Since our inception Na Píobairí Uilleann has from time to time honoured members by conferring on them the title of Patron. This honorary title is accompanied by the presentation of a gold lapel pin showing the piper Johnny Cash and is based on the NPU logo. The pins are designed and made by Jimmy O'Brien Moran. Those members to have been awarded this title are the following. The dates indicate the year of the award and, if the patron is deceased, the year of their death.
A Munster folktale relates how the young Cearúil Ó Dálaigh noticed that smoke arose from a clump of vegetation when it was poked at by a speckled cow in the herd he was minding. Describing this strange happening to his master the youth was ordered to bring the first milk from that cow to him the next morning so that he might drink it. Cearúil however tasted it in the field and thus became magically possessed of many gifts. He it was who made the first set of pipes ever played in Ireland, likewise the first violin, and he successfully met a challenge to make a cat with two tails. Had Seamus Ennis lived in those far off days there is little doubt he would have been the subject of such a story, invented to account for his many accomplishments, for Seamus Ennis was naturally gifted as a musician and singer, storyteller and versifier and much else besides. Nor can there be any doubt had he lived in those credulous times he would have delighted and gloried in the telling of his own story.
Seamus Ennis will be best known to most readers of Dal gCais as a piper but he could also play on the warpipes, the fiddle, the flute and of course on the tin whistle. Had he directed the attention to those instruments that he did to the pipes there is little doubt he would have become pre-eminent among performers on those instruments. Before describing his qualities as a piper and assessing his contribution to the music, it might be more convenient to treat other aspects of his musical life in which he gained distinction. Circles outside this country interested in folk music would recall his work with the B.B.C. and especially his association with that station’s programme As I Roved Out. His contribution to the Folk Songs of Britain recordings, first published in the United States and later re-issued in Britain by Topic Records added to his reputation as an expert in these fields. When only in his early twenties and before becoming involved in these activities he had compiled for the Folklore Commission the largest ever first hand collection of folk songs in Irish. We are indebted to Colm Ó Lochainn, editor of Irish Street Ballads and More Irish Street Ballads and proprietor of the famed Three Candles Press in Fleet Street, Dublin, for setting his steps in that direction.
When Seamus had finished his secondary schooling at Coláiste Mhuire, the all-Irish school run by the Irish Christian Brothers in Dublin (he had put in a short spell at the Jesuit Belvedere College where the pupils were expected to endure rugby football on the school half-day) he spent a year at a commercial college. He then started on his first job at the Three Candles Press. Ó Lochlainn was a family friend and a regular weekly visitor to the home at Jamestown, Finglas, where he came ostensibly to receive lessons on the pipes from the older Ennis, who in exchange practised his Irish on Ó Lochlainn. Ó Lochlainn, never a serious piping pupil, was deeply interested in song collecting in all its aspects. With Finán Mac Coluim, a man of similar tastes, he organised a weekly singing session of Irish songs, An Claisceadal, and preparing and putting a collection of the group’s songs through the press was Seamus’s first duty at the Three Candles. In this practical fashion he acquired, under Ó Lochlainn’s guidance, a theoretical knowledge of the music and developed his skills as a music notator.
When supplies of raw materials were drying up during the war and staff were being laid off Séamus decided to take himself off to London to join the British Air Force. Ó Lochlainn was horrified when Séamus told him of his decision and bestirred himself immediately to find a place for him at home. Within a few days an appointment had been arranged with Professor Delargy of the Irish Folklore Commission. Séamus was put through his paces by some of the music staff from the nearby University College and (they being satisfied with his skills) he was engaged on a temporary basis as a collector of traditional songs in Irish. Incidentally casualties among the trainees in the British Air Force at the time exceeded 6,000 men.
The collector of traditional songs and music
In 1942 when he was twenty-three years of age Ennis began working for the Commission, at first in Cois Fharraige and the Aran Islands and then further west in Connemara. He had no formal training in music but to the practical knowledge gained during his apprenticeship in the Three Candles he added an amazingly sure ear, a prodigious memory, and an ability to reproduce what he heard even to the last defect or blemish. He was, moreover, at ease in all dialects of Irish. He was qualified for the task he set out to perform as few before him were in the field of song collecting.
He had no mechanical recording equipment; with pen and music sheets and whistle in pocket he sallied forth on bicycle collecting songs and dance tunes. He quickly overcame the reticence of old singers and musicians and when he repeated on the whistle a song air or dance tune he had just jotted down from them they could scarcely believe that he had not already known the piece. Colm Ó Caoidheáin from Glinnsc in Connemara, his most prolific informant, confessed to Séamus that he had picked out his hardest songs on the first day they met in order to frighten Séamus away but he found it unavailing. In all Séamus wrote down 212 pieces from Colm. A piper friend realising the wealth of material Séamus was meeting advised him not to forget making a copy for himself. Séamus in a grave tone explained that since he was being paid to collect the material it would be wrong to do that but he added with a smile it would in any event be unnecessary since he could keep in his head anything he had written down.
One of the tunes offered by Colm on that first meeting was an old slip jig with the obscure title, “Tipsy Miller” (Colm had no English and Séamus afterwards surmised that the correct title was “The Dusty Miller”). It was a tune, Colm said, called for by Cearúil Ó Dálaigh but which the piper did not know. “Well, if you please, let me play it on your pipes” and Cearúil played it and danced it with Eileanóir na Rún, his lady love, at the same time. The “Tipsy Miller” through that encounter, now enjoys an international vogue among pipers.
Later Séamus collected extensively in the Donegal Gaeltacht, in West Cork and Kerry. He worked too for the Commission in the Western Isles in Scotland where his linguistic gifts stood him in good stead.
Collecting for Radio Éireann and the B.B.C.
When Séamus left the Commission in 1947 to join the staff or Radio Éireann he had notated over 2,000 pieces, song airs with texts and dance tunes, an achievement which in magnitude alone far surpassed the labours of any of his predecessors in this field and in quality equalled only by Liam de Noraidh who had preceded him in the Folklore Commission. With the declining fortunes of the Irish language it is certain that his work will never be equalled. The material was not exhausted when after five years he left to join Radio Éireann. An immense potential was left unrealised. Forty years after it had been set down from its final custodians this veritable treasury of Irish folk song lacks even an index. And in the meantime what a wilderness of reprints, reheats and translations we could have been spared for even a fragment of this collection.
Séamus continued with his outdoor collecting in Radio Éireann. He used relate with amusement how he journeyed up from Galway to Dublin to take up his new appointment only to be directed to take up duty in Galway. In Radio Éireann the material being collected was intended for broadcasting and this led to a greater emphasis on instrumental than on vocal music. Séamus was already on intimate terms with the great musicians of the countryside, Pádraig O’Keeffe and his pupils Denis and Julia Murphy of Sliabh Luachra, Co. Kerry, Willie Clancy of Clare, Frank Cassidy, the O’Doherty’s and the O’Beirnes from Donegal. In his meetings with these and other local players he gained an immense amount of lore about local personalities and tunes.
“Seán sa Cheo”, popularised by Frank O’Higgins, was obtained from Neilly Boyle, Donegal fiddle player, while on a visit to Dublin and was notated on the same occasion by the elder Ennis. “Atlantic Sands”, a hornpipe played with a slow irregular rhythm derives from Frank Cassidy, fiddle player from Teelin in South West Donegal, who was notoriously difficult to get to play. When collecting from Pádraig O’Keeffe, Seamus used meet him by appointment in Lyon’s public house, in Scartaglen. On one occasion when the ritual chat had been observed and Pádraig ready for his third pint he pulled out a sheaf of music piper containing a selection of music he had written the previous night. Séamus thanked him but told him he should not have gone to the bother since he himself was paid to do it. “Th’anam ’un deaibhail”, says Pádraig, “isn’t it better than wasting good drinking time while you’re writing them and ‘Scart’ is open”. One may add in respect of these two masters that when God made them he had matched them.
Séamus left Radio Éireann in 1951 to join the B.B.C., where as already mentioned he was associated with As I Roved Out, a programme which attracted immense audiences. He was seven years there when he became redundant on a staff reorganisation. Thereafter he had to rely solely on this music for a livelihood.
Other activities may be mentioned briefly here. In 1958 he was engaged by the Clare County Board of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann to write a tutor for the pipes but the funds allocated by the Board were exhausted long before the project was completed. He reproduced in English in singable verses many of the well known Irish love songs. These were prepared as if for publication but what happened this work is unknown to the writer. He had selected and arranged for the violin a collection of slow airs which Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann had undertaken to publish but here again it proved impossible to bring the work to publication. Short dramatic essays in fantasy and verse after the fashion of Burns were other pursuits that occupied his attention at one time or another.
