Donegal man explores the wealth of Irish classical music

Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh's new book, "Sunlight and Shadows", is a reader-friendly listener's guide.

Carolyn Farrar


Carolyn Farrar


Donegal man explores the wealth of Irish classical music

Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh.

A Donegal musician, songwriter, artist and writer has produced a valuable new listener’s guide to help readers explore a musical genre he feels has not received the recognition it deserves: Irish classical music.

For Seoirse Ó Dochartaigh of Kinnego Bay in Inishowen, “Sunlight and Shadows, A Listener’s Guide to Irish Classical Music”, is something of a culmination of a deep interest in Irish classical music that he has nurtured since he was a student in the mid-1960s.

Irish Music magazine said, “The impressive work contains a wealth of illustrations and fascinating information making for absorbing reading, viewing and listening.” A CD comes with the book.

The book goes beyond the Irish classical canon. While Ó Riada, Carolan, Balfe, Ó Súilleabháin and other luminaries receive the attention they deserve, Seoirse’s passion extends across the spectrum of Irish classical composers and composers that Irish music has inspired, men and women.

You may be surprised to find Beethoven here – he arranged 76 Irish folk songs – but the book is filled with such delightful surprises.

Seoirse studied fine art at at college, where he also developed his interest in music. When he pored through the alphabet of classical composers he started thinking about Irish composers.

”I picked up a few albums and I liked them very much,” Seoirse said. They were scarce at the time – the world’s first classical LP was only released in 1948, and Irish and UK classical LPs did not appear until the 1950s.

“But over the years I began exploring and collecting as many albums as I could, and CDs came on the market so I said, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to start another collection.’” Seoirse now has 300 CDs of Irish classical music, as well as an enviable collection of reel-to-reel recordings of Irish classical broadcasts.

This guide is rooted in this collection, detailing 139 recordings. His reader-friendly style makes it easy to pick up, offering Seoirse’s views of the recordings as well as insights into the works and composers. The volume is packed with images, including Seoirse’s own art and the cover of each CD.

"People with a love of music will get the stories behind each composer and how important they were,” he said.

There are many Donegal-related entries, such as the story of the Sweeney family of Kilmacrennan, from whom composer and arranger Herbert Hughes (1882-1937) collected such songs as, “She Moves through the Fair” and “My Lagan Love”.

Herbert “composed this beautiful piano accompaniment to them, which was very highly rated all over the world,” Seoirse said. World-rated sopranos, baritones and tenors brought the music to a new audience.

Seoirse still has many more CDs to write about, making volume two a possibility. “I'll leave it for a bit, but yeah, it could be done,” he said, smiling.

"Sunlight and Shadows” was launched in an evening of stories and song at the Pearse Museum in Dublin on April 22nd. The book is available in shops and online at