Roots: The Proud History of the Reidy Clan
By Maeve Molly, Contributor
December / January 2008
The Reidy family surname (also Reedy, Riedy, Reid, and O’Reidy) is an Anglicized version of the Gaelic name Ó Riada. The family was part of the Dalcassian sept and in early Gaelic times lived in the southwest of Ireland, in the Munster counties of Clare and Kerry. The Ó Riadas can claim lineage to the legendary King Oiloill Olum, who was Monarch of Munster in the third century.
In the late 12th century the Ó Riadas gained control of lands belonging to the O’Donnegans, and an Ó Riada held the title of “King of Ara” (an area in Munster) for over three centuries. Records from the mid-1600s show clusters of Ó Riadas in counties Kerry, Limerick and Tipperary, and as far east as Waterford. Reidy is often claimed as a Scottish or Scotch-Irish name, and in fact, the Irish Ó Riadas are related to Carbri Riada who established kingdoms in ancient Ireland and Scotland.
The Reidy name has made it to the screen with John Reidy, a recognizable face on television due to numerous guest roles on TV favorites such as All My Children and Saturday Night Live. Behind the cameras is Joseph Reidy, well-known director and producer who has worked on such blockbuster films as The Departed, The Aviator, Analyze That, Gangs of New York and Casino. Find his image and look closely: you’ll likely
recognize him as he has small acting parts in many of his films.
Contemporary Reidys span the globe. Some notable ones include Joseph P. Reidy, professor of history at Howard University, best known for his research on American slavery and the American Civil War. His essays have been featured in numerous Civil War anthologies, and he has served as editor of many of them, including Slaves No More, Free at Last, and Freedom.
Maureen Reidy, previous president of the Miss Universe Organization, did her part to beautify the Reidy name. A CPA by trade, Maureen was hired by Donald Trump to save the Miss Universe Organization after years of losses. She did that and more, helping the company to not only make profits, but also change the face of the organization from a beauty pageant to a legitimate source of career and education opportunities for young women. Today, Maureen works as President of NYC Big Events, a division of the New York City governance, which actively seeks and organizes events in NYC in order to spur economic development.
Readers form the Boston area may know Chris Reidy, reporter for The Boston Globe. Reidy is a frequent contributor to the “Daily Business Update” and has penned many an article on mainstream-business news.
Perhaps one of the most well known descendants of the Ó Riada clan is Irish composer Seán Ó Riada. Ó Riada, who was born John Reidy in 1931, reintroduced and revolutionized traditional Irish music by combining it with the classical tradition. Ó Riada studied music at University College Cork and played the violin, piano, and organ. He composed many classical European-style orchestral pieces, and though they received little recognition, his classical endeavors (called “Nomos”) were his first musical passion. Around the time that Ó Riada had his name formally changed from John Reidy to Seán Ó Riada, his compositions, like his name, became increasingly traditional. Ó Riada found inspiration in Irish folk music and combined it with classical techniques and ensembles. One of his strengths was music for theater and film (he was the music director of The Abbey for several years) as in the case of George Morrison’s acclaimed documentary about the founding of the Republic of Ireland, Mise Éire.
From the formidable starting block of Mise Éire, Ó Riada returned to Irish national radio with a series called “Our Musical Heritage.” Ó Riada’s promotion and compositions began a restructuring of national opinion on traditional Irish tunes. Prior to the success and popularity of Ó Riada’s score for Mise Éire, Irish music was held in generally low regard and most popular folk songs were sung in English.
Ó Riada’s formation of the traditional Irish band, Ceoltóirí Chualann, popularized Irish-language music. Ceoltóirí Chualann played in concert halls and attracted large crowds. It was one of the first modern popular Irish folk bands, and helped give rise to The Chieftains.
Credited with reintroducing the bódhran, which had not been widely used since the 16th century, Ó Riada died prematurely in 1971, but he lives on as the father of the renaissance of traditional Irish music, and his extraordinary compositions continue to influence Irish folk groups and classical composers to this day.