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Leading Irish musician and composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin dies aged 67

President Michael D Higgins leads tributes


Micheal O' Suilleabhain pictured with his sons Eoin and Moley in 2011 (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

Micheal O' Suilleabhain pictured with his sons Eoin and Moley in 2011 (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

Micheal O' Suilleabhain pictured with his sons Eoin and Moley in 2011 (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

The leading Irish musician and composer Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin has died at the age of 67.

The native of Clonmel, Co Tipperary, was the Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Limerick and the founder and director of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance.

He collaborated with the RTE orchestra and the broadcaster said he was celebrated for his “fusion of Irish traditional and classical music in particular for his unique style of piano playing.”

He passed away last night at the Milford Hospice in Limerick.

President Michael D Higgins leads tributes with a statement issued on Thursday morning:

"Music lovers all over the world will have heard with great sadness of the passing of Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, performer, musician, composer, academic and broadcaster.

"Proud of his roots in Clonmel and Murroe, and a close associate of famous musicians and musicologists such as Seán Ó Riada, Aloys Fleischmann, John Blacking and John Baily, Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin was renowned as a unique pianist and composer.

"His music and outstanding work will for ever be enjoyed by countless people, celebrating his humour, his fearless sense of exploration and his talent for harmony, joy and mobilising the peerless power of music.

"More than 20 years ago he was associated with the move of the Irish Chamber Orchestra to Limerick and at that time, as Minister for the Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht, I saw the enthusiasm with which he delivered that project and the commitment that led to the establishment of the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance which he founded at the University of Limerick.

"A representative of much what is Irishness at its best, Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin has left us with an indelible legacy, both through his music and through the Academy, which he led for over 2 decades.

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"Sabina and I send our deepest condolences to his wife Professor Helen Phelan, his children Luke, Eoin and Mícheál, to Dr Nóirín Ní Riain, to his brother John and to all members of his family and his wide circle of friends."

A number of well-known musicians and academics, University of Limerick students and fans paid tribute to the musician online.

Orchestral musician Liam Lawton paid tribute, writing; "Tonight one of the great legends of Irish music has gone to his eternal reward.

"Micheal O Suilleabhain was a unique artist whose music brought together so many strands of Irish music.

"His vision and and talent created a roadway that so many of us travelled over the years but nobody could ever emulate the gift that was Micheal O Suilleabhain. His music carved a niche that will be remembered long after all of us."

"The Irish Chamber Orchestra wrote; "It is with a heavy heart that we at the ICO have learned of the passing of Mícheál O Suilleabhain, musician,composer, leader and great friend.

"Mícheál was instrumental in the relocation of the orchestra to Limerick and indeed the ICO is an integral part of the Irish World Academy founded by Mícheál.

"We extend our deepest sympathies to Helen, Eoin, Moley, Luke and Noirin on their terrible loss. May he Rest In Peace."

Tipperary County Councillor Siobhan Ambrose described Mr O'Suilleabháin as an "acclaimed Irish musician, performer and composer."

She wrote; "It is with great sadness that I just heard of the passing of one of Clonmels most famous sons Micheál O' Suilleabháin. 

"Micheál passed away this evening in Milford Hospice in Limerick... He was a very proud Clonmel man."

A spokeswoman for the University of Limerick paid tribute to Mr O Suilleabhain, saying there is "enormous sadness" following his death.

She said: "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."

Minister Josepha Madigan TD said she was "very saddened to hear the news", adding that the late musician "played a hugely significant role in, and has left an indelible mark on Irish music – through his performances, recordings and collaborations".

She added, "Through his founding of, and work in, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance at UL his role in education and mentoring has realised further generations of artistic talent in Ireland."

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