Carmel Ryan | Recipient of the 2023 Agnes O’Kane Award

The Irish Association of Youth Orchestras presented Carmel Ryan with the Agnes O’Kane Award at the 27th Festival of Youth Orchestras on Saturday, 11 February 2023.

The Agnes O’Kane Award, established in 2011, is presented annually to a volunteer who has contributed to the growth of youth orchestras in Ireland. The award recognises the vital contribution that volunteers have had to the growth of youth orchestras over the last thirty years.

Agnes, who passed away in 2010, was one of those volunteers who gave tirelessly of her time and energy to youth, and youth music in Ireland. She served with several Associations concerned with the well-being of young people. At the founding of IAYO in 1994 she was elected the founding Honorary Administrator and grew the organisation from her base in Cork, later adopting the position of Chairwoman and Honorary Vice – President as well as being honorary secretary on the Board of the European Association of Youth Orchestras.

About Carmel:

In 1982 Carmel was a founding member of the Dublin Youth Orchestra initiative, in which a number of parents sought opportunities for their own young players to play and perform in an orchestral ensemble. Carmel saw that young musicians who were taking lessons on their own instruments would benefit from playing and performing orchestral and chamber music. Along with the other parents involved, Carmel saw that there was no such opportunity for the young players of Dublin and set about working out how such a group could be established. 

Carmel saw that being part of an ensemble such as DYO would encourage a lifelong love and appreciation of ensemble playing and provide young players with an opportunity to advance their musical education in a fun, informative, and constructive manner. Being part of such an ensemble afforded the young people an opportunity to forge friendships with other like-minded young people. Carmel’s daughter Catriona Ryan, currently principal flute with the National Symphony Orchestra, was an early member of DYO, emphasising once more the benefit of the work undertaken by Carmel and the other parents involved. 

Carmel along with Carolín Brangan were the first Honorary Treasurers of DYO and as such made an enormous contribution to the long-term survival of the organisation with their expertise in planning and financial management. She was meticulous in managing budgets and bookkeeping. The work of the treasurer was pivotal to the success of the organisation as no outside funding was available and all the services provided by the organisation had to be funded privately with significant amounts of the work provided by volunteers, an ethos that still prevails today. However, in the early days when the organisation was in its infancy, this was particularly relevant as no reserves had been built up. She was careful to build a reserve in the event of any unforeseen events that could have caused the organisation difficulty to continue to provide orchestra opportunities for its young members. That was no small achievement given the shortage of funds generally available at that time.

Carmel held another belief that the players would not only benefit from ensemble playing but also from touring both within Ireland and further afield. European Music Year took place in 1985 and saw a youth orchestra from Germany being invited to Dublin. In this year the first tour undertaken by DYO took place. Carmel had already experienced the value of tours outside the country for young people as she had accompanied Doris Keogh’s talented recorder ensemble abroad. She not only encouraged the development of tour opportunities for all the orchestras at appropriate levels, but took the time to travel with them, however, the orchestra was travelling whether by plane, train, or bus. She volunteered steadily over many years, never allowing the DYO to take unnecessary risks and planning carefully so that DYO had a built-in buffer against a sudden financial loss.

January 1987 saw the DYO undertake their first performance in the National Concert Hall an event that required very careful management of finances to ensure that the organisation did not make any loss from such a significant venture. Again Carmel was at the helm of the management of this successful event.

Carmel’s years of volunteering extended long past her own daughter’s years in the orchestra. She was a member of the council of DYO for a long number of years and her vast experience was called upon on many occasions. She has maintained her interest in the organisation and along with her late husband John has been a great supporter of all things DYO. She is always sure to have the exact words of advice when asked and has a deep understanding of what is involved in the management and provision of orchestras for young people.

She had a genuine interest in all the young musicians and their families, who passed through DYO and saw it grow from an idea put out in a free South Dublin newspaper to an organisation with four orchestras, providing stepping stones for development across at least a decade for keen young musicians. 

Carmel could be described as a hidden hero who should now be brought to the forefront and thanked sincerely for her most valuable contribution to the youth orchestra movement in Ireland. Without people like Carmel, we would not be where we are today.

Carmel was also a member of the board of Irish Association of Youth Orchestras for a number of years and yet again gave freely of her time and talents. Carmel was also a member of the Board of the National Concert Hall. 

We congratulate Carmel on her win and her hard work over the years.

Read more about the award and previous winners here.