IRELAND – Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, who has died after a long illness at the age of 67, was a musician who showed exceptional gifts as a leader and communicator in a career that encompassed performing, composing, broadcasting, recording (both as performer and producer), ethnomusicology and education.
His success in all of these undertakings was aided by an unusual gift for seeing the positive in the people he encountered and the situations in which he found himself.
When writing about the composer Aloys Fleischmann, under whom he studied at University College Cork, he quoted Václav Havel’s distinction between “optimism as the conviction that something will turn out well, and hope as the certainty that something makes sense regardless of how it turns out”.
He saw Fleischmann as someone who had moved from optimism to hope. But his own life and achievements showed how constructively both can co-exist.
He was born in Clonmel, Co Tipperary, and from 1969 to 1973 studied music at UCC, where he also came under the direct influence of Seán Ó Riada. Like Ó Riada, his interests straddled the worlds of classical music and Irish traditional music.
Unlike Ó Riada, he never essayed large-scale work in a purely classical style. But his career path followed that of Ó Riada, as the pull towards the traditional proved much stronger than the magnetism of any other style or form.
Lumen, his work for the interval of the 1995 Eurovision Song Contest featured, among others, Brian Kennedy, the Monks of Glenstal Abbey and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, was issued as a single by Virgin.