Archbishop Eamon Martin launches book exploring the Masses of Seán and Peadar Ó Riada

8 Nov, 2017 | News

A new book exploring the Masses of Irish composers Seán and his son Peadar Ó Riada has been written by Dr John O’Keeffe, Director of Sacred Music at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

The Masses of Seán and Peadar Ó Riada: Explanations in Vernacular Chant, was launched at Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, on 7 November, by Archbishop Eamon Martin, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, who was joined on the night by Reverend Professor Michael Mullaney, President of Saint Patrick’s College, as well as by Peader Ó Riada and Dr John O’Keeffe.

Following the launch, a special concert in memory of Reverend Professor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta was held in the College chapel, with music provided by Peadar Ó Riada and the Cór Chúil Aodha, the renowned parish male voice choir from the Cork Gaeltacht in Coolea.

Speaking at the launch, Archbishop Martin said, ‘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.’

He continued, ‘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.’

Archbishop Martin went on to say, ‘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.’

‘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!’

Archbishop Martin concluded, ‘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.’

The full text of Archbishop Martin address at the launch can be found on

Seán Ó Riada’s Ceol an Aifrinn was the first Mass setting composed in the Irish Language and contains the iconic settings of Ar nAthair, Is Naofa and Ag Críost an síol. This new book, published on the 50th anniversary of the Vatican II instruction Musicam Sacram, examines the three Mass settings written by Seán Ó Riada and his son Peadar Ó Riada. For more information on the new book, see



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