A Tribute to Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin – r.i.p.


In 2011 I had a ‘vica voce’ exam to decide whether I’d be awarded a PhD. At the end I was asked to leave the room so the panel could confer. Soon after, I was asked to return.

As I walked in, the external examiner welcomed me with a warm smile, a handshake and three simple words ‘Congratulations Dr. Flynn”. 

That examiner was Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, a towering figure in Irish music and education and a kind-hearted soul who passed away yesterday 7th Nov 2018, long before his time.

I met him once more after that when he kindly agreed to give me some ‘Post-Doctoral’ advice. He first spent time explaining the potential educational benefits of my PhD work, yet to my surprise, he encouraged me to follow my work as a composer, rather than pursue an academic career.

He explained how the administrative demands of academia can be detrimental to composing and that my ideas around music education might be better served outside academia. I’m glad I took his advice, as this led me to stop looking for academic jobs and instead develop the Irish Memory Orchestra and its ‘Apprentice Schemes’ and focus on composing.

I didn’t know him outside of these two meetings but by all accounts he was a wonderful man, a real force of positive energy. He was also a fantastic musician who redefined how Irish traditional music could be played on the piano. He also pioneered new ways of merging traditional, classical and jazz in his compositions.

I’m sorry I didn’t get the chance to know him better, however I’m very grateful to him for being so kind and generous with his time.

R.I.P. Mícheál, your life’s work lives on……..