SÉAN MAC AINDREASA – Background
Seán Mac Aindreasa (1940 - 2018) Background – a brief account
Singer, teacher of songs and Irish language activist Sean Mac Aindreasa was born in 1940, into an English-speaking family in Belfast. He achieved fluency in Irish and was an active member of the fledgling Irish language community in Belfast from the 1950’s. He instigated visits from prominent Irish language writers, activists and singers such as Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Seán Bán Mac Grianna and Nioclás Tobín, to strengthen links between Belfast and the Gaeltacht. He was an campaigner for the establishment of the Shaws Road Gaeltacht and the first Gaelscoil in Belfast: Bunscoil Phobal Feirste. He was editor of the Andersontown News from 1976-1988, worked for Lá from 1991-1996, was Managing Editor of the Irish Pages (2002-2015) and worked informally as a teacher and translator.
Seán spent a lot of time in the Donegal Gaeltacht listening to local singers and their songs, and developing long-held friendships, cultural and musical connections, where he and his wife, Áine, became great friends with poet and seanchaí, Seán Bán Mac Grianna. The Donegal singing tradition and style – from the likes of: Seán Bán, Aodh Ó Duibheannaigh, Micí Sheáin Néill Ó Baoill, and, Neidí Frainc Mac Grianna greatly influenced Seán, and is evident in his own singing and delivery. His passion and affection for singing wasn’t limited to one region or dialect alone, however, and listened to singers from all over Ireland, including the likes of: Seosamh Ó hÉanaigh, Nioclás Tóibín, Darach Ó Catháin, Liam Ághas, Pádraig Ó Cuill, and Dara Bán Mac Donnchadha. As a consequence, Cumann Chluain Ard committee organised noteworthy occasions when they invited Seosamh Ó hÉanaigh and Nioclás Tóibín to Belfast to perform in concert (Seán recounts these visits in his interview as Gaeilge with Verena).
Seán Mac Aindreasa’s love of the Irish language and Irish language song are intertwined and a constant source and momentum for research, learning and teaching throughout his life. While he never considered himself a ‘performer’ his intimate knowledge of the language and voracious appetite for not just learning songs, but understanding their context and meaning made him an unrivalled source and teacher. Through his song classes he brought both Irish language and Scots Gaelic songs into the Belfast song community. Inter-community transmission has since resulted in recordings by contemporary Gaelic artists of songs taught by Seán, such as Dónal na Gréine by Doimnic Mac Ghiolla Bhríde and Uiseag Bheag Ruaidh by Grainne Holland. His corpus of song translations is multi-genre ranging from Down by the Sally Gardens to Pink Floyd’s concept album Pigs on the Wing.
In the last twenty years of his life he worked primarily in the field of translation and editing, including many Civil Service documents. He was in constant demand within the Irish language community for translation services many of which are unknown and some uncredited. His work appears across a variety of platforms including newspapers (e.g. Lá, ) and book translations (e.g. The Other Tongues). He was also a literary translator, translating the Irish works of Eoghan Ó Tuairisc and Cathal Ó Searcaigh into English which appear in the journal Irish Pages, of which he was Managing Editor.
Renowned and widely recognised as a procurer, custodian, tutor and expert on traditional – and lesser known – Gaelic songs, as a bulwark for language preservation and promotion, teacher, and man of the people, Seán was ever humble and modest of his work, achievements and accomplishments.
We had the privilege of including a series of Seán’s singing classes as part of the McCracken Summer School festival programme every summer since its inception in the year 2000, and for a number of years thereafter. It was very clear from the outset that every participant thoroughly enjoyed Seán’s classes, and benefitted no end from the overall experience, but particularly enjoyed Seán’s approach and expert knowledge of songs in general. Singing classes remain a central tenet of the festival to this day, and as part of year round arts programmes, in recent years being taught by, Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde, Irial Ó Ceallaigh, and Bláithín Mhic Cana.
In 2020, Cumann Cultúrtha Mhic Reachtain named a Sean-Nós na Fearsaide singing competition in his honour.
Cumann Cultúrtha Mhic Reachtain were delighted to work in partnership with Seán Mac Aindreasa’s family members, to help in any way we could in realising their aim of making a selection of Seán’s singing classes, and recorded singing performances available to the public and wider Irish-language community. Recordings of classes, and songs – some of which were held on Irish Traditional Music Archive tapes, among other sources – were firstly gathered together, then digitised, and finally re-mastered to put on the website.
Seán’s family had kept hold of a cherished collection of old cassette tapes, full of recordings of Seán singing songs of the Gaeltacht, and of a large volume of singing classes he’d taught as well. These had been recorded back at the beginning of the 1990’s, and onwards into the early 2000’s. Among these recordings were singing classes that Seán taught in Glór na nGael’s Belfast offices. A selection of classes, from a wealth of recordings, are available to listen to, and enjoy. An interview carried out by his daughter-in-law, Verena, back in 2011, provides an invaluable insight into his life, love of the Irish language, musical influences, and tales of the time Nioclás Tóibín came to Belfast (in Irish only at this point).
Seán’s clann wanted to share his veneration, love, and interest in songs and singing with others. The lyrics of a selection of chosen songs performed by Seán, appear alongside the recordings, that they may be sang along to, and learned, – the way they would have been in any one of his classes from that ten to fifteen year period. Therein lies the basis for this project.
Without the concept, research, input, and help from Clann Mhic Aindreasa, this project would not have existed or taken place – and therefore all Kudos goes to them. We would also like to mention, and thank: Conradh na Gaeilge, Arts Council NI, Irish Traditional Music Archive, Cló Iar-Chonnacht, and, RedBox Studios who re-mastered the recordings.
Seán’s family would especially like to thank Liz Curtis, who had the foresight to record Seán’s classes, and who donated those collection of tapes to the family to cherish and enjoy.
The first Seán Mac Aindreasa Cup, February 2020. Present, were: Alastair Mac Aindreasa; Doimnic Mac Giolla Bhríde (adjudicator); Colm Mac Aindreasa; Maedhbh Nic Aindreasa; Séimí Mac Aindreasa; Máire Ní Choilm (adjudicator); some of Seán’s grandchildren; Liam Ó Ceallaigh (Corn Mhic Aindreasa Winner 2020, and 2021), and fellow competitors.