Tributes are being paid to renowned broadcaster and music collector Ciarán Mac Mathúna who died on Friday 11 December. For over 50 years the music collector and broadcaster made a vast contribution to the preservation and development of Irish traditional music through programmes such as ‘Mo Cheol Thú’ and in his roles as music archiver and collector and RTÉ radio producer.
A native of Co. Limerick, Ciarán Mac Mathúna was born in 1925 and first joined RTÉ as a radio producer in 1955. One of his first jobs was to travel around the country in the company of a mobile recording unit gathering material for Radio Éireann’s traditional music archive. He became a recognised authority on Irish Music and lectured extensively on the subject. He started his ‘Mo Cheol Thú’ programme in 1970 which went on to become one of the longest running programmes on radio, finishing in November 2005. Each 45 minute programme offered a miscellany of archive music, poetry and folklore, mainly of Irish origin.
“It was a great pleasure to be part of RTÉ for the last 50 years. My duties were mostly ‘a job of journeywork’ – very enjoyable work indeed travelling around Ireland and many parts of America, England and Scotland recording traditional music and song. Meeting all the musicians was very exciting for me and I only hope that my programmes helped to make their music as popular as it is today,” said Ciarán on his retirement in 2005, as he was approaching his 80th birthday.
Adrian Moynes, then MD of RTÉ Radio and now Secretary to the RTÉ Board, said at the same event that “Ciarán Mac Mathúna is inseparable from RTÉ Radio. He is one of a small group of broadcasters whose work and personality have created the signature of radio broadcasting in Ireland. I am sure that all his listeners feel they know him personally and all of us – colleagues, friends and listeners – wish him fulfilment after a long career in which he gave us so much pleasure and enrichment.”
RTÉ Radio 1’s Music Editor, Paddy Glackin, has also since contributed, saying “Ciarán Mac Mathúna made an enormous contribution to the preservation and development of Irish traditional music,” he continues, “For 50 years he was the voice of the music through his many programmes and was a friend to traditional musicians all over the world. He leaves a wonderful archive of traditional music and song which will be an invaluable source of inspiration to musicians for generations to come.”
Ciarán Mac Mathúna won two Jacobs Awards in 1969 and 1990 for his radio programmes and received the Freedom of Limerick City in 2004. He lived with his wife Dolly, who survives him, in Templeogue, Dublin. They have three children.
RTÉ Director General Cathal Goan reflected that he owed a personal debt of gratitude to Ciarán MacMathúna, who had given him his own introduction to Irish music. His first job in the RTÉ Archives had arisen through cataloguing the music and song collected by Ciarán, as he recalls “I had the opportunity to learn from Ciarán’s field tapes and from various programmes about a wealth of Irish tradition which extended well beyond the immediacy of the music played; I was also able to appreciate the great esteem and fondness in which Ciarán was held by so many people across the island of Ireland and well beyond. His unmistakable voice is stilled but he has left us all a very tangible and valuable legacy,” said Cathal Goan.
He added: “Is cinnte go bhfuil muintir na hÉireann faoi chomaoin ag an scoth craoltóra seo a bhfuil an oiread sin de dhúchas ár dtíre curtha ar bhuantaifead aige do na glúnta atá le teacht. Cuideachta cheoltóirí na bhFlaitheas go raibh aige.”
Martin Cullen TD, Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism has also voiced his sympathies at the passing of Mac Mathúna, saying: “I was saddened to hear of the passing of the distinguished Irish broadcaster, Ciarán Mac Mathúna who contributed so much to the cultural life of this country, not only through his television and radio career with RTÉ but also as a collector of Irish music, poetry and song. A man of great intellect with a wonderful commitment to and understanding of Irish folklore and the traditional arts, Ciarán made it a priority over the course of his long life to travel and meet musicians and to collect Irish music and stories, preserving them for future generations. He has left us with a wonderful legacy.”
“An accomplished producer and presenter for RTÉ, he will be best remembered for his Sunday morning radio programme ‘Mo Cheol Thú’ where his wisdom and love of Irish music and the written word shone through.”
He concluded, adding that “Ciarán Mac Mathúna was widely admired and deeply respected and appreciated by all who knew him. My sincere sympathy is extended to his wife Dolly McMahon and their three children and extended family at this time. May he rest in peace.”