Seán Ryan's Dream

The Second Collection of Irish Traditional compositions of Seán Ryan. Compiled by Brian Ryan

By Kathleen Ryan

Seán was born in Nenagh, County Tipperary. It was his good fortune to grow up in the Newtown area, an area that produced in the same generation, such fine musicians as Paddy O’Brien and PJ Moloney. His father, Thomas was an outstanding fiddler. Seán’s first instrument was the flute from which he quickly graduated to the fiddle. He was a noted step dancer and a very fine singer.

He brought a different approach to fiddle playing with his own unique personal style, sweet and rich, which instantly distinguishes his music from that of any other fiddler. He had a style noted for sweetness of tone, a steady, gentle legato style in which there were many lonesome notes and many subtle ones. His playing was as smooth as silk with gently rippling ornaments and no hint of sharp attack or brusque articulation. He could dress up and refurbish an old tune so that it sparkled like a jewel. His outstanding accomplishments stand as testimony to the quality of his fiddling.

He was living in the Portarlington area when he won the Gold Medal at the Feis Ceoil in Dublin in 1949 and the Oireachtas Gold in 1954. He was one fo the few to win the All Ireland Senior Traditional Fiddle title twice in a row at Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann. Loughrea in 1955 and Ennis in 1956 were the scenes of his victories. In 1958 he joined the Ballyoran Céilí Band with Danny Coughlan before forming his own band in 1962. He was a frequent performer on radio broadcasts. He recorded with both bands as well as with PJ Moloney, Peter Carberry and Pat Lyons.

I met Seán in 1961. I had fallen in love with his music previous to that. He had already many compositions to his credit at that time. We got married in 1966 and from then on I heard his compositions first hand. His flair for composition was remarkable. He composed scores of tunes that have the sound and feeling of the old music. Over 200 tunes have flowed from the warmth of his heart, the depth of his soul and the gentle stroke of his bow. The first volume of 82 compositions was first published in 1988 under the title of ‘The Hidden Ireland’. Seán bestowed honour on many of his friends, admirers and fellow musicians by naming tunes after them. Many tunes got their titles from place-names associated with the composing or playing of them. Aptly enough Rev John Quinn and Rev PJ Kelly also ‘christened’ many of his tunes.

Seán was very close to nature and his music reflects this. Often he got inspiration or ‘a run of notes’ while listening to the birds or a flowing stream. Later in the peace and solitude of his own home he would get his fiddle and work on these notes.

Sometimes after a session with great musicians he would be inspired to compose new tunes. His whole heart and spirit went into that music. Each tune reflects the personality of the man himself, kind, gentle, genial and witty.

The late Pat Lyons hoped the publication of Seán’s compositions would give some idea of his greatness as a composer:

It would be impossible to put down on paper with a pen what Seán could do with his fingers, especially his excellent technique of treble and grace note, rolls and so on.

He was a frequent perfomer on Irish traditonal music programmes on radio and television. On two occasions he toured the USA. The audiences were so thrilled by his performances in 1968 that plans were made for his return in 1969. Ireland’s First ‘Concert of Champions’ under the direction of Seán Ryan performed in all the major cities of the USA that year. As Labhrás Ó Murchú said at Seán’s Memorial Concert in 1986:

I had the honour in 1969 to tour North America with Seán and a number of other musicians. I remember travelling throughout the United States, and each hall, one after the other packed to capacity. It was quite obvious that each time Seán Ryan came out on stage that the audience was fully aware that they were in the presence of a great artist and he was held in high admiration. It is a great thing that someone is thought so highly of so far away from home. But it does underline in no uncertain manner that Seán Ryan was a giant among giants.

Seán was called to eternity on 15th November 1985.

That he did not live to see his works published is to be regretted but I’m sure it will bring happiness to him now as it does to us to see his long cherished ambition fulfilled. I treasure all the happy memories I have of Seán. I really miss his gentle loving disposition, his calming peaceful influence, and his unique sense of humour, with and charm. I am very happy to be instrumental in making ‘Seán Ryan’s Dream’ come true.

Táimid faoi chomaoin an mhór ag gach duine a chabhraigh linn an leabhar seo a fhoilsiú: Pat Lyons (RIP), Frank McCollam (RIP), Rev John Quinn, Rev PJ Kelly, Paddy O’Brien, Eddie Kelly, Caitríona Ryan agus gach duine a chabhraigh linn. Without the expertise, interest and dedication of Brian, Seán’s son, this book would not have materialised.

I gcomluadar na Aingeal sna flaithis go raibh Seán.

Go gcuir an leabhar seo aoibhneas agus sonas ar ghach léitheoir.