Gradam Ceoil TG4
TG4 Gradam Ceoil 2023 is in its 26th year and the awards ceremony will air live on TG4 on Sunday the 23rd April at 9.30pm from University Concert Hall in Limerick. The annual Gradam Ceoil Awards, also known as ‘the Oscars of traditional music’, pay homage to musicians who have advanced, strengthened, and preserved traditional music in Ireland.
The full list of TG4 Gradam Ceoil 2023 recipients reads as follows:
- Ceoltóir / Musician – Mick O’Brien
- Amhránaí / Singer – Síle Denvir
- Ceoltóir Óg/ Young Musician – Méabh Smyth
- Gradam Saoil/ Lifetime Achievement – Fintan Vallelly
- Cumadóir / Composer – Maurice Lennon
- Grúpa Ceoil / Music Group- Mick, Louise, Michelle Mulcahy
- Gradam Comaoine / Outstanding Contribution – Frank McArdle
Musician 2023 will be awarded to Mick O’Brien. Piper and tin whistle player Mick O’Brien was born in Dublin in 1961 and began learning to play the pipes at age 9 from Leo Rowsome, Seán Seery and Mick Touhey at the Thomas Street Pipers’ Club. He later attended classes at Na Píobairí Uilleann and became inspired by the playing of Patsy Touhey. His father, the influential accordion player Dinny O’Brien, was also a significant source of inspiration. Throughout his career, he has conducted masterclasses on the pipes across Ireland, Europe and the US, and performed regularly as a solo artist and with other musicians including the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and also with Norwegian groups Vamp, Hanne Krogh, and Secret Garden.
He is also a successful recording artist and has featured on recordings with The Dubliners, Altan and Charlie Lennon, as well as his own albums May Morning Dew (1996) and The Ancient Voice of Ireland (1999). His 2003 record Kitty Lie Over with fiddle player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh is widely recognised as a major contribution to traditional music in recent decades, as is their 2011 album Deadly Buzz.
In recent years, O’Brien has performed as part of a trio with flute player Emer Mayock and fiddle player Aoife Ní Bhriain. The group has released two albums – Tunes from the Goodman Manuscripts (2013) and More Tunes from the Goodman Manuscripts (2021) – as part of a project focused on music collected by James Goodman in the southwest of Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century.
From Armagh Méabh Smyth is this year’s recipient of the Young Musician 2023 award. Smyth is a fiddle player who has been playing traditional music since the age of 7. She is a former student of the Armagh Pipers Club and her playing is inspired by the rhythmic style of fiddle from the regions of South Ulster and Donegal.
From a musical family (her parents Rosie and Thomas are both fiddle players), Smyth performs regularly as a duo with her brother Tiarnán and the pair released a self-titled EP in 2017. In the same year, they were semi-finalists in the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Musician of the Year award. Earlier this year, she competed in the final of the Seán Ó Riada Gold Medal Competition alongside her sister Annie Smyth. She won the Ed Reavy Fiddle Player of the Year award in 2016, and, in 2021, she received first prize at the Fiddler of London competition. Smyth also featured in Sruth – the TG4 series on young musicians, and last month was announced as one of six recipients of the Arts Council of Northern Ireland’s Young Musicians’ Platform Award for 2023.
This year’s Lifetime Achievement 2023 goes to Fintan Vallely. Fintan Vallely is a flute player, author, songwriter and educator, born in rural county Armagh in 1949. He played whistle, flute and uilleann pipes from his teenage years, has recorded several albums, including Fintan Vallely – Traditional Irish Flute Music (1979), The Starry Lane to Monaghan (1992), and Merrijig Creek (2021), in addition to touring across Ireland, in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia.
He published the first tutor for the Irish flute Timber – the Flute Tutor in 1986, went on to study ethnomusicology at Queens University Belfast, and from 1994–99 was The Irish Times’ and Sunday Tribune’s traditional music correspondent and reviewer. In 1999, he edited Companion to Irish Traditional Music—an A–Z encyclopaedia of traditional music in Ireland which involved more than 200 writers. In 2011, a second edition was published and, in 2023, a third edition will be published by Cork University Press. His latest book is a major history of the bodhrán.
He has published numerous writings include biographies, and academic journal articles, chapters and reviews. He has been an organiser of major conferences in traditional music including the 1996 Crosbhealach an Cheoil / The Crossroads Conference with Liz Doherty, Hammy Hamilton, Eithne Vallely and Cormac Breathnach.
As a lecturer in Irish traditional music, he has taught at the National University of Ireland, Maynooth, University of Ulster, Trinity College Dublin, Dundalk Institute of Technology, Queen’s University Belfast, and the University of Newcastle. In 2012, he developed Compánach, an audio-visual concert interpretation of his Companion book, which he toured internationally with musicians including fiddle player Gerry O’Connor, piper Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn, dancer Sibéal Davitt, singer Máire Ní Choilm, singer and fiddle-player Róisín Chambers, fiddle player Liz Doherty, singer Karan Casey, and dancer Emma O’Sullivan. This music is also on CD and DVD. He teaches flute at Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy in Co. Clare annually and also at workshops in Ireland and abroad.
Maurice Lennon will be awarded Composer 2023. Fiddle player and composer Maurice Lennon was born in 1958 to the Lennon family of traditional musicians in Co. Leitrim. His father was the well-known fiddle player and teacher Ben Lennon – who received the Gradam Ceoil Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 – and his uncle, Charlie Lennon is a renowned composer, pianist and fiddle player who also received the composer award in 2006.
