Ciarán Mac Mathúna

Ciarán Mac Mathúna, (26 November 1925 – 11 December 2009)[1] was an Irish broadcaster and music collector. He was a recognised authority on Irish music and lectured extensively on the subject. He travelled around Ireland, England, Scotland and America collecting music.[2]

Ciarán Mac Mathúna
Born(1925-11-26)26 November 1925
Died11 December 2009(2009-12-11) (aged 84)
OccupationFolklorist, Broadcaster
Known forCollecting music; Mo Cheol Thú

According to Sam Smyth in the Irish Independent, Mac Mathúna was "on a mission to collect songs and stories, music, poetry and dance before they were buried under the coming tsunami of pop music".[3]

He presented Mo Cheol Thú for 35 years. Upon his retirement in 2005, MD of RTÉ Radio Adrian Moynes described Mac Mathúna as "inseparable from RTÉ Radio".[2] Upon his death in 2009, the Irish Independent described him as "a national treasure".[4]

Early life and education

Mac Mathúna was born in Limerick,[5] spending his early years in Mulgrave Street. He was schooled at CBS Sexton St, and later graduated from University College, Dublin with a BA in modern Irish and Latin. Subsequently, he completed an MA in Irish.[6]


After college Mac Mathúna worked as a teacher and later at the Placenames Commission. In 1954, he joined Radio Éireann where his job was to record Irish traditional musicians playing in their own locales.[6] This entailed visiting such places as Sliabh Luachra, County Clare and County Sligo, and the resulting recordings featured in his radio programmes:

Director-General of RTÉ Cathal Goan later recalled that Mac Mathúna interviewed him for his first job at the station.[10] Goan assisted in the organisation of Mac Mathúna's music collection for the RTÉ Libraries and Archives.[11]

Mac Mathúna's long-running Sunday morning radio series Mo Cheol Thú (You are my music) began in 1970 and continued until November 2005, when he retired from broadcasting.[2][5] Each 45-minute programme offered a miscellany of archive music, poetry and folklore, mainly of Irish origin. It was one of radio's longest running programmes.[2][5] The last episode was broadcast on 27 November 2005 at 8.10 am.[2]

Mac Mathúna won two Jacob's Awards, in 1969 and 1990, for his RTÉ Radio programmes promoting Irish traditional music.[5] He received the Freedom of Limerick city in June 2004.[5] He was also awarded honorary doctorates by NUI Galway and the University of Limerick.[12] In 2007, he received the Musicians Award at the 10th annual TG4 Traditional Music Awards.[13]

Joe Kennedy in the Sunday Independent in 2007 compared Mac Mathúna to "an amiable rock, rolling gently along, still picking up some moss and morsels of music that he may have missed".[14]

Personal and later life

His wife Dolly MacMahon (using the English version of her surname) was a singer of traditional songs. She came from Galway and met her husband in 1955.[15] He had two sons named Padraic and Ciarán, one daughter named Déirdre, and four grandchildren at the time of his death: Eoin, Colm, Conor and Liam.[16]

He died on 11 December 2009.[5][17][18]

Taoiseach Brian Cowen paid tribute, saying: “He was encyclopaedic in his knowledge of Irish traditional music and its artists and for many decades, wherever good Irish music was played and enjoyed, Ciarán was to be found in its midst”.[17] Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism Martin Cullen described Mac Mathúna as "a man of great intellect with a wonderful commitment to and understanding of Irish folklore and the traditional arts".[19] Niall Stokes, editor of Hot Press, spoke of being "in the process of losing a great generation of Irish folk pioneers" — musician Liam Clancy had died just days previously – and called for a "[continuation of] justice to the extraordinary work they did in reviving the true spirit of Irish folk and traditional music and re-instating it at the heart of the Irish experience [...] in our public policy, and in particular our broadcasting framework".[19] A billboard advertisement for Mo Cheol Thú with the caption “The Touch of the Master’s Hand’’ was positioned in Terenure College Chapel where his corpse was carried.[20][21]

Mac Mathúna's funeral on 15 December 2009 was attended by hundreds of people, including aides-de-camp of the President and Taoiseach, RTÉ Director-General Cathal Goan, poet Séamus Heaney and others.[22][23] Heaney said at the funeral:

Over a lifetime he helped the population of Ireland to realise the beauty, strength and value of their native cultural possessions, above all their musical culture. The musical instrument which Ciaran played to magical effect, and which entranced generations of listeners, was his own voice.[24]

Musicians to perform at the ceremony included Peadar Ó Ríada, Cór Cúil Aodha and members of The Chieftains and Planxty.[22] The corpse was then taken to Mount Jerome Crematorium.[22] Journalist Kevin Myers said Mac Mathúna's legacy would be the "rebirth of Irish music", adding:

Well, if Ciarán Mac Mathúna can die, I suppose anyone can. Actually, I had always thought that he was immortal. He certainly appeared to have all the ingredients.[25]

