RIP Singer and Collector Seán Corcoran
The singer and collector Seán Corcoran has passed away aged 74. He leaves behind a substantial legacy of music collecting and recordings.
Born in 1946, Corcoran grew up in Clogherhead and Drogheda in County Louth. He was surrounded by music from his childhood – his paternal grandmother was a fiddle-player and concertina-player and his maternal grandfather was a singer.
He began singing at Irish-language Feis Ceoil competitions and while still at school started to seek out local traditional singers. In 1966, he came to know the singer Mary Ann Carolan (1902–85) from Tinure in County Louth, who had a significant repertoire. Corcoran later wrote the notes for the album of her singing released on Topic Records. In the 1960s, he was also a member of The Rakish Paddies with Mick Moloney and Paul Brady.
From c. 1970, Corcoran worked as a collector for Breandán Breathnach and also assisted with the music journal Ceol. With Niall Fennell, Dave Smith and Tom Crean he was a member of the vocal group The Press Gang who released an album of the same name in 1976. In 1977, with Eddie Clarke, Maeve Donnelly and Mairéad Ní Dhomhnaill, he released the album Sailing into Walpole’s Marsh on the Green Linnet label. In the late 1970s he was also the director of Féile na Bóinne, the Drogheda folk music festival.
Corcoran went on to study ethnomusicology with John Blacking at Queen’s University Belfast and from 1979 worked as a collector of songs and music in West Fermanagh for the Arts Council of Northern Ireland. This work resulted in the production of a 1986 book and cassette titled Here is a Health: Songs, music and stories of an Ulster community. He also collected for the Irish Traditional Music Archive from 1994 until 2001.
Corcoran, also a bouzouki player, formed the band Cran with flute-player Desi Wilkinson and uilleann piper Neil Martin and they released their debut album The Crooked Stair in 1995. Martin was then succeeded by piper Ronan Browne and the group went on to release four more albums, including Black Black Black (1998), Lover’s Ghost (2000), Music from the Edge of the World (2002) and Dally & Stray (2014). The trio also toured internationally, notably in the UK and Europe, Canada and Japan, and received wide acclaim for their broad repertoire and creative approach to the music.
Corcoran contributed a number of articles and essays to various publications over the years, including the journal Ceol Tíre and the books Crosbhealach an Cheoil: The Crossroads Conference 1996 and Crosbhealach an Cheoil: The Crossroads Conference 2003 – Education and Traditional Music, and in 2008 he published Sing Out: Learn Traditional Irish Song.
In recent years, he had researched and presented a number of television and radio documentaries, including Na Bailitheoirí Ceoil for TG4 in 2009, which explored the work of collectors such as Edward Bunting and Francis O’Neill; The Singing Weaver in 2012, about John Sheil (1784–1872), the Drogheda weaver and ballad writer; The Past is Another World, about the 1937–39 schools’ folklore collecting project; The Musical Priest in 2013, a programme about the musician, collector and musicologist Rev. Richard Henebry; and a documentary on Daniel O’Connell and the marches to the Monster Meetings. In 2012, he also released a recording with Gerry Cullen and Donal Maguire titled Louth Mouths from Drogheda. He lectured in Irish music at Mary Immaculate College in Limerick and was a founding member and former chair of the Old Drogheda Society. He also curated events for the Drogheda Arts Festival.
Corcoran had lived in England for the past number of years with his wife Vera, and died in Buxton in Derbyshire.
There will be a brief ceremony at Macclesfield Crematorium on 13 May, respecting Covid-19 regulations. A larger gathering of friends to remember the singer will be organised later in the year when travel in Ireland allows.
He is survived by his wife Vera, his children Rósa and Fiachra and their mother Helen, his daughter Jess and granddaughter Sadhbh. Visit https://rip.ie.