A piper of restraint and elegance
Séamus Ennis is best remembered as a piper. Some pipers prominent over the past forty years are praised for particular technique, for their mastery of the regulators, for the appeal their music has for the heart. Ennis yields to none in those qualities and for taste and technique he was unsurpassed. These two qualities resulted from the discipline imposed on his natural flair, for in piping Ennis did receive formal teaching from his own father, James or Jimmy Ennis. He was thirteen years old when he strapped on a set of pipes to receive his first lesson. He was of course imbibing the music from infancy and would have it that he owed much to his mother, a Monaghan woman who played the fiddle, and that a large part of his repertoire derived from the first Ennis, a grandfather, who had come over from Scotland and settled in the north county Dublin. Here Séamus displays a touch of the whimsicality which was a part of his nature.
Francis O’Neill in his characteristic florid style writes as follows about Séamus Mac Aonghusa – otherwise James Ennis – of the Dublin Piper’s Club who was awarded second prize for piping at the Oireachtas of 1912:
Accompanied by Mrs Kenny – “Queen of Irish Fiddlers” – this talented young man’s playing proved how well the Union pipes and fiddle play in union. As Union piper, Warpiper, and dancer, this native of the parish of Naul in his round of triumph exemplified the possibilities of intelligent effort sustained by
The Dublin Warpipers’ Band of which he was leader had taken first prize in the band competition while he had won first prize in the solo playing and also the Bigger prize for the best all-round warpiper. The tutor of the Dublin Piper’s Club was Nicholas Markey, a Meathman, who had been a pupil of Billy Taylor of Drogheda and later of Philadelphia, and between Markey’s tuition, his friendship with Pat Ward, and his own study of the old professional pipers whom the Club used help attend the Oireachtas and Feis Ceoil, Jimmy Ennis acquired a repertoire of pipe music in settings unimpaired by being found in print. Séamus was heir to a rich heritage of music through his father which his quick ear and retentive memory augmented afterwards when he met the musicians of Ireland in the course of his official travels.
Ennis’s style of piping is best described as non-legato. While not open as a flute or whistle player’s is, his playing was not cluttered by an excess of close-fingering. His music had a firm forward thrust upon which melodic and rhythmical balances and contrasts were clearly imposed. The forms of ornamentation which he used had been developed for the chanter and he eschewed the gimmickry which seems to hold a fascination for some of the younger pipers. “My father would not have done that” was his comment on hearing a piper thumbing some of it at a summer school. Liam Ó Floinn summed up this aspect of his music: “His taste was impeccable. He never aimed to impress by showing off, restraint and elegance were the hallmark of his piping”.
Séamus was present at that memorable meeting of pipers at Bettystown in 1968 from which Na Píobairí Uilleann sprung. In fact it was he who proposed the name for the new society. With Leo Rowsome he was acclaimed patron of the society and he responded most generously to this recognition. An annual tionóil, having made a dramatic entry, he would play for hours on end. Waiting till recorders were rolling he would invite requests for particular tunes, and explain and demonstrate some intricate piece of fingering or technique. Séamus had no trade secrets or any reserved list of tunes to be guarded jealously against acquisition by others. He was totally untraditional in this aspect of his piping: his willingness ever to impart his knowledge and skills to aspiring pipers. While he never conducted a class in piping or gave systematic coaching to any pupil, in the excellence of his playing, in style and technique, he set a headline for the younger pipers and in that way may be justly credited for the very high standards many of these players have reached.
While his labours as a folk song collector must earn for Séamus Ennis a place of honour in the history of the music, it is in the transmission and strengthening of the living tradition of the music that he made his most important contribution to the cultural life of his country. He once described how his father declared he would play no more and then formally handed over his pipes to Séamus to continue the tradition. This set of Coyne pipes made in Dublin over 140 years ago has been in turn bequeathed by Séamus to his friend and fellow piper, Liam Ó Floinn, thus testifying in a solemn manner Séamus’s own concern for that tradition.
Breandán Breathnach (Dal gCais Vol 7 1984)
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It is now more than 5 years since the death on 20 Sept. 1970 of Leo Rowsome whose name was, and still is, practically synonymous with the Uilleann pipes, yet so vividly has his image survived in the public memory that it is almost as if he were still alive – and this despite the rise to fame of a new generation of great pipers.
For at least 40 years, until age and ill health had begun to take their toll of memory and reflexes, he was the exponent par excellence of a free, flowing style which, despite criticisms of the purists, was authentic in its own way and left an indelible mark on contemporary Irish music in general and on piping in particular. With his instrument invariably in perfect tune he was ever and always the consummate showman who looked and played the part of a great musician. Everywhere he went he added glamour to his unique, most expressive and truly native instrument which has been enshrined in the national consciousness as a living link with the old, historic Irish nation of pre-famine days.
He was one of the last of that very small band of Uilleann pipe makers and his skill in reed making and in tuning pipes was unrivalled. His head was stored with the traditional lore of his father and grandfather and of the Cash and Byrne families and to this knowledge was added the experience of a lifetime backed by outstanding manual dexterity, eyes like a hawk, a keen, analytical brain and a most retentive memory.
Shortly before his death he had undertaken to train young pupils in the art of pipe and reed making and tuning. To the piping fraternity his sudden death was a veritable calamity, which however has since, to a great extent, been overcome by the work of Na Píobairí Uilleann (NPU), formed some 3 years previously, of which he was a founder member and a joint patron with Séamus Ennis. This world-wide association is confined entirely to pipers and its object is to form a bond between the numerically small and widely dispersed exponents of the art so as to pool their knowledge and resources and make generally available the technology of reed making, tuning, pipe-making, piping, recordings of old pipers, biographical notes, transcriptions of valuable tapes and the publication of a magazine. All this was work dear to his heart; he watched it grow and flourish and lent to it the encouragement of his great prestige.
Much of his extraordinary pre-eminence stems from the fact that in contrast to all other pipe-makers during the last three-quarters of a century he alone devoted his whole life-time solely to the Uilleann pipes (or the Union pipes as they were called up to and including his father’s time). Other great pipers and pipe makers came and went but to all of them the pipes was but a sideline or a hobby, whereas with Leo it was his whole life, and indeed for 50 long years he lived by the pipes alone.
Not many of the other pipe makers were also great pipers, for the simple reason that their work cut into their practicing time. Leo somehow continued to achieve phenomenal proficiency as a piper despite long hours at his father’s old treadle lathe and the time-consuming business of repairing and tuning derelict sets, making reeds, teaching some 5 nights a week and off on a long journey nearly every weekend to concert, feis or flead ceoil. He did however have one inestimable advantage in addition to his undoubted talent. He had the expert tuition, from a very tender age, of his father, Willie, and of his uncle Tom Rowsome. Also he and his brother Tom used to play together, each with one hand on the same chanter, as well as duets on two chanters, harmonising beautifully. As a child and growing boy Leo was always playing around his father’s workshop, trying his hand at small jobs, and by the time his father was stricken by his last illness he had already nearly mastered his trade. As he was dying Willie strove with desperate urgency to pass on the remainder of his knowledge to Leo, and his last words had to do with some obscure aspect of the intricate art of reed making.
Leo, still a mere boy, was now the family bread winner. He secured the position of teacher with the Dublin Pipers Club which about this time, consequent upon the death of Nicholas Markey, had become vacant. This gave rise to a certain amount of heart burning as some of the members were in favour of appointing Tom Rowsome. He carried on manfully however and the small stipend was useful for a couple of years until the Club broke up during the Civil War in 1924. In the meantime, overcoming tremendous difficulties, he resurrected his father’s pipe making business at Harold’s Cross and actually found time to make a new concert pitch pipes for himself which for quality of tone and brilliance was never equalled in its class in his life-time. The main stock was inclined to leak slightly and to remedy this he encased it in silver which ha had engraved with his name and the year. This glorious instrument, shining and resplendent and sounding like an organ, was for nearly 50 years an object of fascination for countless audiences and of veneration and almost superstitious awe for pipers.
The Sheer economic necessity of impressing audiences and getting engagements with subsequent orders for new sets compelled him to present his music in the most brilliant manner possible. He therefore gave less prominence to the finer points of staccato ornamentation, most of which would have been lost on a lay audience anyhow. He concentrated instead on letting the melody flow out, clearly and sweetly, controlling the tone by clever tricks of fingering and momentary raisings of the chanter, using just enough closed (staccato) fingering to impart the essential phrasing and to making the utmost use of the regulators. Indeed it was possibly the unequalled facility with which he manipulated the latter that was the most potent factor in gaining him wide recognition. Not all pipers, however, fully approved of his style, including some of those he surpassed in popularity.
Leo, like his father before him, never had an unkind word to say about anyone, least of all another piper. He just went on his own serene way, topping the bills, broadcasting, teaching, pipe making, and building up his business and reputation until it was worldwide and he was in demand for the most important functions on both sides of the Irish sea.
