Esker North (Drumlish) musician John O’Sullivan was recently awarded the NYAH ‘Jig of Life Award’ in recognition of a lifetime’s contribution to traditional music. The 75-year-old fiddle player told the Leader that he was “privileged” to be on an honours list with previous recipients such as Gerry Gorman and Ben Lennon.
“It was a really brilliant night. We had some brilliant musicians and there was singing, dancing and music,” said Mr O’Sullivan.
He added: “It was a privilege to be able to sit down with people like Gerry Gorman, Noel Sweeney, Laura and Liam Doherty, Maria Matthews, Darren Moloney, Seán Owens, Pat Finnerty, and many many more.”
Although John was surrounded by traditional music from an early age, he did not take up the fiddle himself until his twenties.
“I was always involved in music though. It was in my family. I would have been influenced by music in my younger days at the house. There were fiddlers like my uncle, Jimmy Whitney (Esker), Michael McNally (Aughnacliffe), and Paddy Reynolds (Legga),” he said. Speaking about Paddy Reynolds, Mr O’Sullivan recalled that that particular fiddler achieved notable recording success in the United States and played duet with artists such as Andy McGann.
“My aunt (Mary Jordan) also played the fiddle, and my sister, Joan Barrett, played the accordion,” said Mr O’Sullivan.
Looking at some of the highlights of his career, Mr O’Sullivan points to his experience with the Fr. Quinn Ceilí Band (Gortletteragh).
“Being part of this meant that I could play with musicians like the McNamaras, the Morrows, the McGoverns, Griers, Irene Guckian, and Jimmy McLoughlin,” said Mr O’Sullivan, a retired secondary school teacher.
During his academic career, Mr O’Sullivan taught Latin, English and Technical Graphics. He spent 17 years working in Kilkenny, and some time teaching at Ballymahon Convent of Mercy prior to his retirement.
For 45 years, Mr O’Sullivan has been married to Mary, and together they raised a family of five children; Kevin, Brendan, Paul, Niall and Siobhán.
Looking to the future of fiddle-playing in Ireland, Mr O’Sullivan believes the tradition is alive and well.
“I think it’s better today than ever. There are so many young people now who are excellent,” he said. “
Within his own family, Mr O’Sullivan is proud to say that the music tradition is alive and well.
“My son Brendan is a full-time musician who has played with Riverdance. I did one track with him on a CD,” he said proudly.
When asked what attracts him to traditional music, the award recipient said: “It’s meeting all the local musicians in the sessions. There’s a great session every Sunday night in The Bent Elbow, Drumlish at 8pm. Our Master of Ceremonies on those nights is Martin Donohoe (Shannonside FM).”
Speaking of the award night, which was held at J’s Hotel in Mohill, County Leitrim, Mr O’Sullivan recalled: “One of the highlights of the night was the performance of Zoe Conway and her husband John McIntyre.
“It was nice to be surrounded by all my friends and musicians that I generally play with. It was great to have family there too. It was a full-house,” he said.
The NYAH County Cavan Traditional Festival takes place annually and has come to represent a time when musicians and singers from all aspects of the traditional music scene come together to celebrate. The 2012 festival took place in March.