Lecturer made a lasting contribution to Irish musical life

Donal Colum O’Cleirigh obituary: Born: November 21st, 1932 – Died: May 15th, 2017

 

Donal Colum O’Cleirigh, who has died aged 84, was senior lecturer in music at St Patrick’s College, Dublin City University, and contributed significantly to the musical life and musical education of Ireland, and in particular to the Cork Choral Festival, in the course of a long and fruitful professional career.

Born in Clonmel in1932, he displayed an early interest in music, and followed his mother Kathleen into teaching, working initially in primary schools in Mallow and Waterford, and at the High School in Clonmel.

In 1958 he was awarded a music scholarship by the Tipperary South Riding County Council to University College, Cork, where he studied under the noted Aloys Fleischmann. His interests and activities, not to mention his gregarious and colourful personality, ensured widespread popularity both inside and outside the small college (at that time numbering only some 1,500 students).

While at UCC he conducted a prize-winning choir in Cork’s international choral festival and also studied the piano under Tilly Fleischmann, Aloys’s mother, who had been taught by Bernhard Stavenhagen, Liszt’s last pupil. His musical education was enhanced by further courses in Oxford and Berne.

Acquired friends at speed

He acquired friends and collaborators at speed, including Rachel Burrows of the Cork Grammar School (now Ashton School), whose home was an oasis for refugees from the somewhat limited cultural university milieu of that era.

He subsequently taught in Ashton school and then worked in Tipperary as the county music organiser, a daunting task which he approached with unquenchable enthusiasm and with an array of pedagogical gifts that endeared him to adults and children alike. During this period he also founded and conducted further choirs that won competitions at the Cork festival,

In 1966 he was appointed as headmaster of St Gerard’s School, in Bray, Co Wicklow, where he served as headmaster from 1966 until his appointment in 1971 to the music department of St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra.

From then until his retirement in 1998 he was at the heart of the College’s musical and creative activity, and played a significant role in mentoring and encouraging younger members of staff, as well as having an enormous impact on an entire generation of student teachers, not least in encouraging their musical productions and choirs.

Long-standing trade unionist

After studying at the Kodaly Institute in Kecskemet, Hungary, he organised a number of conferences on Kodaly’s work, and was instrumental in the foundation of the Irish Kodaly Society in 1993. In 2015 he was awarded honorary life membership of the Society of Music Education In Ireland.

As well as participating to the fullest degree in the college’s intellectual and creative activities, he was a long-standing trade unionist, initially in the Association of Professional Staffs in Colleges of Education, and then in the Irish Federation of University Teachers, into which the Association was absorbed. He was a passionate advocate of equality – of gender, sexuality, class, race and age – not least as an extension of his trade unionism

He is survived by his civil partner, Peter McDermott, and by his two children Duncan and Sharon, by his earlier marriage to Kate Whelan, who pre-deceased him.