Mick O’Brien Announced as Recipient of Gradam Ceoil TG4 Musician Award

Gradam Ceoil TG4 2023 recipients, from left to right: Michelle Mulcahy, Louise Mulcahy, Fintan Vallely, Maurice Lennon, Mick Mulcahy, Méabh Smyth, Mick O'Brien and Síle Denvir (Photo: Liam Burke, Press 22)

Mick O’Brien Announced as Recipient of Gradam Ceoil TG4 Musician Award

Síle Denvir, Méabh Smyth, Fintan Vallely, Maurice Lennon, and Mick, Louise and Michelle Mulcahy also recognised by annual awards.

Uilleann piper Mick O’Brien has been announced as the recipient of the Gradam Ceoil TG4 Musician Award for 2023.

The awards, now in their twenty-sixth year, recognise those who have advanced, strengthened and preserved traditional music in Ireland. The awards ceremony will take place at the University Concert Hall, Limerick, on Sunday 23 April.

Touhey inspiration
Piper and tin whistle player Mick O’Brien was born in Dublin in 1961 and began learning to play the pipes at age nine from Leo Rowsome, Seán Seery and Mick Touhey at the Thomas Street Pipers’ Club. He later attended classes at Na Píobairí Uilleann and became inspired by the playing of Patsy Touhey. His father, the accordion player Dinny O’Brien, was also a significant influence. Throughout his career, he has performed and given masterclasses across Ireland, Europe and the US.

A consummate piper, O’Brien is also a successful recording artist and has featured on recordings with The Dubliners, Altan and Charlie Lennon, as well as his own albums May Morning Dew (1996) and The Ancient Voice of Ireland (1999). His 2003 record, Kitty Lie Over with fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, is regarded as a modern classic. In recent years, O’Brien has performed as part of a trio with flute player Emer Mayock and his daughter, fiddle player Aoife Ní Bhriain. The trio have released two albums – Tunes from the Goodman Manuscripts (2013) and More Tunes from the Goodman Manuscripts (2021) – as part of a project focused on music collected by James Goodman in the southwest of Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century. 

All photos by Liam Burke, Press 22.

Armagh pupil
Fiddle player from Armagh Méabh Smyth is this year’s recipient of the Young Musician Award. Smyth has been playing traditional music since the age of seven. She is a former student of the Armagh Pipers Club and her playing is inspired by the rhythmic style of fiddle from the regions of South Ulster and Donegal. From a musical family (her parents Rosie and Thomas are both fiddle players), Smyth performs regularly as a duo with her brother Tiarnán and the pair released a self-titled EP in 2017. In the same year, they were semi-finalists in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Musician of the Year awards. Earlier this year, she competed in the final of the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal Competition alongside her sister Annie. She won the Ed Reavy Fiddle Player of the Year award in 2016, and, in 2021, she received first prize at the Fiddler of London competition. Smyth also featured in Sruth – the TG4 series on young musicians, and last month was announced as one of six recipients of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Young Musicians’ Platform Award for 2023. 


Companion editor
This year’s Lifetime Achievement Award goes to Fintan Vallely. Vallely is a flute player, author, songwriter and educator, born in rural county Armagh in 1949. He has played whistle, flute and uilleann pipes since his teenage years and has recorded several albums, including Fintan Vallely – Traditional Irish Flute Music (1979), The Starry Lane to Monaghan (1992), and Merrijig Creek (2021). He published the first tutor for the Irish flute, Timber – the Flute Tutor, in 1986, and went on to study ethnomusicology at Queen’s University Belfast. From 1994 to 1999, he was Irish Times and Sunday Tribune traditional music correspondent. In 1999, he edited the Companion to Irish Traditional Music – an essential A–Z encyclopaedia of traditional music in Ireland that involved more than 200 writers. In 2011, a second edition was published and, in 2023, a third edition will be published by Cork University Press. His latest book is a major history of the bodhrán.

Vallely was also an organiser of conferences in traditional music including the 1996 Crosbhealach an Cheoil / Crossroads Conference with Liz Doherty, Hammy Hamilton, Eithne Vallely and Cormac Breathnach. He has taught at a number of universities and, in 2012, he developed Compánach, an audio-visual concert interpretation of his Companion book, which he toured internationally.

Family of musicians and composers
Maurice Lennon will be presented with the Composer Award for 2023. A fiddle player and composer, he was born in 1958. His father was the well-known fiddle player and teacher Ben Lennon – who received the Gradam Ceoil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 – and his uncle Charlie Lennon is a renowned composer, fiddle player and pianist who also received the composer award in 2006.  

Lennon began playing traditional music at age 13. In 1977, he won the Senior Fiddle Championship at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil. In the same year, he founded the folk-rock band Stockton’s Wing with flute player Paul Roche, banjo player Kieran Hanrahan, bodhrán player Tommy Hayes and guitarist and singer Tony Callinan, who was later replaced by Mike Hanrahan. The band’s international success grew in the 1980s and 90s and they released a number of albums including Stockton’s Wing (1978), Take a Chance (1980) and Full Flight (1986). 