As to Rowsome’s standing as a piper there has been some controversy. In his later years, especially after a serious illness, it became fashionable to disparage his piping as too facile and flutelike. Now that he is dead and gone his records are being re-examined with new interest and there is a growing consensus of opinion that his is a case of “the greatness of his art conceals itself”. One of his severest critics, who is also an outstanding authority, remarked to the writer recently, “I think Rowsome will have to be re-evaluated”. Johnny Doran, one of the greatest pipers of all time, swore by Leo, and his brother Felix Doran put him at the top of the list. Willie Clancy admired his playing intensely and used to maintain that he was a lot better than he was given credit for. There must be few better qualified to judge him than these three, now all, alas, gone to their eternal reward. Of course the first two had their origins in the same school of piping as Leo, but Clancy’s background was that of the greatest school in the world, Clare and Galway, that produced such great pipers as Patsy Touhey and Garrett Barry. Willie Clancy, back in the late 40s played for some years in his Piper’s Quartette with Tommy Reck and Seán Seery and described to the writer how Leo used to select pieces for broadcasting programmes more or less at random with little regard for difficulty or popularity and then got down in earnest to serious practice. The Quartette would probably have been more brilliant with less labour if he had settled for a programme limited to “chestnuts”, but Leo took the rough with the smooth. In a more general context Leo’s renditions, while truly traditional, were also, from the viewpoint of the classical musician, wholly satisfactory as they conformed to the fundamental principles of musicianship.
After he had made his first record in which, of course, the regulators were very prominent, some of his critics maintained that he depended on the regulators to such an extent that he could not play without using them. It was to disprove this story that he made a record with the “Broadcast” label without touching the regulators, one of the tunes being “The Mountain Lark”, a reel. In my opinion this is the best 78 record he ever made, yet he had it withdrawn because, as he told me, “There are flaws in it that even you didn’t spot”.
Leo was fortunate in the girl he married, Helena Williams, a school teacher who, like himself, loved Irish music and the pipes. She is also (for she is still with us and teaching) a beautiful singer of Irish airs. She secured for him a happy, comfortable home and managed his affairs so that he had leisure to follow his vocation. They had four fine children. Leon, a vocational teacher, has his father’s old position of Uilleann pipes teacher in the Municipal College of Music, Dublin, makes pipes in his spare time and is rapidly building up an international reputation as a piper, appearing on TV programmes on both sides of the Atlantic. Liam is in the top rank of Irish fiddlers and can also hold his own at the Scottish music. Helena is a brilliant exponent of the tin whistle, and a very active member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Eireann. Olivia, her twin sister, is an excellent pianist. One of Leon’s children, Kevin, is making good headway on the pipes – so there you have the fifth generation of Rowsome pipers.
The first time I saw Leo Rowsome was at a concert in Thurles in the late autumn of 1935. I had thought that on account of his great fame he must be an old or at least an elderly man and was agreeably surprised to discover that he was just a young man like myself and not the least bit puffed up by fame but simple, warm-hearted, jovial, happy, a fund of anecdotes and in general the very best of good company. We made a deal I which I traded my old pipes for a beautiful 16½? pipes that at one time had belonged to Liam Andrews. We became fast friends on that day and our friendship lasted until his death 35 years later. Until my marriage in 1938 I travelled generally once every week or fortnight to his class from such distant places as Tipperary, Carlow, Cavan and Clare. He was a first class teacher and succeeded in giving individual attention to upwards of 30 pupils, Many of them juveniles. He was always patient, never abusive, maintained good discipline and while he never pushed his pupils he managed to maintain progress. He never set standards higher than those of the individual pupils with the result most of them stayed on until they had achieved reasonable competence, and quite a few went on to become famous. He wrote out music for each pupil, very quickly, in a beautiful hand and these manuscripts are cherished now in many a collection. He was always a stickler for correct settings, and his are surely the best.
For a good many years before his death he had occupied part of his spare time – what little of it there way – with writing out his own settings, which were the correct settings which came to him mostly through his father, from the old, long dead pipers of Wexford, Wicklow, Kilkenny, Kildare and that territory generally. It is hoped that his widow will get around to having this collection published as it would certainly be a boon, especially for pipers, who now have often to struggle with settings more suitable for fiddles and accordions.
Leo was at his glorious best when heard broadcasting live over the radio (the Director of music for some unknown reason would never allow him to be recorded). These programmes were listened to avidly by his numerous fans. Only two of the “78” records approached the broadcasts in quality. The originals of the present LP were most disappointing and I well recall Leo listening to one of them and the pained expression on his face, which was all the more so because he was always inclined to be optimistic and see the best side of everything.
Leo was one of my best friends and as I write old memories keep crowding in. What I have written is only a small fraction of what I could tell about a great and a good man. Also, what I have written is not intended to be dogmatic or to be the last word. Others have still a lot to say about Leo Rowsome and it is safe to predict that for generations to come he will be the topic of many a discussion. He lived a happy, useful, busy life. He died as he would have wished, in harness as it were, adjudicating at a musical festival. He had been a good father, a faithful husband and a genuine Christian. His friends were legion and his funeral was in all but name a State funeral with a huge attendance including all sorts of unexpected and unlikely people attending. What a pity a book of condolences was not opened. At his graveside on Tuesday 22 September 1970 the oration was delivered by Labhrás Ó Murchú, President of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, and Leo’s old friend and neighbour, Dan Dowd, piper, played the “Lament for the Death of Staker Wallis”.
Seán Reid, Ennis, co. Clare. 23rd November 1975
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We were deeply saddened to hear in early January  of the death, at the age of 89, of Jim Brophy, one of the patrons of Na Píobairí Uilleann. Jim was a committed member of the club and took part in all the activities that he could get to. He was one of our founding members at the Bettystown meeting in 1968, and, to the best of my knowledge, never missed coming to the annual tionól. He was a regular performer at the piping marathons and also performed at the Saturday night recitals in Henrietta Street. He was in addition a generous contributor to the funds of the club and to the club’s archive. He loaned several rare 78rpm recordings for copying and also provided some very interesting photographs. The famous picture of Johnny Doran sitting at the caravan in the Green Lanes is widely known only because Jim leant his print to be copied.
He was born into a large and very musical family. His parents were both from Roscrea, co. Tipperary, and came to Dublin just before Jim was born. Jim’s father Pat was a whistle and flute player during his early years in Dublin, and knew very few other musicians. However, when he made the acquaintance of Jim Seery in the late 1920s a door was opened for him into the rich vein of traditional music in the city at that time. The Seerys lived then in Harold’s Cross, close to the homes of two significant piping families, the Rowsomes and the Brogans.
Jim Seery introduced Pat Brophy into this circle by bringing him to the Brogan household where he met pipers such as Jimmie Ennis, John Potts and Pat Ward, among many other musicians. It was in this milieu that Pat developed the love for the pipes which he passed on to Jim and to Jim’s brother Mick. He was directly connected to a very old tradition of piping which could still be discerned over half a century later in Jim’s playing. Pat Mitchell wrote in 1988:
Probably the most memorable session in no. 44 [Parnell Square where NPU once had the use of a small room - ed.] was the night Jim Brophy turned up and, out of practice though he was, played some memorable music on a borrowed set of pipes. The relationship of his piping to Séamus Ennis’ was immediately obvious and it was an education in itself to have the opportunity to compare the two styles and observe both the similarity between them as well as the changes wrought in what must have been the basic piping style of Nicholas Markey who taught both their fathers. (An Píobaire 2.39, May 1988)
By the time he was 15 Jim had progressed from the whistle to the bag and chanter. The first opportunity he got to play a full set was when piper Ned Gorman visited the Brophy house and invited him to try his Willie Rowsome flat set. Jim couldn’t play his father’s set because Pat was a left-handed player. In 1936 he finally bought his own first full set, a Willie Rowsome set which cost him £10. His home became a rendezvous for many of the best musicians of the day, and he recalled visits from Johnny and Felix Doran, Willie Clancy, Andy and Mick Conroy, Jimmie Ennis, Tommy Potts, Matt Kiernan, Dan O’Dowd, Billy Andrews, Tom Mulligan, Breandán Breathnach, Tommy Reck and many more.
Such surroundings certainly had their effect for all of his family of eight brothers and four sisters became involved in music in one way or another. He played live on several occasions on Irish radio, both as a solo performer and as a member of a piping trio with his father and brother. He particularly remembered an occasion in 1951 when the trio played for ten minutes from the studio in the GPO for the sum of £3.
In 1987, along with Dan O’Dowd and Andy Conroy, Jim was made a Patron of Na Píobairí Uilleann, joining the short list of pipers to be so honoured. It was an honour Jim certainly deserved, for his place in the history of piping in Dublin and for his many and varied contributions to the activities of NPU.
In addition to this appreciation of Jim from a piper’s standpoint, I must add something concerning Jim in a more personal way. He used cycle into work or into the Pipers’ Club from his home on Kildare Road, and his route would take him past my home in the Tenters. If travelling to the club he would have a bag and chanter in a case on the back carrier. Whenever we met on the road he would stop and we would have lengthy conversations about what was in the news, the weather, who was on TV the previous night, and so on. I always found him gentle and good-humoured, with never a hard word to say about anyone. I discovered at his funeral that he had devoted a huge part of his spare time to assisting in the upkeep of the church and grounds of the Oblate Fathers in Mount Argus, and that is why he was buried from that church. He had worked as a gardener for the Board of Works, so his work skills would have been very valuable to the congregation there. He was, it seems, very devout. It was not a side of his personality that he thought necessary to reveal to people, but if his religious beliefs were the foundation of his calm and contented attitude to life, then he was a walking advertisement for faith.