See also


  1. Pine, Richard (11 January 2010). "Ciarán Mac Mathúna obituary". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 28 February 2010.
  2. "Legendary broadcaster Mac Mathúna to retire". RTÉ. 14 November 2005. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
  3. Sam Smyth (12 December 2009). "Tributes flood in for veteran RTÉ broadcaster". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  4. "Thanks for the music, Ciaran". Irish Independent. 14 December 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  5. "Broadcaster Ciarán Mac Mathúna dies". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 11 December 2009. Archived from the original on 16 January 2010. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
  6. The Irish Times, "BELOVED JOURNEYMAN", 1 February 1996
  7. Seán Laffey. "FROM VAUDEVILLE TO VIDEO". Retrieved 18 December 2009. His place in Ireland was taken by Ciarán MacMathuna who presented Ceolta Tire and Job of Journey Work.
  8. Jackie Hayden (26 October 2004). "He was Ireland's answer to Bob Dylan". Hot Press. Retrieved 11 December 2009. “By the time I'd got a job I was aware of The Clancy Brothers and used to listen to A Job of Journeywork, presented by Ciaran Mac Mathuna on Radio Éireann. But while on holidays in Blackpool, England one day I heard The Beatles' 'Twist And Shout' and I thought it was fabulous, so exciting. I still love it. So I became a fan of The Beatles, Buddy Holly, The Stones, The Everly Brothers too. I had a foot in both camps, the rock and roll and the folk, but there was Dylan to bridge the two."
  9. "Pioneer of Irish folk revival for The Crane". Galway Independent. 28 January 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
  10. Seán Mac Connell (16 December 2009). "Broadcaster Mac Mathúna taught us to treasure our music, poet tells mourners". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 December 2009. RTÉ director general Cathal Goan, who recalled being interviewed for his first job in the station by Ciarán, said he had created a new hearth for the Irish people who listened to his programmes.
  11. "Tributes Paid To Ciarán Mac Mathúna". Irish Film and Television Network. 14 December 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2009. RTÉ Director General Cathal Goan reflected that he owed a personal debt of gratitude to Ciarán MacMathúna, who had given him his own introduction to Irish music. His first job in the RTÉ Archives had arisen through cataloguing the music and song collected by Ciarán.
  12. The Irish Times, "'The thrill was in the pursuit of the tunes, as much as it was in their capture' ", 26 November 2005
  13. "CRAIC IS CEOL IN CORK WITH TG4 THIS EASTER". TG4. 22 March 2007. Archived from the original on 18 February 2013. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
  14. "Travels with the last real balladeers". Sunday Independent. 25 February 2007. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
  15. "Dolly MacMahon sings "Love is Pleasing"". Retrieved 22 November 2009.
  16. Kitty Holland (14 December 2009). "Ciarán MacMathúna's funeral Mass tomorrow". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 December 2009. He is survived by his widow Dolly, sons Padraic, Ciarán and daughter Déirdre, and grandchildren Eoin, Colm, Conor and Liam.
  17. "Former broadcaster Ciaran MacMathúna dies". The Irish Times. 11 December 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
  18. "Broadcaster Ciarán Mac Mathúna dies". RTÉ. 11 December 2009. Retrieved 11 December 2009.
  19. "Ciarán MacMathúna dies". Hot Press. 12 December 2009. Retrieved 12 December 2009. Full statements from Niall Stokes and Martin Cullen: "Coming hard on the heels of the death of Liam Clancy, the passing of Ciarán MacMathúna is a signal that we are in the process of losing a great generation of Irish folk pioneers," Hot Press editor Niall Stokes said. "Let us hope that, in our public policy, and in particular our broadcasting framework, we continue to do justice to the extraordinary work they did in reviving the true spirit of Irish folk and traditional music and re-instating it at the heart of the Irish experience." [...] The Minister for the Arts, Martin Cullen, aIso paid tribute: "I was saddened to hear of the passing of the distinguished Irish broadcaster, Ciarán Mac Mathúna who contributed so much to the cultural life of this country, not only through his television and radio career with RTÉ but also as a collector of Irish music, poetry and song. A man of great intellect with a wonderful commitment to and understanding of Irish folklore and the traditional arts, Ciarán made it a priority over the course of his long life to travel and meet musicians and to collect Irish music and stories, preserving them for future generations. He has left us with a wonderful legacy. An accomplished producer and presenter for RTÉ, he will be best remembered for his Sunday morning radio programme Mo Cheol Thú where his wisdom and love of Irish music and the written word shone through. Ciarán Mac Mathúna was widely admired and deeply respected and appreciated by all who knew him. My sincere sympathy is extended to his wife Dolly McMahon and their three children and extended family at this time."
  20. Michael O'Regan (15 December 2009). "Praise at removal for 'a gentle person'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 December 2009. An RTÉ billboard advertising one of his long-running radio programmes, Mo Cheo Thu, and bearing the inscription "The Touch of the Master's Hand'’, was placed in the foyer of the church.
  21. Sam Smyth (15 December 2009). "Old friends pay respects to Mac Mathuna". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  22. "Hundreds attend Mac Mathúna funeral". RTÉ News and Current Affairs. 15 December 2009. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  23. Seán Mac Connell (15 December 2009). "Funeral of broadcaster takes place". The Irish Times. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  24. Jason O'Brien (16 December 2009). "'It was such a shame he wasn't here, he missed a great funeral'". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
  25. Kevin Myers (15 December 2009). "Kevin Myers: The rebirth of Irish music is Ciaran Mac Mathuna's legacy". Irish Independent. Retrieved 18 December 2009.
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