Riches of Clare: Ernest de Regge

Clare Champion, Friday, September 27, 2002

The Riches of Clare Exhibition at the Clare Museum charts the county's history over 6,000 years using authentic artifacts. In the latest article examining the historical artifacts museum curator John Rattigan tells us the story of Ernest de Regge.

The Minuetto Grazioso was composed by Ernest de Regge, a Belgian born in Flanders, in 1901. A specialist in church music, de Regge will be remembered with great fondness by many older generation Clare people as the Professor of Music at St Flannan's College, and also for his involvement in the Cathedral Choir in Ennis.

De Regge's musical talent was recognised at a young age and had already learned to play the organ upon finishing his secondary school education in Ghent. He enrolled in the prestigious conservatory, the Lemmens Institute in Malines, where he studied composition, organ and Gregorian music. In 1922 he received the degree of Licentiate in Music claiming first place in composition, while his classmate, the world famous Flor Peeters, took the prize for organ.

From 1900, the Conservatory in Malines had sent its organists and musicians to Ireland. Ireland had good, well maintained organs, and a musical people, but lacked trained organists and musicians who could play them to the highest standard. There had been much sympathy in Ireland for Belgians suffering during the First World War, while the struggle for Irish Independence had created much interest and sympathy on the continent.

It was as a result of this relationship that de Regge arrived in Ireland to become the music professor at St Flannan's College and organist-choirmaster at the cathedral in Ennis, in 1923. When Bishop Michael Fogarty appointed Ernest de Regge to be Music Professor in St Flannan's College and organist-choirmaster in his own church - SS Peter and Paul in Ennis - his aim was to implement the instruction of Pope Pius X to simplify choir music.

In St Flannan's, de Regge would be instructing future clergy of the Diocese of Killaloe in musical literacy and giving them a firm grounding in Gregorian Chant. In the cathedral, he created a show-piece choir, which was the envy of the diocese. The cathedral choir, which at one time had several hundred members, was one of the focal points for the young people of Ennis. The highlights of the church calendar were the Midnight Mass and the High Mass at Christmas, Easter and, of course St Patrick's Day. Talented local singers received extensive training and in particular the voices of Eva Meehan (alto), Amby Costello (soprano), John Murphy, Aiden Tuttle (both tenor), Stephen Touhy, George Meehan (both bass) and Liam Walker were highlights of this era. De Regge composed works for choirs of mixed voices, songs based upon English and Irish texts, masses, motets and piano pieces. His profile grew as he won national competitions. He received Milligan Fox medals in 1939, 1940 and 1946, Dr Annie Patterson Medals in 1943 and 1953 for composition, and numerous first prizes in the Oireachtas Ceol.

In the early 1930's de Regge met Michael O'Siochfhradha, a primary school inspector based in Ennis and a skilled musician and prize-winning tenor. These two, together with Fr Joseph Rogers, Irish Professor at St Flannan's and Sr Mary Albeus of the Sisters of Mercy worked for several years adapting old Irish airs for School choirs. Based on this work, O'Siochfhradha and de Regge published a textbook in both Irish and English on the teaching of music as a subject for secondary schools in the early 1940's.

On January 15th, 1958, the floor collapsed during the course of a furniture auction at Carmody's Hotel in Ennis and de Regge, along with seven others, were killed. The tragedy cast a shadow over the town for many months to come, because Ernest de Regge had become an adopted son of Ennis, and as such had been taken to the town's heart. He had very much left his mark on the religious and social life and farther afield.

His memory, along with the manuscripts owned by his daughter Ghislaine Kozuh, are preserved at Clare Museum, Ennis.

View de Regge music manuscript

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