He will be very sorely missed. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife Kitty and to his family and friends.
Terry Moylan (An Píobaire 4.14)
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Dan O’Dowd was one of the most influential figures in the massive world-wide development of uilleann pipering in recent years.
For many years, his home at Malahide Road, Donnycarney, has been a mecca for uilleann pipers of every age from many parts, especially those with important recording or concert engagements who wanted help with the finer points of tunes. Many of the younger generation of great pipers would not be where they are but for the countless hours of unpaid tuition from Dan O’Dowd.
A senior Dublin Fire Brigade officer who retired some years ago, he was the recognised top exponent of the fonn mall (slow air) and, over his long musical career, enthralled thousands of listeners in many countries including America, Brittany, Czechoslovakia, Wales, England and Ireland.
Born in Marrowbone Lane, in Dublin’s Liberties, he began his musical career on the warpipes in the James Connolly Pipe Band, Thomas Street. A member of Fianna Éireann under Seán MacBride, he was later interned in Mountjoy Jail for his republican activities. He brought his pipes to Mountjoy with him, but his long hours of practicing were so unappreciated by friend and jailer alike that he was transferred to the Curragh Internment Camp. Dan led the contingent off the train with his pipes to be greeted by Maud Gonne.
Shortly after his release from the Curragh, while attending warpipe classes at the School of Music, the sound of the uilleann pipes as played by Leo Rowsome nearby attracted Dan and helped to change music history.
Active in Cumann na bPíobairí from its foundation in 1936, his work continued when the club initiated the founding of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. He was one of the original members of the former Coolock branch, and later Cluain Tarbh CCÉ. In one year, he won the senior pipes competition at Ulster, Leinster, Munster and All-Ireland fleadhanna. Fire Brigade duty caused him to miss Connacht.
Dan O’Dowd helped found Na Píobairí Uilleann in 1968 and was patron of the organisation.
Despite intermittent illness he remained active in both Cluain Tarbh CCÉ and NPU until his last hospitalisation. He was also the subject of a CCÉ video documentary.
His favourite uilleann pipes were an Egan set made in 1852 which had a fascinating history. A cobbler called John Coughlan, who emigrated to the US, passed them to his son, Tom, who then lived in Sydney, Australia. When he died they remained in a trunk for many years until a fireman-piper called Bill Crowe bought them. On a visit to Ireland in 1954, he struck up a friendship with Dan after visiting Tara Street and, before departing home, left the Egan set with Dan.
(Irish Times – Monday 26/06/1989)
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ANDY CAME HOME TO IRELAND IN THE EARLY 1970s – I first met him in the Four Seasons bar where John Kelly his old friend had a session. John introduced me to Andy Conroy, a man I’d never even heard of. Andy used to visit me in my flat in Dublin where we would play tunes and he would show me intricate triplets & quad-tuplets and the most amazing finger combinations on the chanter. Later on I moved to Drumcondra not far from Andy’s friend and pipe maker Matt Kiernan and we used to meet there. I would listen to Andy and Matt reminiscing on his times in America.
When he came back from the USA Andy’s pipes were in a white plastic bag. I put them together and got them going again and he was good enough to let me play his full set for two years. I eventually moved to Co. Clare and would see Andy now and again in Dublin or at the Willie Clancy week. Thankfully I met Andy when my piping needed direction. His tight Connaught style was exciting but difficult to master. It is the style I now play and I shall be forever thankful to Andy for his time and patience.
Andy Conroy was born in Lough Glynn, Co.Roscommon 1911, into his father’s second marriage, to Bridget Frain. Two years later Bridget died after the birth of her son Michael (uilleann piper & whistle player). At that time – 1911 – it was mostly whistle, flute and the odd single row melodeon that were played in his area. Around the age of six years Andy remembered the name of Gorman the piper being mentioned. Although Andy was related to the great Roscommon blind piper Johnny Gorman they never met as Gorman died in 1917. It was Andy’s younger brother Mick who first took to the music and gave Andy his first whistle and later piping lessons. The first time he heard the sound of an Uilleann piper was from a 78rpm record brought back from the states of the piper Pat Fitzpatrick. He thought the sound was beautiful. He went for lessons to Paddy Lavin who was home from America. Paddy Lavin had taken lessons from Kearney who had taken lessons from Patsy Touhey. Andy took great interest in Patsy Touhey’s tight piping style. In the 1930s he got lessons from a street player called Ashford who died young. That seems to have set him on his way, but Andy was playing without a teacher for a long time after that. He played with Michael Coleman’s brother Jim Coleman. He would sit in on the session in the dance halls playing whistle or flute and would get ten shillings a night plus mugs of porter; he said it was “terrific altogether”.
In 1929, aged 18 years, Andy went to London and stayed with his cousin Tom Costello. Tom was a bricklayer and Andy learnt the bricklaying trade from Tom as they worked on the building of the London underground railway. When the Second World War started in 1939 Andy came back to Ireland. During the 1940s he worked in Lanesborough where he met Jim Brophy. According to Jim, Andy was sporting a beard at that time. He then moved up to work in the six counties and while in Fermanagh he met the piper Philip Martin who told him about the great musicians in Belfast who Andy knew nothing about – the the McFaddens, and the McPeakes and of course piper R L O’Mealy who was living on the Omagh Road. Andy was very impressed with O’Mealy’s playing. He used to take musicians into an attic room to play music and Andy was delighted to have been asked.
He again moved back to Dublin in 1944, for many years taking lessons from Leo Rowsome and occasionally playing in Leo’s quartet. When the Piper’s Club moved to Thomas street Dublin Andy would bring Johnny Doran to meet and play with Leo Rowsome. Andy won the Oireachtas gold medal in 1949.
In the early 1950s Andy went to live in New York and stayed there 22 Years. He befriended and played with some of the great musicians in America, amongst them Louis Quinn, Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, Lad O’Beirne, Paddy Killoran and Paddy Sweeny. He also met Tom Morrison and Ed Reevy. He spent time with Tom Busby listening to Tom’s cylinder tapes of Patsy Touhey and often played at the “Paddy Killoran Traditional Irish Club”. He had a great interest in space exploration and in 1956 while staying at Mrs McGuire’s, at 106th and Broadway, he wrote the tunes Sputnik 1 & 2, and a tune for astronaut Colonel Glenn. He later wrote and recorded for the archives Conroy’s no. 1 and 2. He played at many festivals and concerts in America and in 1958 he was on the bill as “Andrew Ros Conroy” at the Newport Irish music Festival.
He retired and came home to Ireland in 1973 and settled in Capel Street, Dublin. He was a proud member and patron of NPU, and a great contributor to the club, passing on his tight Connaught style to many young pipers, and playing at the piping concert at the Willie Clancy Summer School. He was a man who knew his own worth and had a generosity and kindness. He died on the 23rd of June 1999.
I leave you with the following text from Dave Hegarty’s submission of Andy in the “Irish Life Pensioner of the Year Award” in 1992, for which Andy received a commendation.
Andy Conroy, Master piper, composer, former flute and whistle player, bricklayer (retired), musical, local and social historian, commentator, wrestler, boxer, weight lifter and Karate practitioner, is unquestionably an outstanding contributor to the social and cultural life of this country.
AN INSPIRATION TO ALL OF US.
Mick Coyne, Ennis, January 2006
Tommy Kearney piping is one of the primal cries of the Déise. It is a cry of celebration, of lamentation, and of meditation. In that way it echoes the geantraí, golltraí, and suantraí of the music of Early Ireland and reminds us that he is a tradition bearer of the most significant kind. In carrying the sonic flame through his own generation, he has carried the torch of tradition like an Olympic runner into a new era when piping has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. The passing of the repertoire and technique of his teacher Liam Walsh into Tommy Kearney’s own hands has honoured both men, and has reset the foundations of Waterford and Déise piping tradition.
I first met Tommy in 1974 when he agreed to be the piper in the group Tiompán. An album followed, released by Gael Linn, entitled Óró Dámhnaigh. The weekly sessions and rehearsals were like master classes with everyone in the group bowing to the maestro himself - Tommy Keane on whistle (later to become a supreme piper himself), Mattie Fahy on flute (whose house hosted the rehearsals, and whose father Joe Fahy was so central to introducing me to Tommy), Noirín ní Ríain (who was beginning her singing journey with the Déise songs she learned from the Cork singer Pilib Ó Laoghaire which were to lead her onto the spiritual repertoire at the heart of her musical life), and myself, finding my way slowly on the piano keyboard inspired, by the great Ó Riada who had died three years previously and whose pioneering work with Ceoltóirí Chúalainn was the central inspiration for the group Tiompán. Tommy inspired each and every one of us to greater things within ourselves.
