2020 - 2029

Honorary Citation by Dr Jack Talty for Bobby Gardiner

23 Oct 2023
Bobby Gardiner

A dhaoine uaisle, is mór an onóir domsa a bheith anseo inniu chun céim oinigh Maistir Ceoil a bhronnadh ar laoch Ceol Tradisiúnta na hÉireann, Bobby Gardiner.

Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, Registrar of the National University of Ireland, President, colleagues, and distinguished guests, it is my pleasure to stand before you today as University College Cork awards an honorary Master of Music to the renowned traditional musician and educator, Bobby Gardiner.

Bobby’s wide-ranging, unique, and profound contributions to Irish traditional music and culture have been celebrated nationally and internationally. He has been a recipient of virtually all of the major accolades and awards bestowed on traditional artists. It is particularly fitting that University College Cork, an institution that has been so close to Bobby’s heart throughout his 40 years of service at the Department of Music, today awards this richly deserved honorary degree in recognition of his exemplary life’s work, at UCC, and throughout the many global communities of practice that have been inspired by Bobby’s music and generosity.

Bobby’s own formative development as a young traditional musician was rooted in family and community. From Aughdarra, near Lisdoonvarna in county Clare, Bobby was surrounded by traditional music and musicians from an early age. He recalls learning his first tune What the Devil Ails You?, from his mother, who played a two-row German concertina, as did his aunt and grandmother. Bobby attributes his initial exposure to the two-row button accordion to his brother. Sharing music with Clare musicians such as the Russell brothers, Micilín Conlon, and Pattey Flanagan provided Bobby with an enduring connection to a local musical idiolect, which was frequently closely associated with house dances.

Like many of his contemporaries, Bobby’s music and aesthetic was shaped by the household names of the 78rpm gramophone recordings era. Of particular interest to Bobby were recordings made and released in the US by fiddlers Michael Coleman and Paddy Killoran, and melodeon player, P.J. Conlon. Performing for dancers also significantly informed Bobby’s unique approach to rhythm and articulation. Like so many accordionists, he was later influenced by the B/C system of accordion playing popularised by Paddy O’Brien. Notwithstanding Bobby’s gracious acknowledgement of his own musical influences, we can say with certainty that he has in turn established himself as one of the most influential performers and teachers of any generation.

After a period playing with bands such as the famous Kilfenora Céilí Band and Malachy Sweeney’s Céilí Band in the 1950s, Bobby emigrated to New York in the early 1960s. While undertaking various forms of employment, including a period of service with the US Army, Bobby spent available leisure time playing music with a range of Irish traditional musicians in areas such as the Catskills Mountains in southeastern New York. Bobby made a number of iconic recordings during this period but in the early 1970s, he and his wife Anne made a decision to relocate home to Ireland. They settled in Burncourt, near Cahir in Tipperary and performed professionally together throughout the country.

Bobby has toured extensively on an international scale, performing on stages throughout China, Japan, Europe, Canada, and the United States. His individualistic and innovate approaches to accordion and melodeon technique continue to influence generations of traditional musicians. He is also a celebrated and exceptional lilter, sustaining a tradition that once thrived in households in rural traditional music communities.

In 1983, Bobby was approached by Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin to teach accordion at the UCC Music Department. Finding precedent in the employment of native speakers in the French and Italian language departments in UCC, Ó Súilleabháin insisted that music practitioners from the Irish traditional music community be employed by the music department on a similar basis. And so began Bobby’s influential time at UCC.

On May 2nd this year, we held a special gathering at the Department of Music to mark Bobby’s retirement after 40 years of pioneering and committed service to Irish traditional music at UCC. As an accordion, melodeon, and céilí band tutor at the Department of Music, Bobby mentored and inspired successive generations of music students.
Bobby has been an enthusiastic ambassador for the Music Department at UCC; he has represented the Department and the wider University through a significant number of concerts, radio broadcasts, and other public engagements. Through his own professional practice as a musician, Bobby has played a pivotal role in promoting UCC through his many high-profile performances and achievements.

Unphased by the necessity to adapt quickly to online teaching modes during the pandemic period, Bobby’s commitment to teaching at UCC led him to become acquainted with new and unfamiliar teaching technologies, allowing him to continue to tutor and support students of the Music Department throughout that time of unprecedented uncertainty.

