Life of Bryan celebrated

I couldn't help recalling the stories of how the great Kerry footballer, Mick O'Connell came home from Croke Park after captaining Kerry to win the All-Ireland Senior Football Championship in 1959. This was not the usual homecoming: he arrived without the Sam Maguire Cup, which he had abandoned in the dressing rooms in Croke Park.

Bringing an injury out of the game, football's most famous exponent felt that he had enough to do to get himself home without the added burden of a mere token of the title they had won anyway - or so the legend goes.

My thoughts were of heroes and trophies of national importance being honoured and idolised on a local stage.

Twenty -year-old Bryan O'Leary from Toureencahill recently won the TG4 Gradam Ceoil Young Musician of the Year title. His award was signed, sealed but not yet delivered in Dublin on February 6.

Bryan, too, came back to Kerry without the All-Ireland trophy he earned through youthful years of unrelenting practice.

Browne's Bar hosted a hero's welcome for Bryan and his justifiably proud parents, Bertie and Maureen in Castleisland on Saturday night. The house was packed with an audience of faces from miles around.

With no disrespect to the meitheal of musicians which surrounded him in the north western corner of the bar, they came to see and hear the young hero of Sliabh Luachra.

They didn't go home disappointed.

Music teachers, Anne and Nicky McAuliffe and Joe O'Sullivan and a cast of a dozen more were all there weaving their magic on the memorable night.

The session was briefly interrupted by the host. Peter Browne told Bryan O'Leary of the pride the music loving population of the area have in his achievements to date. Peter then presented him with an inscribed plate in recognition of his remarkable achievements.

We retreated to a room off the bar for space to get a few photographs of the presentation. There, Peter's wife, Mags arrived with a specially and locally commissioned cake with Bryan's photograph and another inscription.

The inherently pleasant young man was taken aback at the attention and the crowd and the presentation. He was firmly assured by Peter Browne of what his win means to the locality and to the proud tradition of the Sliabh Luachra area in general.

Bryan is a grandson the late, great Johnny O'Leary. Johnny was awarded a Gradam Saol lifetime achievement award in 2003.

It was only after Johnny's passing in February 2004 that the spark of music and accordion playing really ignited in Bryan's life.

I remember the late Ciarán MacMathúna expressing a belief that the younger generation of musicians were playing and sounding better than many of their forefathers. He backed his assertions with the fact that instruments are now stored in dampness-free and much more suitable conditions. He also pointed out the growth in the numbers of top-class music teachers, the increase of craftspeople making, repairing and tuning instruments and, above all, the popularity the music is enjoying through festivals and gatherings throughout the country. And that's nearly 20 years ago now.

Bryan O'Leary is one of those young people on which the likes of Ciarán MacMathúana pinned his hopes for the future of the music he gave a life-time of service to.

Jack Roche also credited Bryan with being one of the true carriers of the flame of Sliabh Luachra when he delivered a talk on the health of the music of the area at last year's Patrick O'Keeffe Traditional Music Festival.

That he had it from the cradle - there's no doubt. That he was influenced by his granddad, guided by parents, Bertie and Maureen, encouraged by national school teacher, Henry Cronin and 'guardianed' and shaped for the world by Nicky McAuliffe - is widely acknowledged. He's a credit to them all and to the area he represents.

I asked Nicky McAuliffe for an assessment of Bryan as a musician: "Oh he's much more than a musician. He's a serious music historian as well. He has a great head for the history of a tune and he's studying his grandfather's huge repertoire of tunes and that's invaluable in itself. You won't find too many young lads with that kind of interest. They'll all be great players and that kind of thing but this young man is in a different league altogether," said Nicky. And that's from a man to whom many of Ireland's leading musicians and music writers come for guidance or verification.

It may seem like a huge burden for one so young to carry. However, in the wonderfully inclusive world of traditional Irish music - or, as Irish Times writer Siobhán Long so understandingly put it 'Irish music's wonderful anarchy' - he'll be fine.

Bryan will be presented with his Gradam Ceoil Young Musician of the Year Award at the annual presentation night at the University of Limerick Concert Hall on Saturday, April 12. The concert will be hosted by Páidí Ó Lionáird and Muireann Nic Amhlaoibh.

The event will be recorded and broadcast on TG4 on Easter Sunday night, April 20 at 9.30pm.

Bryan's parents are both O'Leary - they would be - you might say - but Maureen is a daughter of Johnny's.


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