 700 different arrangements of Irish tunes and songs, for example, as well as at least two Mases and many other works.

He said Seán believed that all traditional Irish tunes stemmed from twelve different tunes with a few exceptions.

“Every tune that we have in the country is tied to one of these.

“One of the exceptions,” he said, speaking on his Radio Éireann show, Our Musical Heritate, was’ Cath Chéim an Fhia, ”Peadar said.

“Take for example the English national anthem, it is part of an old Irish tune from 300 years ago.”

According to Peadar, the Dublin-based elite did not take this into account when evaluating Seán and their take on the composer was that he had abandoned Dublin and classical music rather than turned away. was dedicated to working more in tune with what people wanted. to listen.

One documentary, Seán Ó Mórdha’s Blue Note was the first documentary after his death and set the tone that most others followed.

“Remarkably, no family body was interviewed for this documentary,” Peadar told The Corkman.

“There has been a huge surge in interest in Seán since the RTÉ Nationwide documentary – it really rekindled interest in his work.”

Seán Ó Sé, who was the singer of Ceoltóirí Chualann, spoke about his first meeting with Seán Ó Riada and how he auditioned to be part of Ceoltóirí Chualann at the then composer at Galloping Green in Dublin.

“Then I remember going to a studio on Stephen’s Green to record An Poc Ar Buile and a few other songs.

“There was a piano there and, to make it sound more like a traditional instrument, we put tacks in the hammers. “

Dr John O’Keeffe, director of Maynooth sacred music and director of the choir that performed at Phoenix Park mass for Pope Francis in 2018, also spoke at the event, and he described the work of Seán Ó Riada as an immense contribution. as he recounted how a parish in South Kerry expressed gratitude to a departing pastor who not only led the construction of a new church, but also taught them how to sing the “Ár nAthair / Our Father” composed by Seán Ó Riada.

“They described it as a new way of praying,” he said.

“It was a huge feat of composition, perhaps more important than the work he did with Ceoltóirí Chualainn because he drew fresh water from the well of tradition.

“The masses composed by Seán Ó Riada are a touchstone for other composers who embark on this path. “

Dr O’Keeffe paid tribute to Peadar’s own compositional contribution to church music.

“Peadar has spent half a century carving this out and his work deserves another day to discuss its richness and assess its implications.

“It is a continuation and an organic development of the liturgy according to the Irish tradition that it provided”, he said, pointing to for example the mass of Saint John of the Cross Peadar composed.

The full recording of the symposium is available on the Oireachtas na Gaeilge Facebook page, with recordings of the Ó Riada Mass celebrated in the Church of Cúil Aodha on Sunday and a concert in the same venue with several Corn Uí Riada winners who have took place on Saturday evening.


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