LIMERICK – There are times when it is magic to be in the right place at the right time, and another extraordinary circumstance befell me this month as I happened to be in Ireland when some great news in the traditional music scene was breaking. 

Followers of this column will be aware of my longtime interest in the annual celebration of TG4’s Gradam Ceoil awards, the Oscars of Irish music now in its 26th year, and await the release of the nominations from the Irish language television station with great anticipation. 

You will also be aware that TG4 is a steadfast and obliging host for regular programming in an expansive array of well-produced and presented videos showcasing the best of traditional music year-round, especially in the Sunday night trad slot that brings Irish viewers to a relaxing and enriching weekend conclusion. 

On-demand viewing for four weeks after on the station’s well-organized player option at along with unobtrusive but well-edited subtitles make for extremely popular worldwide reach for all of us who share a g for Ireland’s national heritage.

The Gradam Ceoil annual broadcast is the jewel in the crown of the station and epitomizes the depth of its coverage of its tradition-bearing artists and the creative forces that have fostered its success and respect well into the 21st century.

So, you can imagine my delight when an invitation to the new launch arrived in the virtual inbox overlapping a trip to the ancestral homeland in Co Clare. Curiosity and excitement propelled my motorway journey from Ennis down to the Kilmurray Lodge Hotel in Castletroy this past Monday night for the announcement that would be covered live as part of TG4’s daily news broadcast. No doubt by now you are awaiting the news also.

Musician of the Year is the Dublin native, uilleann piper supreme, and whistle player Mick O’Brien who can cite Leo Rowsome, Sean Seery, and Mick Touhey as early piping tutors at the Thomas Street Pipers Club starting at the age of nine. Throughout his own illustrious career, his piping has set a high standard as a recording and performing artist, as a soloist, and in collaboration with other artists including fellow Dubliner Caoimhin O’Raghallaigh with whom he has recorded two magnificent albums.

His pedagogy as a teacher also ensured a continuation of Ireland’s native instrument in an expanding fashion, and two albums resurrecting the musical manuscripts of Canon James Goodman from the 19th century recorded with Emer Mayock and daughter Aoife Ni Bhriain have augmented a living tradition.

Gradam Ceoil TG4 - Mick O’Brien ✨ #Gradam Ceoil TG4
📅 23/04/23 @UCHLimerick

— TG4TV🪬 (@TG4TV) March 6, 2023

The Young Musician of the Year award goes to Meabh Smyth from Co Armagh whose fiddling influences began with her own parents and further developed through the highly regarded Armagh Piping Club. She has distinguished herself through successful participation in several highly important competitions in Ireland and the UK and truly represents the rising tide of youth on the island these days who take great encouragement from awards like these.

Ceoltóir Óg TG4 2023 – @meabh_smyth 🎻 #Gradam Ceoil TG4
📅 23/04/23 @UCHLimerick

— TG4TV🪬 (@TG4TV) March 6, 2023

The Lifetime Achievement Award is going to Fintan Vallely, whose resume accurately reflects such a designation for another Armagh native who has done trojan work for Irish traditional music in a unifying way on many levels on the island of Ireland. 

As a flute player, author, songwriter, educator and journalist, there are many accomplished strings in his bow that have advanced the appreciation and IQ of Irish music influentially over his long and storied career that is still bearing fruit. His encyclopedic Companion to Irish Music A-Z first published in 1999 with a third edition coming out this year is a wildly important research tool in the field and very valuable in my own work.

Gradam Saoil TG4 2023 - Fintan Vallelly 🎶 #Gradam Ceoil TG4
📅 23/04/23 @UCHLimerick

— TG4TV🪬 (@TG4TV) March 6, 2023

The Composer of the Year is the Leitrim fiddle player Maurice Lennon who is in the company now of his Uncle Charlie Lennon who won the title in 2006, and his own father Ben Lennon for Lifetime Achievement in 2011. 

