Go raibh míle maith agat, a Athair Uí Mhaoileanaigh, Uachtarán Choláiste Phadraig, Maigh Nuad, go raibh mile maith agat as an cuireadh cineálta a thug tú domh teacht anseo agus as an fhéile mhór a chuir tú romhainn an tráthnóna seo.

A chairde, nach sainiúil an teacht le chéile seo! Smaoinigí ar an fháth a thug orainn ‘theacht. Ár ndúil sa cheol ? Ár n-urraim don Ghaeilge? Ár suim sa liotúirge? Ár meas ar an Chanadh Greagóireach? Ár gchuimhne cheanúil ar an Ollamh Pádraig Ó Fiannachta? Agus ar ndóighe ár meas mór ar an obair iontach a rinne Seán Ó Riada, a mhac Peadar, agus Cór iomráiteach Chúil Aodha? Ár gcairdeas leis an Dochtúir Seán Ó Caoimh agus sinn ag smaoineamh ar a cheangal le ceol agus le canadh liotúirgeach?

Tráthnóna ceiliúrtha atá ar siúl againn, comóradh agus gabhail buíochais, agus is mór an phribhléid domh bheith ag comóradh in éineacht libh.

[Thank you Father Mullaney, President of Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth, for your kind words of welcome and for your hospitality this evening. Friends what a unique gathering this is! Consider what has brought us together this evening? Our love for music? Our respect for the Irish language? Our interest in the liturgy? Our appreciation for Gregorian chant? Our fond memory of Professor Padraig Ó Fiannachta? Our admiration for the magnificent contribution the late Sean Ó Riada, his son Peadar and the great Cór Chúil Aodha? Our friendship with Dr John O’Keeffe and our gratitude for his ongoing and unstinting commitment to liturgical music and chant? This is an evening of celebration, commemoration and thanksgiving and I feel privileged to be with you].

In 1973, my first year at Saint Columb’s College in Derry, I was introduced almost simultaneously to the beauty of Gregorian Chant and to the sacred music of Seán Ó Riada. As a twelve year old, I didn’t fully appreciate our music teacher’s insistence that in sacred music, the melody, however beautiful, must be the servant of the text, but it is a lesson that has stayed with me since. After all, the text in this case is God’s Word, the text is Prayer; the role of the melody is to lift the words up to God in praise or petition. And so when our schola sang the verses to the Christmas introit, Puer Natus Est, I sincerely believed we were not performing, but praying: Cantate Domino Canticum Novum – Sing a new song to the Lord! Likewise when we sang “agus maith duinn ar bhfiaca” from Seán Ó Riada’s brand new Mass, Ceol an Aifreann.

Speaking of new songs … we were proud to be singing the words of the Mass in our own language. Thanks to Seán Ó Riada we could now praise God in our mother tongue, as the Second Vatican Council had encouraged all God’s people to do. Ó Riada was already known to us – in the music room we loved to turn up the volume for Mise Éire – enjoying the quirkiness of Róisín Dubh played on the French Horn – but our teacher impressed on us that the greatest honour was to sing the prayers of the Mass in Irish words and melodies which were every bit as beautiful as the haunting and mysterious Latin chants that had been passed down to us over centuries.

Is amhlaidh is fearrde an onóir domh bheith páirteach sa seoladh an tráthnóna seo agus meas againn ar an obair scolartha atá déanta ag Seán Ó Caoimh ar a leaganacha cheoil, beagnach caoga bliain ó scriobh O Riada a chéad leagan cheoil den Ár nAthair. Agus is onóir eile domh sin a dhéanamh i mAlma Mater, Coláiste Phadraig Maigh Nuad.

[All the more honour it is for me, then, to be part of this launch evening for John O’Keeffe’s scholarly study of the Ó Riada Mass settings, almost fifty years since Seán first scribed his setting of the Ar nAthair. And to do so here in my alma mater of Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth].