Lennon began playing traditional music at age 13. At age 17 he won the Senior Fiddle Championship at the All-Ireland Fleadh Cheoil in 1977. In the same year, he founded the folk-rock band Stockton’s Wing with flute and whistle player Paul Roche, banjo and mandolin player Kieran Hanrahan, guitarist and singer Tony Callinan and bodhrán player Tommy Hayes. The band grew international success in the 1980’s and 1990’s and released many albums including Stockton’s Wing (1978), Take a Chance (1980), and Full Flight (1986).
After leaving the band, Lennon’s solo career has seen him collaborate with singers Seán Keane, Ronnie Drew, Finbar Furey and Johnny McEvoy, as well as performing a central role in the music of Irish dance production Ragús. His most famous composition ‘If Ever You Were Mine’ was recorded by Cherish the Ladies and featured on their 1992 album The Back Door, and also by Canadian fiddle player Natalie MacMaster. Other artists to record his compositions include The Kilfenora Céilí Band, Blazin’ Fiddles, Noel Hill, Brian Rooney, Karen Tweed, Pride of New York, Liam O’Brien, Jerry O’Sullivan, Cathy Vard and Liam Lawton, The London Lasses and many more.
Lennon has released a number of acclaimed albums as a solo artist, including Brian Boru – High King Of Tara (2001) and his solo fiddle album The Little Ones (2013), which included compositions ‘The Road to Garrison’ and ‘The Belltable Waltz’.
Conamara singer Síle Denvir is this year’s Singer 2023. Síle Denvir is a sean-nós singer, harpist, and academic whose music is deeply influenced by the Irish language, her upbringing in the Conamara Gaeltacht and the sean-nós style of the region.
In addition to performing as a solo artist, Denvir is a founding member of the traditional band Líadan and has collaborated with many musicians throughout her career including The Chieftains, Barry Kerr, Liam Ó Maonlaí, Martin Hayes and Úna Monaghan. In 2018, she took part in the world premiere of Mícheál Ó Suilleabháin’s Fill Arís, performing with Iarla Ó Lionáird, Lillis Ó Laoire and the National Symphony Orchestra, and in 2020, her singing featured on Rogha Raelach Volume 1, traditional music label Raelach Records’ first compilation album.
She is also a Lecturer at Dublin City University and is particularly interested in Irish language song in a modern context. She has published two books on Conamara songwriters, Tom a’ tSeoighe: Amhráin (2020) and Ciarán Ó Fátharta: Amhráin (2008). Other research projects include a video series on the work of Tom a’ tSeoighe for TG4 Molscéal in 2020 and a CD and booklet on the music from the plays of Patrick Pearse – Caithréim: Ceol agus Amhráin ó Dhrámaí an Phiarsaigh.
Denvir is an accomplished composer and the music director of the new youth sean-nós group Bláth na hÓige. She regularly contributes to TV and radio programmes on TG4, and in 2023 will release her next album, Anamnesis – a recording of sean-nós songs in collaboration with producer John Reynolds and cellist Caroline Dale.
Last year a new award was introduced, the Music Group award and this year it goes to Mick, Louise, Michelle Mulcahy. Mick, Louise and Michelle Mulcahy are a family of musicians from Abbeyfeale, Co. Limerick. All three are successful solo musicians as well as being highly regarded as a trio. They have recorded four albums together, representing the styles and repertoires of Sliabh Luachra, Clare and East Galway – The Mulcahy Family (1999), Notes From the Heart (2005), Reelin in Tradition (2009), and The Reel Note (2016).
Mick (father to Louise and Michelle) was born in Kilmainham, Co. Kerry, and is a renowned traditional musician who plays B/C, C#/D, C/C# and D/D# systems of accordion, as well as melodeon and concertina. He was a member of the Brosna Céilí Band – winners of the All-Ireland title in 1972 – and also a composer and recording musician who released two solo albums, Mick Mulcahy (1976), and Mick Mulcahy and Friends (1990).
Louise began playing the tin whistle at age 5 and later moved onto the flute, with Matt Molloy and Eamon Cotter as significant influences on her style. At age 13 she started to learn the uilleann pipes – taught by Dave Hegarty in Tralee and in monthly masterclasses at Na Píobairí Uilleann – and is now a highly regarded musician in a largely male-dominated instrument. She is a performing musician, a tutor in the pipes and flute, and released solo album Tuning the Road in 2014.
In 2021, she was awarded the Arts Council Markievicz Award (in honour of Constance de Markievicz), and in 2022, she was the winner of the Arts Council and National Concert Hall Liam O’Flynn Award. In 2021, she presented Mná na bPíob on TG4 – a feature-length documentary film about a group of lesser-known female pipers.
Michelle also learned the whistle from age 5 and went on to play the button accordion, concertina, harp, fiddle, piano and melodeon. In 2006 she was awarded the Young Musician Award at the TG4 Gradam Ceoil, and in 2007, she performed on the Bill Whelan album The Connemara Suite alongside Zoë Conway and the Irish Chamber Orchestra. She is also an academic and her PhD research topic exploring the harp traditions of Burma and Ireland is the first of its kind.
Gradam Comaoine TG4 2023 goes to Frank McArdle. Frank McArdle is a musician, educator and founder of the St Roch’s Céilí Band in Glasgow. Having grown up in the small town of Dalmellington in Ayrshire, he moved to Glasgow and worked as a maths teacher in St Roch’s Secondary School where he founded a céilí band for students – the St Roch’s Ceilí Band – in 1978.