Tommy is in the tradition of the gentleman piper. His music has the generosity of his own personality, the humour of his own mind, the warmth of his own heart, the passion of his own blood, the individuality of his own fingerprint, and the strength of his own soul. His is the music of the fireside, the hearth of tradition, the home of piping. His is the sound of Helvic Head, the dance of the Three Sisters as the ‘lovely sweet banks’ of the Suir, Nore and Barrow swim as one into the city of Waterford. His music is the music of the place names of Na Déise - Dún Garbháin, Ceapach Chuinn, Carraig na Súire, Rinn ó gCúanach, Baile Mhic Cáirbre, Cill Mhic Thomáisín, An Trá Mhór.
Tommy Kearney has brought the piping of his people from one century into the next, and from one millennium into another. This recording testifies to that heroic journey.
Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin
Professor of Music, University of Limerick.
Director, Irish World Music Centre.
(From the sleevenotes to NPUCD012 Tommy Kearney - The Master Pipers Vol. 2)
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How I came to know Tom may seem a little different. Eileen, my wife, had been back to Ireland in 1985 visiting relatives and I asked her to see if she could find any thing on the Irish Uilleann pipes. Like many of us Americans, I was playing the Highland pipes in the local pipe band, but liked what I heard on the uilleann pipes. She brought home the Pat Mitchell/Jackie Small book – The Piping of Patsy Touhey. After reading it over I wondered what to do now; all of this was totally new to me. No one in South Carolina at that time knew anything about uilleann pipes and I knew absolutely no one that played them or had them. Looking through the book, I thought I may contact some of the people listed on page vi. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I got the telephone number of Tom Busby of Long Island, NY. I called and Tom answered the phone. That was my lucky day for we developed a friendship that continued. Tom had the names and addresses of many uilleann pipers living in the South. He put me in contact with Rev MacKenzie of North Carolina and Nick Whitmer in Virginia. Now I was much closer to learning uilleann pipes and had a great mentor, although we were far apart with his living in New York and I in South Carolina. Actually, we found that we had other things in common. The company from which Tom had retired had relocated to South Carolina, only about ten miles up the road from Greenville, and his and my wife’s people, Burkes, came from the same area north of Tuam in Galway.
Not too long after having my practice set from Nick Whitmer, I told Torn I had never seen anyone play the uilleann pipes and this was very true, for I had not been to a concert or workshop. Tom changed that by sending a picture of himself playing a Taylor set. I think the picture was made in 1958. The picture has been on my desk every since I received it.
Over the years, Tom sent tunes that he had written out, plus tapes of different pipers, so I could learn how the music was to sound. I asked him once should I learn from music or learn it by ear? His reply was to learn it either way; that some people are gifted enough that they can pick it up by just listening to it, others had to dig it out. I remembered those words as I went to lessons from Jerry O’Sullivan, Pat Sky, Tim Britton and Matty Connolly. Some tunes came by listening and there were those that were dig, dig. He also said if you could read and use the music, it would help you as you get older because the mind starts to forget as time goes go and you could use the written music.
Speaking of pipe music on tapes, Tom sent that of several pipers but saved the best till last. Only this past spring (2000), Tom sent a tape of his playing, some it had a flute player on it but mostly it was Tom’s piping. The tape was originally made in 1978. I think his piping was excellent, some of it was very tight playing that I have always admired.
I think Tom also liked American baseball. I called him once when he was watching a game on TV; it was leading up to the world series. I could tell that there was probably a better time to call him, and I was about to fall from grace, so it was a short conversation. This was about four or five years ago while I was traveling a lot with my employer. In the Atlanta airport, I picked up a Braves T-shirt and sent it to him, which I think he liked very much. He sent me a T-shirt with a piper on it.
With Tom, it was like you had known him all your life. He was very kind, considerate, and loved uilleann piping. In the last few years, he told me more than once how he missed playing the pipes. He knew all the joys and frustrations of piping and shared them with you.
Although we talked a lot over the phone several times during the year, plus holidays, birthdays; I never got to meet him in person. I started having health problems and just could not get to New York. However, I feel like I have always known him and he made my life more pleasant.
On 10 Sept. 2000, a Sunday afternoon, I telephoned Tom Busby to see how things were doing. I have done this many times in the last 14 or so years. However this Sunday was different. I had thought about calling Tom for the past few days for he had been on my mind. His daughter answered the phone and told me that he had passed away on the day before, that he had died peacefully in his sleep, just the way he wanted it.
Tom Busby will be truly missed by many of us. He was of great character, a deeply devoted person to his religion, family, and country. Tom was a real Patriarch of Irish Uilleann Piping.
Ed Harrison, South Carolina, USA (An Píobaire Vol 4 no. 9 March 2001)
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I had known Chris Langan a couple of years, from the Willie Clancy Summer School and his frequenting Henrietta Street each summer; so, when planning a visit to Toronto in the summer of 1989, I made a definite promise to myself to call in and see him, if this was at all possible, while there.
Well, it just so happened that luck was with me, as the house in which I was holidaying was a mere three miles down the road from Chris’s own house.
My few visits to Chris during that week were very enjoyable and informative, as Chris had such a lot to show and tell – not only in relation to piping, but also about places of interest and beauty in Toronto and its surrounding areas.
I reckon I paid him about four visits in all. On one occasion we must have spent about two hours below in his workshop, with Chris guiding me through some finer points in reedmaking – a skill I cannot seem to get the hang of! On another visit he strapped on a set of pipes and played for me some of his own tunes, composed by himself; ‘Henrietta Street’ and ‘Dan O’Dowd’ are the only two that come to mind now, but I’m sure there were many more. He was disappointed I did not have my own set of Johnny Bourke pipes with me bit it did not take him long to root around downstairs in his workshop and produce a bag, bellows and chanter for my use that week.
The chanter was perfect – made of iron-wood by Chris himself; it played very softly and sweetly. I found it hard to put the thing down! Chris proved a great teacher. With such a quiet gentlemanly nature he could put any pupil at their ease. In my short stay there he gave me some very useful and valuable tips on chanter playing.
The highlight of the week was meeting a group of Toronto pipers which gathered every Tuesday evening in Chris Langan’s kitchen. There was a great mixture among them – some fine pipers, some beginners. We spent the evening playing together the tunes we knew and swopping those some of us didn’t know. Chris, being the ‘host’ of the evening, was definitely not one to take the limelight, preferring to quietly go about his business of giving lessons to the beginners, dropping some words of advice to others and generally making everyone feel relaxed and comfortable. It was obvious the Toronto pipers had great respect and admiration for Chris – him being a kind of focal point for their piping.
On my last day in Toronto I called to say goodbye to Chris and to thank him for his time and attention. He had ready for me, on my calling, a manuscript with all his own tunes written down in it, and also a tape of himself playing each tune – in case I had difficulty with the note-reading. I remember him making me promise not to play the tape to anyone else, especially not another piper. But the greatest memento of my visit there, apart from my memories, was the iron-wood concert pitch chanter I had played all week. Chris insisted on me taking it home with me, as a parting gift and memento of my visit to Toronto.
I have met Chris since, in the Willie Clancy Summer School and the ‘Club’ and I was very proud to tell him that I was still playing his chanter, with the same reed still intact and it sounding just fine. I think he was half-surprised, half-amused to hear this, for he replied: “Of all the reeds I’ve made in all these years, I would have to end up giving the only decent one away!”
Deirdre Leech (An Píobaire, Vol 3, no. 11 July 1992)
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Seán McAloon (1923-1998) became interested in Irish traditional music at an early age in his home place of Altawalk near Roslea in Co. Fermanagh. Indeed, music was to become his abiding passion throughout his life. Seán is best remembered as a piper but he was at least as keen on the fiddle as he was on the pipes and it is a tribute to his musicianship that he managed to play both instruments with equal aptitude for the duration of his musical career. He took up the fiddle in 1937, a year or two before he left school, and was self-taught, although he used to occasionally visit Owen Connolly, an elderly fiddle player who lived a mile or two across the border in Co. Monaghan. Like many another of his generation, Seán became enchanted with the recordings of the great Sligo fiddle player, Michael Coleman. He listened to these recordings all his life and, for Seán, Coleman was the musical genius par excellence. He collected every record Coleman made, studied them all in fine detail and modeled his own style of fiddle playing exclusively on that of Coleman. Such was his determination to learn a particular set of tunes from one of Coleman’s records that he spent a whole evening turning the turntable of a gramaphone with his finger as the spring had gone. I remember him telling me that he made a visit to Coleman’s home place in Knockgrania in 1946, approximately a year after Coleman’s death. He met with one of Coleman’s sisters on the same trip and he also met P. J. McDermott of Bunanadden, Co Sligo, who is commemorated in Coleman’s 1922 recording of McDermott’s Hornpipe.