A prolific recording artist, Bobby has released eight critically acclaimed albums, spanning a period of over fifty years. His latest release is the appropriately titled Melodeon Mad from 2018, and I know that he is busy preparing material for another eagerly awaited forthcoming album. Bobby has also appeared as a guest musician on several additional commercial recordings.

The unique rhythmical attributes of Bobby’s music have been celebrated by traditional dancers for decades, and he remains a sought-after performer for dancing recitals, such as those programmed at the annual Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy / the Willie Clancy Summer School. The renowned fiddler Martin Hayes has described Bobby’s music as “a dancer’s dream that works just as well to listen to”.

Bobby has amassed a variety of awards and accolades. In 2012, the national Irish-language broadcaster, TG4, dedicated an hour-long documentary in the ‘Sé Mo Laoch’ series to celebrating Bobby’s contribution to Irish traditional music. In 2015 Bobby was awarded a Gradam Saoil lifetime achievement award at the annual Gradam Ceoil TG4 awards. Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann produced a 90-minute documentary on Bobby’s music and life. In July 2022, Bobby was once again formally recognised at a tribute concert held at the Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy / Willie Clancy Summer School. Performers at the event included a host of internationally renowned traditional artists, including family members, colleagues, and former students.

As an educator, Bobby’s teaching and mentorship at UCC and the greater Tipperary and Waterford areas, has inspired many generations of students to pursue Irish traditional music performance in professional, semi-professional, and avocational contexts. A significant number of Bobby’s students have been awarded artistic accolades throughout the world, ranging from successes at prestigious traditional music competitions, to enjoying international professional touring and recording careers. Many have also pursued careers in education and academia, in music and related disciplines.

As a testament to Bobby’s expertise and reputation as a leading accordion educator, in 2018, Waltons Music published the pioneering A Complete Guide to the Irish Button Accordion by Bobby Gardiner. The tutor, which has been received with widespread critical acclaim, offers a comprehensive overview of the B/C accordion system, and is supplemented by 3 audio CDs of accompanying educational materials.

Although modest about his compositional flair, Bobby has written a number of exceptional tunes in the traditional idiom. Not only do these tunes reflect a highly personalised and idiosyncratic mastery of melody but they have also been absorbed into the mainstream traditional repertory, and have been commercially recorded by a wide range of traditional musicians. Many of you familiar with Irish Traditional Music will recognise titles such as ‘The Clare Shout’, which was written by Bobby to celebrate Clare’s victory in the 1995 All-Ireland Hurling Final. As a fellow Clareman, I sincerely hope that the Clare hurlers can offer Bobby similar inspiration in the not-too-distant future.

Among those accompanying Bobby today are his long-time musical collaborator and wife, Anne, their children Kelley, Fiódhna, and Lynda, their grand-children, and many close family and friends. Each of Bobby and Anne’s children have excelled as musicians and I know that they are both immensely proud that their children and grandchildren have continued to devote their time and talents to remaining closely connected to music. It is also evident to all who know the Gardiner family, the degree of love and admiration that Bobby’s family have for him. I know that they are particularly proud of Bobby on this very special day.

Those who know and admire Bobby will be acutely aware of his spirit of generosity; sense of curiosity and adventure; musical taste; attention to detail; his ever-expanding appetite for learning; and his dedication to inspiring and empowering music students of all ages and abilities to thrive in a genre and culture of music that he is deeply passionate about. I know that colleagues, friends, former and current students, and traditional music enthusiasts alike will join me in congratulating Bobby on all that he has contributed and achieved throughout his life in music. I know that Bobby is currently busy planning numerous musical projects, and I look forward to trying to keep up.

In recognition of his extensive and profound contributions to Irish traditional music, it is my honour to present Bobby Gardiner for an honorary Master of Music from University College Cork.

Praehonorabilis vice Cancellarie, totaque universitas! Praesento vobis hunc meum filium, quam scio tam moribus quam doctrina habilem et idoneum esse qui admittatur, honoris causa, ad Gradus Magisterii in Musica, idque tibi fide mea testor ac spondeo totique Academiae. 


Bronnadh Céimeanna

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