Limerick mourns the loss of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin

Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, one of Ireland’s best-known musicians, composers and academics, has sadly passed away aged 67.

The family of Ó Súilleabháin, who was Emeritus Professor of Music at the University of Limerick and Founder/Director at the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance, announced his death after a prolonged illness.

The Irish World Academy says: “Mícheál was the driving force behind the establishment and growth of the Irish World Academy since his appointment as Chair of Music in 1994. Those of us on the UL campus who have had the privilege of working with him were swept along by his incredible energy, joie de vivre and vision.”

“Mícheál has been a major international figure in the arts, and has been particularly important as an educator, composer and performer,” it was added.

“However, for many of us who knew him personally, it is his generosity of spirit, his unique turn of phrase, his thoughtfulness and his irrepressible energy which come to mind today. He is irreplaceable but his legacy is assured.”

Hailing from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, Ó Súilleabháin also recorded a series of pioneering solo albums which re-positioned his chosen instrument, the piano, at the heart of Irish traditional music – while also revealing the intersections where classical and traditional music could co-exist.

His richly evocative collaborations with Mel Mercier, who succeeded him as Chair at UL, were a celebration of Ó Suilleabháin’s sparkling sense of humour and love of musical exploration.

UL President, Des Fitzgerald says: “Ó Súilleabháin left a rich legacy through his own music, as well as the Academy he founded, which attracted students from over 50 countries who enrolled on undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Music Therapy, Contemporary Dance Performance, Irish Traditional Dance Performance, Community Music, Festive Arts, Irish Traditional Music Performance, Classical String Performance, Ethnomusicology and others.”

Mayor of the City and County of Limerick James Collins also offered his condolences following the announcement:

“On behalf of the people of Limerick I would like to express sympathy to the family of Mícheál following his death,” Cllr Collins said.

“Limerick has been made all the better for having Mícheál here.  His passion and drive for music and performance have been woven into the fabric of Limerick’s rich cultural tapestry while he was hugely instrumental in the relocation of the Irish Chamber Orchestra from Dublin to Limerick.

“He will be sadly missed.  Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.”

About Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin

Ó Súilleabháin’s awards included Honorary Doctorates of Music from University College Cork, (2005)  and The Royal conservatoire of Scotland (2017), Ollamh na hÉigse (Inaugural award by Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 2006); Honorary Alumnus Award (Boston College) and the O’Donnell Chair of Irish Studies from the University of Notre Dame (2012).

He studied at University College Cork (B.Mus.1972, MA 1973) with the composers Aloys Fleischmann and Seán Ó Riada, and in Queens University Belfast (PhD 1987) with the ethnomusicologists John Blacking and John Baily.

Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin produced a series of CD recordings in America, the UK, and Ireland on the traditional music of the Shetland Islands, Donegal, Cape Breton Island and on Irish traditional musicians in the USA and in England.


Mícheál is survived by his wife Professor Helen Phelan and their son Luke; sons Eoin (Andrea) and Mícheál (Moley), and their mother Dr Nóirín Ní Riain, and by his brother John (Patricia) and many nieces and nephews.

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