The first piper Seán heard playing live was Tommy O’Rourke from Lisnaskea, Co. Fermanagh. He was a member of a céilí band called The King’s Band which used to play in a hall close to where Seán lived. It was after hearing another Fermanagh piper play in the early 1940s, Phil Martin from Ballagh near Kilturk, that Seán decided to learn to play the uilleann pipes. He was about eighteen years old at this time. Phil Martin was well known throughout the country, he regularly broadcast from Radio Éireann and he made a 78 rpm on the Regal Zonophone label in the 1930s. He also played a Stroh fiddle. Seán had heard Martin play on the radio and at concerts and dances although he did not get a chance to meet him personally. Eventually, James Doherty, a friend of Seán’s who played the fiddle, cycled one evening with him the twelve miles to Martin’s house. They were well received and Seán was greatly impressed with Martin’s piping. Seán recalled that Phil used to keep the pipes on a table as you entered the living room of the house. On another visit Martin gave Seán the address of the pipe-maker Tadhg Crowley in Cork from whom Seán acquired his practice set. When the pipes arrived he was immediately hooked, despite his frustration at the inadequacies of the particular chanter he got from Crowley. Seán duly learnt some tunes on the practice set and returned to visit Phil Martin again in the hope that he might be able to correct a fault with the reed. Shortly after he arrived, Phil’s brother Paddy handed Phil’s McCrone set, pitched in C, to Seán, and asked him to play them. It was a great experience for the young McAloon and one he often spoke about in later years. Unfortunately, Phil Martin died shortly after this visit and Seán was left without a teacher.
Nevertheless, Seán persevered on his own and made steady progress on the chanter. He listened regularly to the broadcasts of Leo Rowsome’s piping quartet on the radio and became spellbound by Leo’s bright and attractive style of playing. He also bought as many of Leo’s recordings as he could lay his hands on and he set about learning all that he could from them, just as he did with the recordings of Michael Coleman. Seán first met Leo in 1944 through the auspices of a Fermanagh man living in Dublin by the name of McManus who ran a public house on the quays. He knew Leo well and invited Seán to come to his home to meet Leo. Not surprisingly, Seán accepted the invitation and traveled to Dublin with a friend of his by the name of Murphy who played the fiddle and was a relative of Mr McManus. Leo played for about an hour or so and when he was invited to take a break for supper, he asked Seán to play his pipes. Needless to say, Seán was thrilled. Leo and Seán became firm friends, Seán bought a number of chanters and sets from him and he used to talk about how much he looked forward to getting a new reed from Leo through the post. Over the coming years, Seán was a frequent visitor to Leo’s house in Belton Park in Donnycarney. I understand that not many visitors to Leo’s house made it as far as the workshop, but Seán was among the chosen few. If I remember correctly, he was only in it once but he always spoke of this particular experience with awe, such was his admiration for Leo. Indeed, it appears that Leo held Seán in the same high regard and that he used to often speak of him in glowing terms.
In the 1940s and 50s Seán was in demand to play in house dances and concerts in his own area, often travelling many miles by bicycle as was the norm at the time. He particularly enjoyed playing in Clones, Co. Monaghan where there was great appreciation for traditional music in those days. He was a good friend of the Co. Dublin piper Jack Wade, a customs officer who was based in Clones from the early 1940s. In 1964 Seán moved to New York and stayed in lodgings in Brooklyn. He worked for American Machines, as did another Fermanagh piper, Tom Busby, and they met up on numerous occasions. Other musicians he got to know and played with during his year there were the great Co. Roscommon fiddle player Larry Redican, Louis Quinn from Co. Armagh, and Paddy Reynolds. Seán was also in contact with his old friend Mattie Connolly, from Scotstown, Co. Monaghan whom Seán had started on the pipes some years previously. One of the New York-based musicians Seán most admired, both as a person and as a player, was the legendary Sligo fiddle player Paddy Killoran. Seán had always held his recordings in high regard and he used to enjoy listening to his reminisces about Michael Coleman.
Following his time in New York Seán spent a year in Dublin where he worked in the building industry. He already knew the traditional music scene in Dublin as he was a frequent visitor there since the early 1940s. He regularly attended The Pipers’ Club in Thomas Street and he particularly enjoyed visiting John Kelly in his shop in Capel Street. It was there that he met Willie Clancy for the first time. John Kelly thought highly of Seán as a musician and they had a common interest in Coleman’s music. In September 1965 Seán moved to Belfast, living for a year with his sister before buying a house in St James’ Road. He played a lot of music at this stage at sessions and concerts and was a member of the Northern Province Céilí Band. One of his best friends in the city was Jack O’Rourke, a piper from Co. Leitrim who lived in Broadway. Seán did little playing in public after 1970, preferring to direct his energy to pipe-making and he approached this aspect of piping with the same dedication and commitment he displayed in his music making. He made a number of sets, mostly concert pitch, but he did make a small number of chanters and drones in C. He made wonderful reeds which were full of tone and richness. I was interested to learn that he learnt the basics of the art while he was living in Fermanagh from instructions he received through the post from a pipe-maker called Patsy Browne who lived in Boston. Seán’s friend Louis Quinn, who was living in the States, had asked Browne to send Seán the information.
Seán’s house in 95 St James’ Rd was a meeting-place, not only for pipers from Belfast and the surrounding area, but also for pipers from further afield who were passing through. It was always a pleasure to spend time in his company and he was very encouraging to younger players. Seán was totally selfless in sharing his time and his gifts with others. In his own quiet way he inspired and encouraged a generation of pipers in Belfast in the 1970s and 1980s through his great experience as a gifted musician and by his skill at maintaining, making and tuning pipes. His knowledge and appreciation of piping and fiddle playing was comprehensive and fastidious, and his instinct for a good tune was second to none. My father and I used to visit Seán at least once a week and I seldom left his home without having learnt something new about traditional music. It was an honour to have had him as a friend and a privilege to have benefited from his informed and astute insight into the world of Irish traditional music.
Robbie Hannan (From the sleevenotes to NPU CD 013 - Sean McAloon, Stór Píobaireachta 1)
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Peter Carberry was born on the 8th February 1924, to Peter Carberry, Kenagh, in the parish of Kilcommick, Co. Longford and Lizzie Rooney of Tarmonbarry, Co. Roscommon. Peter still resides in the area - postal address Derryhawn, Kenagh, Co. Longford, population around 1,800. He attended school in Kenagh from the age of six to fifteen years.
Peter’s first instrument was a Clarke’s ‘C’ tin whistle, which he received from a neighbour, Mrs. Regan, while collecting with the Wren Boys one St Stephen’s Day. Before arriving home that evening he had learned to play an old jig he’d heard from his father, who played the melodeon. His mother, Peter recalls, was a fine traditional singer, and his uncle, Michael Carberry, a champion traditional step dancer, “The Blackbird” being his favourite. A brother of Peter’s played the banjo.
In April 1937, accompanied by his father, Peter met Johnny Doran for the first time at the opening of the Gaelic Athletic Association’s Pearse Park in Longford.
On leaving school he commenced casual work with the local farming community until aged seventeen years, when he was employed by Bórd na Mona (Peat Board). Around this time he joined The Rising of The Moon Céilí Band. This band was organised by a Michael (Black Mick) McGann, a non-musician, and its members were Sean Egan and Larry Kelly, fiddles, Michael McGann (not related to Black Mick), the two-row accordion, Michael Geraghty and Peter Carberry, flutes and Pat Higgins, drums. Peter says “The band did not go down too well with some of the locals. They used jeer and hurl abuse at us.”
In October 1946, then aged twenty-two years, Peter married Patricia Rogers from Ardagh, just east of Longford town. It was at an aeraiocht (open-air entertainment) in Kenagh that Peter first met Willie Reynolds, piper, from Walderstown, Co. Westmeath and Leo Rowsome, Dublin. He was to meet them later on a number of occasions at the sports in Killashee, four miles south-west of Longford town. During these years Peter continued with the céilí band, taking first place over Willie Reynolds’ Walderstown Band at a feis in Ballymahon.
Jimmy Dolan, a piper from Colehill, near Ballinacarrigy, Co. Westmeath, and nephew of Jim McCrone, piper and pipemaker, met up with Peter’s brother, Kevin, and formed a pipes/banjo duet. They were regularly engaged to play at local house dances. Jimmy, fond of dancing himself, would occasionally hand the pipes to Peter to continue playing while he danced.
For some years now Peter had been developing a very keen interest in the pipes, but could not afford to purchase a set because of his financial circumstances. However, his father gave him a heifer calf to rear and after two years he sold the heifer for fifteen pounds, ten shillings. With this money, and another five pounds, he purchased his first set from Jim McCrone.
His influences as a young piper were R.L. O’Mealy, whom he heard for the first time at an aeraiocht in Trysnagh, Ballinacarrigy, and Leo Rowsome. Peter speaks very highly of both pipers, saying “Rowsome was out of this world.”
There was another family of musicians living about seven miles from Peter, the Hanlys of Currole, Newtowncashel. House dances were a regular feature at that family home. Peter said of James Hanly, fiddle player, that he had a vast repertoire and a great gift of quick learning and recall, as had his own brother, Kevin. James’ sister, Molly (mother of Sean Keane of The Chieftains) played fiddle, and another brother, Peter, the pipes.
Around the age of twenty-five years Peter ordered a Rowsome set, the price was then fifty pounds. He did not have the ready cash but Leo generously agreed to accept the money by instalments during the making of the set, leaving very little due on completion. Fourteen years later he purchased a Moss Kennedy set, originally owned by Padraig O’Connor of Dundalk.
In 1958 Peter joined Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann and traveled extensively for many years on their world tours.
