Ciarán Ó Con Cheanainn


Scholar with deep roots and talented sean-nós singer

CIARÁN Ó Con Cheanainn, who has died aged 27, was an Irish scholar and the youngest winner of Corn Uí Riada in the Oireachtas na Gaeilge competition for sean-nós singers.

Professor Angela Bourke, head of Modern Irish at UCD, said: “A native speaker of Irish, at home among the modern reflexes as well as the deepest roots of its oral tradition, he was a wonderful singer, a gentle, perceptive and witty companion, a gifted teacher and a scholar of real brilliance and acumen.”

She added that his colleagues, in mourning him, mourned also the “life-affirming, authoritative academic work he might have produced, and the recordings he might have made”.

Dr Lillis Ó Laoire, NUI Galway lecturer in Irish and folklore, described his death as a great loss to Irish cultural life. “He was both a performer and a scholar, shy and unsure but with a wonderful instrument in his voice.”

Born in Galway in 1981, he grew up in Saile Chuanna, An Spidéal, and was educated at Scoil Sailearna, Na hAille, and Coláiste Cholm Cille, Indreabhán.

At school he enjoyed drama and participated in Slógadh with his peers. As a secondary school student he entered poetry and short story competitions sponsored by Udarás na Gaeltachta.

He studied at NUI Galway, graduating in 2002 with first class honours in Irish and geography. In 2003 he was awarded an MA at UCD having completed his thesis, Gnéithe de Sheachadadh na nAmhrán Traidisiúnta sa Ghaeilge. The following year he completed his thesis Clár Amhrán Chois Fharraige, securing an M Litt in Modern Irish.

The National University of Ireland in 2004 awarded him a travelling studentship in Celtic Studies, and he spent two years at Edinburgh University’s school of Scottish studies.

A regular competitor at Oireachtas na Gaeilge and Fleadh Ceoil na hÉireann, he won may prizes. He represented Ireland at the International Pan-Celtic Festival in 1999 and 2000, taking first prize on both occasions.

Last year, having come second in 1999 and 2003, he became the youngest winner on record of Corn Uí Riada at Féile an Oireachtas before an audience of 700 people.

He gave singing workshops at Sean-Nós Cois Life, Dublin, and An Béal Binn, Bray, Co Wicklow, and received invitations to sing in Scotland, France and Italy. He acted as an adjudicator in singing competitions for young people at events such as Pléaráca Chonamara.

He was a member of the committee of An Cumann le Béaloideas Éireann, and served on the board of Comhar for six years. His published work includes entries for The Encyclopaedia of Music in Irelandand Leabhar Mór na hAmhrán(both forthcoming), and articles and reviews for the Journal of Music in Ireland.

He made a number of recordings for cassette and disc.

He had recently been appointed to a lectureship in Modern Irish at UCD, and was looking forward to the completion of his doctoral thesis and the publication of two substantial books on the singing tradition of his native Conamara.He recently participated in the Cumann Merriman winter school.

He is survived by his mother Bríd and sister Máirín.

Ciarán Ó Con Cheanainn: born July 1981; died February 2009