Born: January 24th, 1936
Died: February 18th, 2021
Michael Morris, who nurtured a generation of Irish journalists, has died aged 85. Together with Lelia Doolan, Morris, who had been a pioneering sound technician with RTÉ, set up the first third-level course in professional media education in Ireland.
The Diploma in Communications at the College of Commerce, Rathmines was the forerunner of the current BA in Media Arts at Technological University of Dublin (formerly Dublin Institute of Technology).
Journalists Anne Cassin, Bryan Dobson, Damian O’Donnell and Séamus Dooley are among the alumni who benefited from Morris’s passionate and inspiring lecturing style.
Morris was one of the original technical team recruited to set up the new RTÉ television service in 1961. During his initial training in Raidió Éireann – which was then still in the GPO in O’Connell Street – Morris worked on the recording of Seán Ó Riada’s music for the film of The Playboy of the Western World.
He then transferred to RTÉ’s Montrose studios as a member of the television sound operations. He was involved in the opening-night transmission of Teilifís Éireann [later called RTÉ Television] from the Gresham Hotel on New Year’s Eve 1961. His chief responsibility in the early years was co-ordinating sound from various studios and other sources to accompany film footage.
He became a studio sound supervisor and remained in that position through the 1960s, specialising in popular, rock and traditional music programmes. Highlights from this period include working on Ó Riada’s groundbreaking Irish music programmes and early broadcasts of The Chieftains. He was responsible for the international sound control during president Kennedy’s visit to Ireland in 1963. This was the first satellite transmission from Ireland, via the original Telstar satellite.
He also worked on Like Now, RTÉ’s first popular music show, presented by DJ Danny Hughes and produced by Bil Keating, and was the “technical troubleshooter” for the 1971 Eurovision Song Contest, transmitted from the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin to an audience of 400 million, Ireland’s first time hosting the event.
While working in RTÉ, Morris took an honours degree in social sciences, archaeology and sociology at University College Dublin (UCD). In 1972, he received that university’s gold medal for first place in his exams. He then embarked on a research fellowship in anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, he researched the highland Maya community in Guatemala and later recorded the ceremonial dances of the Tarahumara Indians on the US-Mexican border.
In 1972, he returned to RTÉ as a research consultant in media studies while also lecturing part-time at UCD. From 1974 to 1978, he held the position of RTÉ senior research fellow in communication studies at UCD’s Department of Social Sciences. And in 1978, he was appointed lecturer in communications at the College of Commerce in Rathmines where he remained for 10 years.
He loved women and was often in love. He was also subject to catastrophes and reversals yet never stopped believing the possibility and beauty of the moment
Michael Morris grew up the older of two children in Glen Hull, Co Tyrone. His father, Francis Morris, was a grocer and general merchant and his mother, Mary, a Dublin native, moved to the Sperrin Mountains when the couple married in the 1930s. One of his early memories was watching films in a travelling canvas tent, where the film projector was powered by a car engine.
Morris won a scholarship to attend St Columb’s College in Derry and went on to study for the priesthood in the Servite Priory in Benburb, Co Tyrone and later in a priory in Chicago. However, after five years, he quit the priesthood and moved to Dublin in the late 1950s to do City and Guilds certificates in radio and television. A short-lived marriage resulted in the birth of two children, Sinead, a teacher, and Niall, an opera singer, former member of the Celtic Tenors and theatre producer now based in Thailand.
In the late 1980s, Morris started a new career in music composition and recording which merged his artistic and spiritual sensibilities with his anthropological studies and his mastery of media technology. Film-maker Lelia Doolan, who remained a lifelong friend of Morris, said he had an “innocent, restless, eccentric and independent soul – always nearly settling, always moving”.
“He loved women and was often in love. He was also subject to catastrophes and reversals yet never stopped believing the possibility and beauty of the moment,” she said.
Morris developed a genre of music which he called “the Earthsong music”. It was based on the frequency of the Earth’s rotation interwoven with traditional music from various cultures. This work was strongly influenced by his intensive explorations of the inner dimensions of sound and music in Celtic, Native American, Sufi, Hindu, Tibetan and Buddhist traditions and the work of English composer John Tavener, poet/singer Leonard Cohen and Irish philosopher John Moriarty, all of whom he greatly admired.
In 2010, he was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy from DIT in recognition of his role in developing media education and his pioneering work as a television sound supervisor.
A Celtic wonder tale entitled The Voyage of Ana is one of Morris’s unfinished compositions. His son, Niall, plans to bring this multimedia project to completion as a posthumous gift to his father.
Michael Morris is survived by his daughter, Sinead, his son, Niall, his sister, Bernadette, and nieces and nephews in Canada.