He has six children, Máiréad, Kitty, Patricia, Noel, Peadar and Brendan. The dancing tradition of the grand-uncle, Michael, has been passed on to Noel, Kitty and Patricia, the latter two being dance teachers; the piping to Noel and two of Peter’s grandchildren.
Peter has been a member of Na Píobairí Uilleann since its founding; he was present at the first meeting in Bettystown in May 1968 and became a Patron of the Society at its 30th Anniversary Celebratory Dinner in Dublin on 31 October 1998.
On behalf of Na Píobairí Uilleann, I congratulate Peter for his sincere dedication to the art of uilleann piping and I wish him and his family well in the future.
Seán Potts (An Píobaire Vol 3, no. 38 January 1999)
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Neil Mulligan was born in Dublin into a family steeped in the traditional music of Co. Leitrim, and is the fourth generation to carry on this tradition. His father, Tom Mulligan, (1916-1984), was a renowned fiddle player and piper and first taught him the Uilleann pipes when he was 11 years of age. Neil was subsequently taught by Leo Rowsome and also came under the influence of Séamus Ennis, who was a long-standing friend of the Mulligan family. He has won all-Ireland titles at various age levels, has toured extensively throughout Europe and North America, and more recently, has represented Ireland at a number of international bagpipe festivals. He is a former chairman and founding member of Na Píobairí Uilleann.
The C# set of pipes he plays were made for his father by James Mulcrone of Co. Longford in 1938 – a set I had the pleasure of playing for a number of years. [He also plays] a flatter set . . . pitched in the key of B, and made by Alain Froment of Kenmare, Co. Kerry. As Tom Mulligan was such a great friend and musical partner of mine for so many years, I am delighted to see his son carrying on this fine piping tradition . . .
Tommy Reck, Dublin April 1991 (from sleeve notes to Neil Mulligan - Barr na Cúille)
Neil Mulligan’s father Tom first came to Dublin in 1935. He’d left a job shovelling coal from the Arigna train, the last of Ireland’s narrow gauge railways, onto that bound for Dublin. He arrived into a city caught between the Great Depression and what became known as The Emergency. The first jog Tom got barely covered his digs. Coming from a family of musicians Tom had a head full of music even if his pockets were empty and it was wandering the streets of Phibsborough one night that he first heard the music of the piper and pipe-maker, James Mulcrone, coming from an upstairs window. Through Mulcrone Tom Mulligan met other musicians; enduring friendships were formed with people like Tommy Reck and Séamus Ennis, and Tom, a fiddle player, bought a set of Mulcrone pipes. He married Kitty McMahon from Beale in Kerry, and they began a family.
The story of how Tom Mulligan met James Mulcrone and what followed is important. Important because Neil Mulligan’s music is very much steeped in what resulted from those associations. That and his father’s own musicianship! Every tune has a story, goes back to somebody who played it or composed it or remembered a snatch of it from somewhere else. Neil Mulligan’s music is unimaginable without his fierce knowledge of the tradition it springs from, whether that came from the playing of musicians like his first formal teacher, Leo Rowsome, or regular visitors to the Mulligan’s house like Tommy Reck and Paddy Bán Ó Broin, or guests who stayed longer like Séamus Ennis, already a legend even then.
It was Ennis who insisted that a musician spend seven years learning, seven years practicing and seven years playing before he described himself as a piper, and who looked upon the playing of music as a journey and an obligation. Ennis too influenced Neil’s attitude to the playing of airs. His insistence that the true authority lay in the original Gaelic, in an understanding of the sean-nós songs they came from. The singing of Seosamh Ó hÉanaí and Tom Phaidín Tom, amongst others, influences this piper’s music and those influences are fundamental.
Peter Woods (from sleeve notes to Neil Mulligan – An Tobar Glé)
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The pattern was similar for the many people from all over the US and Ireland that had visited with Joe Shannon at his home over the years – a conversation first and then an invitation from Joe to hear you play. Any reluctance to play due to the visitor being a musician just starting out would soon dissipate when Joe would urge them on with "I’d like to hear you play because you might have a turn or a note or two that could catch my fancy". After that, Joe would bring out his massive Taylor set of pipes and, when he started playing, the walls in the kitchen (his favorite room to play the pipes in) would reverberate with the sounds of a hundred years ago – maintaining a link to the music of Tom Ennis and James Morrison, Leo Rowsome, and Patsy Touhey. Finishing up with some tea and maybe a sandwich or biscuit, the visitor was sent off at the door, often late at night, with a bone-crushing handshake, and urged to call again to come over for another night. One could still hear the music from those pipes all the way home.
Sadly, Joe Shannon passed away at the age of 88 from skin cancer, on the 26th of December, 2004 in Batavia, IL (45 miles west of Chicago) at his daughter’s home surrounded by his family. Slowed down by a broken hip only 18 months before that (after which, Patty and Tim Finegan opened their home to Joe and took on his primary care), Joe never complained once about his health or his own situation and was ever optimistic for the day that he would be able to return to his own home.
Joe Shannon was born in the village of Treenabontry, near Kiltimaugh, Co Mayo on January 1, 1916. Joe grew up around music as his six brothers all played music.
Joe emigrated with his mother and brother Tony to join the other brothers already established in Chicago (one brother, Tom, had already died in Austin, Texas; his father, Patrick, had passed away shortly after Joe was born, returning to Ireland in 1915 after working in the copper mines of Butte, Montana) in 1930. In Ireland, Joe used to play a bit on the whistle. Joe’s mother, Ellen, remembers young Joe waking up in the middle of the night and then asking for his whistle because he ‘had a tune in his head’. After playing, he would go back to sleep and would awaken with no memory of all that occurring!
With help from his brother and at the urging of Eddie Mullaney, Joe started on the uilleann pipes with a practice set from Pat Hennelly. On his own, Joe figured out how to get to the second octave and, with his 78rpm machine, listened to and learned the music of Tom Ennis, Patsy Touhey, and Leo Rowsome (all deservedly favorites of Joe).
Joe played at the Irish Village in 1934 for the summer and was lucky to meet retired Chicago Police Chief, Captain Francis O’Neill (he was 87 at the time, passing away only 18 months after that in January, 1936) who came backstage and asked Joe to play some hornpipes for him. When Joe was through, O’Neill inscribed one of his books to Joe with "To Joe Shannon – The Youngest Left Handed Player Since Patsy Touhey". The book was loaned out many years ago and, to Joe’s chagrin, never seen again.
Joe almost had a career in baseball but that was derailed by an injury to his throwing arm. From a 1940 Sheboygan, Wisconson newspaper, ‘During the 1938 season, Joe "Red" Shannon pitched for the (major league) White Sox batting practices during all of their home games, incidents which gave him his biggest thrill in baseball so far. The 1939 season saw him pitch (in the minors), winding up the season with a record of 11 victories out of 12 games, and included among his victories were a couple of on hit wins.’
Family responsibilities (Joe raised thirteen children) and the demands of his job (Joe was a Chicago fireman for 28 years, including 11 years driving an ambulance) reduced his playing opportunities. On occasion, Joe would play at the annual feis and various dances with his brother Pat and accordion player Joe Shanley. In the 1960s, box player Kevin Keegan asked Joe to play with him at a Comhaltas competition; they won. Clareman Paddy Looney would see Joe and tell him that Willie Clancy was asking for him in a letter (Paddy and his brother Tom helped Willie acquire two sets of pipes out of Chicago).
In the late 1960s, Eddie Mullaney presented Joe with the famous Taylor set of pipes that had been made for John Beatty at a cost of $500. The deluxe set of pipes, with its four-bore tenor and baritone regulators, was treasured by Eddie Mullaney and, in turn, by Joe. Joe never sought the limelight but would agree to a concert or an award in order to share those pipes (and his music) with the world. The presentation of the set reenergized Joe’s playing and his resolve in recreating the sound of Patsy Touhey.
Joe’s playing has been acknowledged over the years but none greater than being named a Patron of NPU, ‘an honor that I could never turn down’. Other highlights include his National Heritage Fellowship Award for master folk and traditional artists in 1983, a Heritage Award from the State of Illinois in 1989, invitations to perform and teach at the Willie Clancy Summer School in 1986 and 1988, Festival of American Folklife in Washington, D.C. in 1976, Cork Music Festival in 1991, National Folk Festival at Wolf Trap, Virginia in 1994, and the University of Chicago Folk Festival in 1985. Mick Moloney produced and recorded Joe Shannon and Johnny McGreevy, a lifelong friend, for the Green Linnet LP and cassette release THE NOONDAY FEAST.
Paddy Moloney invited Joe to join the Chieftains on stage and that led to over a half dozen appearances over the years. Liam O’Flynn also invited Joe to join him on the stage back in the early 1980s. Mick O'Brien organized some of his trips in order to spend some time over at Joe’s.
Pipemakers were very generous to Joe with their time and effort over the years. Joe was always grateful to Pat Hennelly, often arriving home after a late night visit (two buses and one streetcar) at 3am but delighted that his reeds were now working again. David Quinn, Michael MacHarg, and Alain Froment worked on his pipes and reeds, often accommodating a tight time scale to accomplish the work.