After leaving the band, Lennon collaborated with singers such as Seán Keane, Ronnie Drew, Finbar Furey and Johnny McEvoy, as well as playing a central role in the music of Irish dance production Ragús. He wrote the waltz ‘If Ever You Were Mine’, which was recorded by Cherish the Ladies and featured on their 1992 album The Back Door, and Canadian fiddle player Natalie MacMaster. Other artists to record his compositions include the Kilfenora Céilí Band, Blazin’ Fiddles, Noel Hill, Brian Rooney, Karen Tweed, Pride of New York, Liam O’Brien, Jerry O’Sullivan, Cathy Vard, Liam Lawton, The London Lasses and many more. 

Lennon has released a number of albums as a solo artist, including Brian Boru – High King Of Tara (2001) and The Little Ones (2013), which included the compositions ‘The Road to Garrison’ and ‘The Belltable Waltz’. 


Conamara singer
Síle Denvir is the recipient of this year’s Singer Award. Denvir is a sean-nós singer, harper and academic whose music is deeply influenced by her upbringing in the Conamara Gaeltacht. In addition to performing as a solo artist, Denvir is a founding member of the traditional band Líadan and has collaborated with many musicians including The Chieftains, Barry Kerr, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Martin Hayes and Úna Monaghan.

In 2018, she took part in the world premiere of Mícheál Ó Suilleabháin’s Fill Arís, performing with Iarla Ó Lionáird, Lillis Ó Laoire and the National Symphony Orchestra, and, in 2020, her singing featured on Rogha Raelach Volume 1, traditional music label Raelach Records’ first compilation album.

Denvir is also a lecturer at Dublin City University and is particularly interested in Irish-language song in a modern context. She has published two books on Conamara songwriters, Tom a’ tSeoighe: Amhráin (2020) and Ciarán Ó Fátharta: Amhráin (2008). Other research projects include a video series on the work of Tom a’ tSeoighe for TG4 Molscéal in 2020 and a CD and booklet on the music from the plays of Patrick Pearse – Caithréim: Ceol agus Amhráin ó Dhrámaí an Phiarsaigh. Denvir is also music director of the new youth sean-nós group Bláth na hÓige. She regularly contributes to TV and radio programmes, and in 2023 will release her new album, Anamnesis, a recording of sean-nós songs in collaboration with producer John Reynolds and cellist Caroline Dale.

Successful soloists and trio
Last year, a new category was introduced to the Gradam Ceoil, the Music Group Award, and this year the recipients are Mick, Louise and Michelle Mulcahy

The Mulcahys are a well-known family of musicians from Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick. All three are successful solo musicians as well as being highly regarded as a trio. They have recorded four albums together, The Mulcahy Family (1999), Notes From the Heart (2005), Reelin’ in Tradition (2009) and The Reel Note (2016). 

Mick (father to Louise and Michelle) is from Brosna, Co. Kerry, and was a member of the Brosna Céilí Band – winners of the All-Ireland title in 1972 – and also a composer and recording musician who released two solo albums, Mick Mulcahy (1976) and Mick Mulcahy and Friends (1990). 

Louise began playing the tin whistle at age 5 and later moved onto the flute. At age 13 she started to learn the uilleann pipes – taught by Dave Hegarty in Tralee as well as in monthly masterclasses at Na Píobairí Uilleann. She is a performing musician, a tutor in the pipes and flute, and released a solo album Tuning the Road in 2014. In 2021, she was awarded the Arts Council Markievicz Award, and in 2022 she was the recipient of the Arts Council and National Concert Hall Liam O’Flynn Award. In 2021, she presented Mná na bPíob on TG4 – a documentary film on forgotten female pipers. 

Michelle also learned the whistle from age 5 and went on to play the button accordion, concertina, harp, fiddle, piano and melodeon. In 2006 she was awarded the Young Musician Award at the Gradam Ceoil, and, in 2007, she performed on the Bill Whelan album The Connemara Suite alongside Zoë Conway and the Irish Chamber Orchestra. She is also an academic and her PhD researched the harp traditions of Burma and Ireland, the first such study of its kind.

Awards ceremony
An independent panel of adjudicators selected the recipients of the Gradam Ceoil awards. The recipients are presented with a specially commissioned sculpture by John Coll as well as a small stipend. 

Commenting on the announcement, Proinsias Ní Ghráinne, Commissioning Editor for TG4, said:

TG4 is delighted to honour and pay tribute to such remarkable talent for the 26th year of Gradam Ceoil. We hope that Gradam continues to be a marker for future artistic excellence across all areas of our music and song. Congratulations to all of the recipients. We look forward to celebrating with them and welcoming audiences from near and far on April 23rd.

This year’s awards will be presented at the Gradam Ceoil TG4 Concert in the University Concert Hall, Limerick, on Sunday 23 April. At this live televised concert the recipients will be joined on stage by a number of musical guests. Tickets go on sale online from 10am on Friday 10 March through www.uch.ieThe Outstanding Contribution Award 2023 will be announced in early April. 

For more, visit www.tg4.ie.

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Published on 6 March 2023

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