Long-time fan of Irish song

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Seán Corcoran Born: December 7, 1946 Died: May 3, 2021

Traditional Irish music is a poorer place following the death, after a brief illness, of Seán Corcoran. A man of great warmth and quick wit, he possessed an indefatigable appetite for exploring the history of our unaccompanied singing tradition. The breadth of Seán’s interests was best summed up by himself in his Twitter account: “Irish singer, vernacular musicologist (Ceol na nDaoine), audio and film documentary maker, investigator, composer, lecturer, socialist, unrecognized genius “.

Seán was born in Clogherhead, Co Louth in 1946 and grew up there and later in Drogheda. Her father, Terry, was from Crossakiel, Kells and her mother, Moira (née Quigley) was from Drogheda. Her maternal grandfather was a singer, and her paternal grandmother played both accordion and violin. While he reportedly heard his grandfather singing sailors’ songs, it was his upbringing in a port city that introduced him to a rich stock of songs that shaped his lifelong love for the songs and traditions of the song. His interests beyond music were no less eclectic. His mother has always been a Labor activist and Seán inherited his passion for defending workers ‘rights when he joined the League for a Workers’ Republic in the 1970s. He was also an avid footballer in his time.

The eldest of four children, Seán attended St Joseph’s CBS, Sunday’s Gate Drogheda and from there pursued Celtic studies at UCD and later ethnomusicology at Queens University Belfast.

The nascent ethnomusicologist was evident from his teenage years, and in 1964 he co-founded the Old Drogheda Society with Caitlín Bean Uí Chairbre, researching old songs in his home country and rejecting jaded assumptions that music could not be found. than in rural areas. . It was, he noted, just as alive in the urban areas as it was in the countryside. He recorded, among others, Drogheda singer Mary Ann Carolan, who had a gargantuan songstore, and wrote the cover notes for her album when she finally recorded an album in 1982.

The eclectic nature of Seán’s many activities reflected a man who was, at heart, a born communicator and catalyst for countless richly textured projects that magnified the rich song tradition of his native Louth, as well as the richness of our broader national heritage. .

Seán was a member of The Rakish Paddies in the 1960s, along with Paul Brady and Mick Molony. He founded the Tradition Club on Capel Street in the 1970s with Tom Crean, and both were members of the acapella group, The Press Gang. Seán then formed Cran with piper Neil Martin and flautist Desi Wilkinson, playing a nasty bouzouki and taking a central role as a singer with the group. Ronan Browne later replaced Martin on the Pipes and the band released five critically acclaimed albums and achieved considerable success, especially in the Netherlands.

Seán’s first solo recording was made in the United States in 1977 on the Green Linnet label. Entitled Sailing into Walpole’s Marsh, he managed to complete this work by performing at the Festival of American Folklife at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington. He has appeared in numerous other recordings, and in 2012 recorded the spicy title album Louth Mouths with Dónal Maguire and Gerry Cullen of The Voice Squad.

There was nothing he appreciated more than the discovery of long forgotten songs, or even of singers, which he recorded for posterity with great skill and care, collecting first for Breandán Breathnach in his Native Louth in the early 1970s, then for traditional Irish music. Archive, for which he was the leading collector of Northern Ireland field records. Nothing appealed to him more than saving material from obscurity and sharing it with listeners at home and abroad. He was delighted to discover a vast collection of ballad sheets assembled by Sam Henry, in Northern Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century, which had remained dormant in the National Library, but was quickly tempered by the unexpected arrival of a a certain Andy Irvine at his shoulder, inquiring curiously about the contents of his newly discovered collection. Henry’s collection gave the lakes of Pontchartrain and Bonny Light Horseman, among many other gems. He contributed to Ceol, a journal founded by Breandán Breathnach in the 1960s, and spent many successful years collecting for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in the mid-1980s and 1990s.

Besides his collection of songs, vocals and recording, Seán was director of the Féile na Bóinne festival in 1976/77. He contributed to the University of Limerick’s 1995 conference, Blas: The Local Accent, and produced three memorable TG4 programs in 2009 on collectors Edward Bunting, George Petrie and Francis O’Neill. In 2012/13 made four widely admired radio documentaries.

Seán was a part-time lecturer in Traditional Irish Music at Mary Immaculate College from 2007-2020, where he inspired many students with his in-depth knowledge and live performances delivered with passion and a great sense of pleasure.

Seán’s friend Basil Miller saw him as an Irish Alan Lomax, always on the hunt for forgotten or overlooked material. His vast accomplishments were many and varied, and his rich legacy will pass on to present and future generations.

Seán is survived by his wife, Vera; by his children Rósa and Fiachra and their mother Helen; and by his daughter Jess. He is also survived by his sister Claire, his brothers Colin and Terry, his stepdaughter Veritia and his grandson Sadhbh.


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