He is an All-Ireland senior fiddle champion from 1977, the same year he was a founding member of Stockton’s Wing which went onto international notoriety and success. He was in great demand after he left the band with a number of artists as his tune smithing also established his bona fides. Many will be aware of one of his most successful tunes, “If Ever You Were Mine,” recorded on an early Cherish the Ladies recording, The Back Door.

Cumadóir TG4 2023 – Maurice Lennon 🎻 #Gradam Ceoil TG4
📅 23/04/23 @UCHLimerick

— TG4TV🪬 (@TG4TV) March 6, 2023

The selection of the Singer of the Year Sile Denvir, like the other choices, reveals the complexity of the selection process by a well-chosen committee of practitioners in the field who take the job seriously, and it shows in the highly justifiable candidates emanating from the process each year.

Denvir is certainly in that class as the Connemara native is one of the most ardent Irish language artists in Ireland today as a performer and educator at Dublin City University. Her efforts through her harping, singing and Irish language are motivated by bringing it along in a very contemporary relevance that ensures appreciation and further promotion especially for younger people. 

Her solo work is of the highest standard, much like her earliest public recognition in Liadán, a highly polished and skilled group of six young women who met and joined forces at the University of Limerick’s Irish World Music and Dance Academy. Two earlier recordings with a third one on the way this year inspired Paddy Moloney and the Chieftains to bring them on tour, such was their mastery and integration of their solo and harmony singing dovetailing with instrumental arrangement. 

Denvir’s own flair for composition and musical direction has produced another ensemble exhibiting the extraordinary and firm grasp of the Irish language and cultural heritage among young people called Blath na hOige that was featured in a well-received concert as part of the recent Temple Bar TradFest.

Amhránaí TG4 2023 – @SileDenvir 🎤 #Gradam Ceoil TG4
📅 23/04/23 @UCHLimerick

— TG4TV🪬 (@TG4TV) March 6, 2023

The last nomination for the Group of the Year, a new designation initiated in 2022, would be heartily endorsed by your humble correspondent. No ordinary group in usual parlance, the Mulcahy Family literally represents the transmission and embrace of Irish music as it has been handed down over the centuries and certainly the decades closing out the 20th and flourishing in the 21st centuries.

Led by father Mick Mulcahy from Kerry, a man proudly steeped in his native music on the accordion recognized for his grasp of the music, he is due great credit for weaning his two daughters Louise and Michelle through music lessons, fleadhanna, music schools and festivals all over Ireland. 

The late Dr. Mick Moloney brought them to our attention when the girls were very young along with their father, and I recall picking them up for a Blarney Star concert in my family van which had just enough room for the three of them and 13 instruments including a harp. Thanks to the usual patronage of Moloney, their fame and accomplishment spread far and wide and inspired great personal achievements including to Southeast Asia and throughout America, 

They were always well received on their three visits to the Catskills Irish Arts Week. The Mulcahy Family represents the very heart and soul of the tradition. 

Grúpa Ceoil 2023 - Mick, @mulcahy_louise & @mmulcahymusic#Gradam Ceoil TG4
📅 23/04/23 @UCHLimerick

— TG4TV🪬 (@TG4TV) March 6, 2023

The TG4 committee has some more work to do before the live broadcast of this year’s awards on Sunday, April 23 (viewable live and on-demand at For the first time, they opened up a public call for candidates worldwide who could be recognized for extensive contributions for the promotion of Irish music.

The result was an influx of candidates that require additional evaluation and an early April determination. You will read of it here. 

Faighteoirí #Gradam Ceoil TG4 2023 fógartha 🎶

💫 Amhránaí TG4 - @SileDenvir
💫 Gradam Saoil TG4 - Fintan Vallelly
💫 Cumadóir TG4 - Maurice Lennon
💫 Grúpa Ceoil - Mick, @mmulcahymusic & @mulcahy_louise
💫 Ceoltóir Óg TG4 - @meabh_smyth
💫 Gradam Ceoil TG4 - Mick O’Brien

— TG4TV🪬 (@TG4TV) March 6, 2023

*This column first appeared in the March 8 edition of the weekly Irish Voice newspaper, sister publication to IrishCentral.