He taught in Clonmel Technical School from 1903 to 1905, and was later a teacher in Clonakilty Agricultural College. In 1912, he joined the National Health Insurance office as divisional inspector, and after the Treaty was transferred to the Department of Defence, where he was in charge of the dependent’s claim section. A student of the College of Art, he won distinction as an illuminator and sketcher.
Seamus was involved in Irish music from early in his life and even in the turbulent year 1916, Seamus was still extolling the wonders of Irish traditional music. In 1903 the Donegal News reported on 16 May 1903 that Clandillon sang at the second great concert in connection with the Oireachtas. The Freemans Journal in October 1916 informed that the Gaelic League organised its Samhain Festival, and that Seamus Clandillon, the harpist, partook in a concert in the Mansion House. Seamus was a traditional musician often credited with creating the Ceili, which is incorrect – the ensemble simply came to prominence during his period in office.
2RN (later renamed Radio Éireann)
In 1925, Seamus was appointed director of the new broadcasting station, then known as 2RN, a post he held until 1934, when he returned as divisional Inspector to the National Health office. For a man with no broadcasting experience, the appointment of Seamus Clandillon as the first director of 2RN may have seemed a strange choice for the Government of the day but Clandillon mastered both the art and the management of an Irish radio station. As director of broadcasting, he was in receipt of £750 per year, a substantial amount of money for that period.
The origin of the name is quite clever, yet simple at the same time. It was chosen because 2RN reproduces phonetically the last three syllables in the title of that well known song Come Back to Érin. Dr Douglas Hyde, later to become Ireland’s first President, performed the opening ceremony. Also present at this historical event was the station’s Director, Séamus Clandillon (pictured below), Musical Director, Vincent O’Brien and station announcer, Séamus Hughes. The station – which in effect was but two rooms – was located in Little Denmark Street over an employment exchange.
The ‘studio’ had fawn drapes, to drown out sound, and one microphone that broadcaster and journalist, Terry O’Sullivan later said was like a large black jam jar. Whilst one of the regular singers at the time drew comparison with an old fashioned camera where the photographer was obliged to put his head under a black sheet. He began his post with just seven part–time members of staff.
That aside, the opening programme was ambitious with sixteen items including a weather report. The station went on air on January 1st 1926, primarily broadcasting to the Dublin area. Clandillon sang a number of Irish songs as did his wife, Mairéad Ní Annagain, a Co. Waterford native. In fact one of the complaints against 2RN was that she was heard too often, to the extent that some smart alecks labelled her ‘Mairéad Ní On-Again’. A key reason for this, of course, was lack of resources. Seamus Clandillon was expected to run the radio station on a shoestring. Thus, he was constantly calling on the goodwill of family and friends to perform for the love of it and not expect any fees.
Fortunately, Clandillon moved in artistic circles and had good contacts. He hung out at Cathal McGarvey’s Tobacco Shop opposite Findlater’s Church in Dublin City before 1916. This place was truly a stopping place for anyone interested in the Irish Revival Movement to drop in. It was conveniently located to Rutland Square, where many of the societies ad branches of the Gaelic League had meeting places. Others that frequented the place were the poet, Tadhg O’Donoghue, William Gibson (later Lord Ashburn), James Joyce; Doctor Oliver St. John Gogarty; Padraic Pearse (at that time he was editor of the Gaelic League paper); Sean T. O’Kelly and Michael Cusack, a man replaced in Lough Cutra National School by Seamus’ father! Seamus’ acquaintance with Padraic Pearse can be testified by the surviving 1903 letter to Patrick Pearse from Clandillon [signed ‘An Clainndillúnach’] regarding a St. Patrick's Day concert and giving an account of various singers etc.
Clandillon’s experience in singing in public and organizing feiseanna and concerts may not have endeared him to his civil service bosses but it stood him in good stead in his new role as Station Director. That first broadcast ran from 7.45 pm to 10.30 pm. It is significant to note that Dr Douglas Hyde’s opening speech was relayed by the BBC. Douglas Hyde, former president of the Gaelic League, spoke about the importance of the country’s music and song (which he considered second in cultural importance only to the Irish language). Reports from England indicated that listeners there enjoyed it – even the Irish Gaelic which they could not understand. Belfast too praised the diction and sound even though they, as admitted, couldn’t understand a word. The programme for the night seemed to deal generously with traditional music. Two Dublin uilleann pipers, James Ennis and William Andrews, played dance tunes and airs. Along with classical pieces, a variety of national melodies and songs in both official languages were performed by a variety of singers and instrumentalists, including the No 1 Army Band, and the night was adjudged a great success.
Dublin listeners living close to the station could use a cheap ‘crystal’ radio set but elsewhere a more expensive ‘valve’ radio set was used. Distance governed the type of radio set which people used. Although at least 20 radio sets had been tuned to receive the opening programme in County Galway, only members of the Galway Chamber of Commerce managed to actually receive the opening programme because they used a powerful 4 valve radio set connected to a very high aerial.