Ó Riada’s Mass setting was a favourite during our seminary days – especially when Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich visited, drawing smiles all round with his gravelly intoning of the Ar nAthair! It is fitting that we should launch John’s work here in Maynooth, not only because of his tremendous enthusiasm and leadership of liturgical music here for the past quarter of a century, but also because of Maynooth’s unique connection with Ó Riada and Cór Chúil Aodha with names like Rev Professor Michael Sheehan (who composed the words of Ag Críost an síol in 1916), Professor Charles O’Callaghan whose lecture about Musicam Sacram at Glenstal Abbey inspired Ó Riada to think about composing for the liturgy, President Tomás Ó Fiaich (who invited the choir to sing here in the late 1960s), Professor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta (a great friend and encourager of the choir) and now of course Dr John O’Keeffe, whose foundational study of the music of Seán and Peadar Ó Riada is being launched here this evening.

Maynooth is proud of its distinguished history of sacred music and chant, going back to the time of Rev Heinrich Bewerunge and continued on by his successors – through Latin, into the vernacular, and down to the present day. Saint Patrick’s College and Maynooth University together remain at the heart of the practice and study of liturgical music and chant performance in this country.

Five years ago Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI spoke to a gathering of Church musicians. He reflected in particular on the relationship between sacred song and the new evangelisation. He pointed to the role that sacred music can have in helping others to rediscover God in their lives; how music can bring out the power of God’s word and the riches of the Christian message.

Pope Benedict spoke about Saint Augustine and many others who were attracted to God through the beauty of liturgical music and sacred song. He gave the example of Paul Claudel, the French poet and dramatist who at the age of 18 had a profound experience of God during Christmas Eve Vespers in Notre Dame in Paris. It happened during the singing of the Magnificat. He wrote: “At that moment, in a twinkling, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed … with such a strong conviction … that, after that moment, no reasoning, no circumstance of my troubled life, was able to shake or touch my faith.”

Of course we must realise that it is not our music or our singing that can convert others to God. It is God himself, working through the beauty and the words of our music and singing who can call people to him and give them the grace to respond to his love. Our role as music ministers, as music missionaries, is simply to bring the very best of our gifts, as Seán and Peadar have done, to the task of praising God, and then to leave the rest to God and the power of the Spirit to move others and build up their faith.

That is why Pope Benedict said we must try to “show how the Church may be the place where beauty feels at home”! The music we choose, the quality of our singing and our playing must be ‘prayer- ful’ and befitting of worship.

When music of beauty is chosen, which is inspired by our faith, and is offered to God from the very best of our efforts, God can work through it to touch the souls of others, nourish their faith, and bring them closer to him. And that is when our sacred music and liturgy becomes truly for the glory of God and the sanctification of the faithful!

Thank you Dr O’Keeffe, to Cork University Press, and to all who worked with you in helping to produce this important and scholarly work. Thank you Peadar and Cór Chúil Aodha in anticipation of the musical treat that is in store for us! Thank you Grainne and John’s family and friends who supported and encouraged him to complete this labour of love! And of course thank you John. Your unique combination of musical skills and interests, your vast expertise and keen insight into liturgical music, past and present, and your humble, warmth of character is a gift to Maynooth, to our country and to the universal Church. Continue to sing that new song to the Lord, continue to lift up our hearts and minds and souls to God, the source of all beauty and truth.

A chairde, is mór an onóir domh an leabhar seo ‘The Masses of Seán and Peadar Ó Riada: Explorations in Vernacular Chant’ leis an Dochtúir Seán Ó Caoimh, foilsithe ag Cork University Press a sheoladh, Comhghairdeachas leat, a Sheain, agus comhghairdeachas le gach duine a chuidigh leat.

[Friends, it gives me great pleasure to launch here at Saint Patrick’s College Maynooth The Masses of Seán and Peadar Ó Riada: Explorations in Vernacular Chant by Dr John O’Keeffe, and published by Cork University Press. Congratulations John, and to all who made this possible].