Céilí House

A Programme Loved by Traditional Music Enthusiasts from Sumatra to Scartaglen

By Peter Browne, in Fleadh Programme 2004

The exact date when Céilí House first took to the airwaves on Radio Éireann is not known for certain as there were different programmes of céilí band music broadcast for short periods under various titles. However, we do know that it is now nearly 50 years since the programme became established in the middle 1950s as a regular and indeed indispensable part of Saturday night’s entertainment for so many Irish people at home and abroad.

The man at the helm then and for so many years afterwards was the legendary Seán Ó Murchú from Co Galway, whose voice and sense of humour were unmistakable. In those early times before the advent of RTE television, the weekly listenership to Céilí House was said to exceed one million. At a time of high emigration from Ireland there are accounts of Irish workers in London climbing lamp posts on Saturday nights, radio in hand, in the hope of better reception for their weekly link with the music and song they had left at home in Ireland.

The present producer of Céilí House started working on the programme in 1977 and had a memorable few years working with Seán Ó Murchú. Even he didn’t escape Seán’s wit as one evening he was surprised to observe Seán in studio announcing that the programme had been produced by Peter Browne, last seen near Naas and still running!

All of the great band such as the Tulla, Kilfenora, Mayglass, McCusker Bros, Johnny Pickering, Gallowglass etc and solo performers such as Leo Rowsome, Seán Maguire, Matt Molloy, Denis Murphy, Seosaimh Ó hÉanaí etc played on Céilí House over the years and for many of these musicians and for their audience, this was a memory to last a lifetime. After Seán’s death in 1982, Breandán Ó Dúill took up the challenge and added to the reputation and fame of Céilí House for a further 13 or so years with some memorable programmes.

Peter Browne followed for a couple of years, since then until the present time, the presenter has been Kieran Hanrahan, a very well known and accomplished musician from Co Clare.

In those earlier years, the bands and musicians made the journey to record in the Céilí House studios on Dublin and Cork. In the mid-1980’s a decision was taken to bring the programme around the country to record at festivals, fleadhanna and all sorts of musical gatherings. This has resulted in a rejuvenation of the programme and an opportunity for people living in all parts of Ireland, as well as the traditional music communities in Britain and the USA, to be a part of the music and the atmosphere that is Céilí House.

Wehn we mention musical gatherings, there can be none larger than Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann and it is one of the highlights of our year to broadcast live on the Saturday night from the centre of the host town. We have had that pleasure already in Clonmel and are looking forward very much to this year’s Fleadh - for the live programme at 9pm on Saturday night, the many musicians and singers we will meet, and the recordings we will make for future broadcast of spontaneous street and pub sessions as well as organised events such as the Sunday night Céilí Band Competition.

Things have greatly improved since those early days of difficult radio reception. Now besides the Medium Wave, we have quality FM reception throughout Ireland and the Longwave 252 represents a special benefit to listeners all over Britain and supplies a very good radio signal far beyond our shores.

On the internet it is possible to hear Céilí House anywhere in the world for up to a week after transmission by logging on to http://www.rte.ie/radio1/weekend/ceilihouse/ and the programme has had responses from listeners in Sydney, San Francisco and Sumatra as well as Scartaglen.

Mar sin, is mór an onóir agus and pléisiúr do RTE Raidió 1 agus do Theach a’Chéilí bheith i láthair ag Fleadh 2004 i gCluain Meala.