Soon after 2RN came on the radio waves in 1926, Seamus Clandillon, consulted the Minister for Posts and Telegraphs, Mr J.J. Walsh, about a request he had received from a priest. The priest wanted an announcement carried about a public lecture, which he was to give in Dublin about the work of the Church in Africa. Walsh advised Clandillon "it would be safe to steer clear, as far as possible, of religion and politics." (The announcement was not carried, although the priest had offered to pay for it.)
In 1928, a hearing last 11 days concluded in the High Court. The plaintiffs were Mr. Seamus Clandillon, director of the Dublin broadcasting station, and his wife, and the defendants were Mr. Donal J. O’Sullivan (clerk of the Irish Free State Senate), Mr. George W. Russell, editor of the ‘Irish Statesman’ and the Irish Statesman Publishing Company. Damages of £2000 were claimed. The case arose out of a review written by Mr. O’Sullivan and published in the ‘Irish Statesman’ of a book of Gaelic songs published by the Clandillons, called the ‘Londubh an Charin’. Between 1901 and 1924 the plaintiffs collected a large number of Gaelic songs and tunes, and made a selection of some of these and arranged words and music. The work was done by the Oxford University Press. The review complained of alleged slovenliness and ignorance, and that a disproportionate part of the preface and matter was used as a medium for broadcasting the merits and platform successes of the plaintiffs. The Clandillons pleaded that the review meant that they were ignorant, vulgar, slovenly, that they had plagiarized a large number of songs and tunes, and induced the Carnegie Trust by false pretences to publish them, and had been guilty of fraud and dishonesty. The jury could not agree that the review was a fair comment on the book (6 said yes, 6 said no), and judgement therefore could not be made, as they could not agree a verdict.
The First Agricultural Broadcasts on 2RN
Clandillon, a countryman, was keenly aware of the benefits that broadcasting could bring to isolated rural areas. When he made his first programme schedules he was anxious to ensure that scattered listeners outside the towns would be properly catered for, not just by providing entertainment but also by instruction and news about farming matters. However, he met with a surprising amount of resistance when he tried to introduce agricultural broadcasts. There was opposition from some newspapers fearful of the effects on their advertising revenues but the Department of Agriculture itself was initially resistant. While the Department eventually provided Clandillon with a number of fine broadcasters it was much more difficult in getting them to agree on what should be broadcast, by whom, and when.
Agriculture officials called on Clandillon on 5 January 1926. He told them that gardening and poultry-keeping would be the most suitable subjects to begin with: these would be acceptable to rural listeners and at least tolerable to urban ones. While Clandillon was anxious that the wireless service should also carry livestock and other market information he was still awaiting sanction for the costs involved. At one stage he even considered quoting prices from British trade journals but was worried that the journals might object. The Creamery Managers Association had offered to co-operate in supplying butter prices but their overall approach was very cautious.
Clandillon wanted to separate the subjects so that gardening and poultry-keeping talks were put out on different days. The Agriculture officials were not so sure. Clandillon wanted the service for rural listeners up and running, as quickly as possible. In addition to instruction, he wanted to broadcast agricultural news and assured the officials that it was his policy to supply such information even though the number of farmers with receiving instruments was very small. How effective were the broadcasts? The number of set owners, or at least licence-holders was very small. In 1930 only one in thirty households in County Waterford had a wireless set; the figure was even lower in County Tipperary, and these were two major farming counties. The ratio was somewhat better in Dublin but even there only one household in seventeen had a set.
The opening of the centrally positioned high-powered station Radio Athlone in 1933 brought radio, and traditional music, to much wider audiences than those in the range of the earlier Dublin and Cork stations. Its new emphasis on sponsored programmes brought many complaints about their promotion of crooners and jazz, so-called, which they favoured at the expense of indigenous Irish music. On the other hand Westmeath traditional performers such as the piper Willie Reynolds or whistle player Peter Guinan began to be heard on radio for the first time.
In 1932, Seamus was involved with the first international broadcast from Dublin on KHJ at 11.30am on St. Patrick’s Day. He sang baritone, while John McCormack sang tenor, Seamus MacAonghusa played the pipes etc. While working diligently as Director of Broadcasting, Seamus continued to travel around the country judging numerous Feis competitions which he continued even after he left 2RN.
By the time of Clandillon’s retirement in 1934, when there were some 50,000 radio licenses held in the State. However, by mid-1945 it was estimated that only 13 per cent of rural households had wireless sets as against 45 per cent in urban areas.
Seamus Clandillon was the longest serving director. He was succeeded by Irish soccer player John Mac Donnell (for a few months), TJ Mc Kiernan (1935- 1941) Seamus O Braonain (1941-1947) Robert Brennan (1947-1948) Charles e Kelly (1948-1952) and Maurice Gorham (1953-1958). Seamus Clandillon died on 2 April 1944, and was of San Salvador, Newtown Park Avenue, Blackrock, Dublin. He was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. He was survived by his sons Enda, Colum, and daughters Finola, Fedelma, Mrs. B. O’Dowd, and Mrs. W. McDonald, brother Mr. Michael Clandillon, sisters Misses Nora and Eilis Clandillon
Sources for Blog
The Guardian, 15 November 1928, page 12
The Guardian, 1 January 1935, page 10
The Los Angeles, 17 March 1932, page 18
Evening Herald 21 April 1944
Guaire Magazine Issue 33, December 2012, page 12