Many people of all musical backgrounds have been welcomed into Joe’s home over the years. In recent years, Sean Ryan, a student and protégé, organized some visits to Joe for some of the local musicians. Sean Folsom was the last out-of town musician to have that full visit with Joe.
More than one time, when one of his daughters would be coming home in the evening, they would be surprised to find their father quietly sitting in the living room. They would tell him that they swore that they could hear the pipes being played as they approached the house. Joe told them ‘that’s the way it is with pipers and that you’ll be hearing me playing the pipes even after I’m gone’. Definitely something to look forward to.
Jim McGuire, Chicago (An Píobaire 4.29)
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Dave Hegarty needs no introduction to anyone who has been involved with the uilleann pipes over the last thirty years. He is a committed and generous contributor to the world of piping, most especially on the technical side where his freely-shared reed-making expertise has been availed of by many thankful pipers down through the years.
I first met Dave at a party in a flat on Dublin’s South Circular Road some time in the early seventies. He had heard me play a few tunes on the pipes and approached me to find out how he could obtain a set himself. I believe I directed him to Matt Kiernan and Dan O’Dowd. Dave subsequently struck up enduring relationships with both of those great men, but particularly with Dan, visiting him and Mae regularly on the Malahide Road and it was there that Dave began to develop his particular interest in reed-making. Shortly after I met him I discovered that Dave lived only around the corner from me in the Tenters and we encountered each other frequently in the neighbourhood and at the meetings of Na Píobairí Uilleann in Parnell Square.
Dave also pursued an interest in the history of the pipes around that time and this led him in 1980 to depart with Breandán Breathnach and Andy Conroy, two great friends of his, on a jaunt to the west of Ireland, seeking the trail of the famous pipers John Reilly and Johnny Gorman. Dave’s account of this expedition may be found in An Píobaire (2.8).
It was his interest in reed-making that prevailed, however, and the fruits of his investigations were eventually published by Na Píobairí Uilleann, initially in 1980 as Reedmaking Made Easy (with a second edition in 1983), and subsequently in an expanded exition in 1999 as The Uilleann Pipe Reedmaker’s Guidance Manual. This edition was financially assisted by NPU member Kevin Spencer’s wife Maureen, in memory of her recently-deceased husband, and the edition is dedicated to Kevin’s memory. In each case Dave declined to profit from the publications, donating the revenues from sales to furthering the activities of Na Píobairí Uilleann. More recently he extended this generosity further by agreeing that the manual should be made freely available to NPU members through our website.
For many years he has been a familiar feature of the Willie Clancy Summer School, presiding over the reed-making activities and providing instruction and encouragement to all who seek it and, on occasion, aid and comfort to distraught pipers. During the evenings he will inevitably be found in the company of musicians, sharing the crack, the stories and the music. Aren’t we lucky to have him?
Terry Moylan (An Píobaire 4.23)
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Considering the family surroundings in which he grew up it was inevitable that traditional music should have become an important and enduring part of Seán Potts’ life. He was born in the Liberties of Dublin, not far from the family of Breandán Breathnach with whom he was to form a close friendship.
His grandfather was John Potts from Kiltra in the south of the county Wexford, who had come to Dublin around 1891 to take up a job with Guinness’s. He had played the flute in Wexford but took to the pipes when he lived in Dublin, taking lessons from the Dublin Pipers’ Club tutor Nicholas Markey, who had learned from the Taylors in Drogheda. John Potts lived at different times in The Coombe and the nearby Ardee Street, and his home became a place of resort for musicians visiting Dublin. There was a regular musical session on Friday nights, and Seán recalls encountering there people like Andy Conroy, Brother Gildas, John Kelly, Sonny Brogan, Tommy Reck and Breandán Breathnach, the latter two being pupils of his grandfather.
When he was around seven years of age Seán’s musical life started when his grandmother gave him a present of a practice set of pipes. Around the same time he got a tin whistle in his Christmas stocking. His father John, who was a box player, gave him his first music lessons. His family was at that time unusual for its interest in traditional music, and Seán did not have any friends of his own age that were interested in music. Perhaps because of this, the whistle being a more discreet instrument, it received more of his attention. Although he also devoted some attention to the pipes, the difficulty, then as now, of getting a reliable reed for his chanter worked against his becoming as proficient on the pipes as he became on the whistle.
During his twenties he took to the flute and developed a close relationship with Vincent Broderick, from whom he learned many tunes. He also he met and became fascinated by the playing of the young Paddy Moloney, and started to play regularly with him. Around this time Seán’s own family home in Drimnagh was also a venue for traditional music, with Willie Clancy, Tommy Reck, Bobby Casey and others calling on Sundays to play music together.
After the war Seán became a regular attender at the Pipers’ Club in Thomas Street and the Fiddlers’ Club in Church Street with John Egan. He became a member of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann upon its foundation in the 1950s and adjudicated at their fleadhanna cheoil. He played for a time with the Kincora Céilí Band at the time that Dublin piper Sean Seery was with them.
He started playing seriously with Paddy Moloney after the 1959 Fleadh Cheoil in co. Clare. Paddy was headed for Conamara after the Fleadh, so Seán returned to Dublin, borrowed a motorbike from his girlfriend Bernie’s brother and he and Bernie joined Paddy in Spiddal for a fortnight’s music. There he met such performers as Charlie Tindall, Paddy Bán Ó Broin and Feistí Conlon. Seán married Bernie in 1960, and they had four children – Cora, Seán (who has become an accomplished piper), Sorcha and Ultan.
This period saw the outbreak of the ‘ballad boom’, where the success of the Clancy Brothers in the USA led to their popularity in Ireland, and the consequent resurgence of interest here in ‘ballads’ or folk songs. An idea was floated of getting together a group which would include Seán, Paddy Moloney and a talented young banjo player named Barney McKenna. As things turned out McKenna became a member of the song-oriented Dubliners group and Paddy and Seán were recruited by Seán Ó Riada into his innovative traditional music group Ceoltóirí Chualann. This group was responsible for making traditional music accessible to a wide range of Irish people who had never bothered with it before, or, perhaps, had never even heard it before. They made several ground-breaking recordings, and performed in the historic concert at Dublin’s Gaiety Theatre – “Ó Riada sa Gaiety – an event which is credited with finally making traditional music palatable to Ireland’s elite.
During the 1960s Seán was also performing with the Gael Linn Cabaret in various venues in Dublin, such as the Chariot in Ranelagh, Raheny’s Old Sheiling and the Grafton Cinema, the venue for the famous late-night concerts. On these occasions he played in such company as Martin Fay, Breandán Ó Dúill and Paddy Moloney.
With Ó Riada’s move to West Cork in 1963 Ceoltóirí Chualann folded and Paddy Moloney started up a new, and equally influential group, The Chieftains, with a membership based on that of Ó Riada’s group.
Seán’s fulltime job was with the Department of Posts & Telegraphs, and around this time he was made inspector of motor transport (he was a qualified motor mechanic), and official duties required him to tour the country, providing him with additional opportunities to meet musicians in all parts, and also to indulge his other passion of fly-fishing.
In 1970 he joined Na Píobairí Uilleann and met with an open welcome from Breandán Breathnach. Somewhat uneasy about the level of proficiency he had reached as a piper, he was reassured by Breandán that his efforts to play and love of the pipes were what mattered, and were sufficient for membership of a pipers association.
He took leave of absence from work in 1973 to play full time with The Chieftains, who by this time were touring and playing almost constantly. During his time with them he recorded on eight records, and also made the great “Tin Whistles” album with Paddy Moloney. He resigned from the group in 1979, not willing to accept the increasing absences from home.
Freed of the commitments to The Chieftains, he devoted his spare time to work in the field of traditional music, teaching classes in Dublin and at the Willie Clancy Summer School. He was also elected to the Board of Na Píobairí Uilleann and undertook several fund-raising tours for NPU in the United States. The group that he assembled for these tours became known as Bakerswell and recorded a fine album in 1987, recently re-released on CD.
He finally retired from the ‘P & T’ in 1985 but continued to devote an enormous amount to Na Píobairí Uilleann, serving first as Honorary Secretary, and then, for fourteen years from 1988, as Chairman. On his retiring from that position in 2002 NPU took the unprecedented step of making him Honorary President in recognition of his record of service and of his continued commitment to the promotion of the pipes.
Terry Moylan & Seán Óg Potts
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On one occasion, sometime in the early ’70s, Sean Reid commented ‘Pat, you play like an old man’. Noting the effect of his words on the famously volatile piper, Sean hastily explained ‘No, what I mean is, it should have taken you years and years to learn to play like that’. High praise for someone who started late and had been playing for less than ten years at the time! A taste of the playing that so astounded Sean may be heard on the recording he made for the Topic label, just a few years later, in 1976. By the time in question, Sean and Pat were old friends and Sean’s awareness of the total absence of Irish traditional music in Pat’s immediate background added to his sense of wonder. The compensating factors for the lack of an old-fashioned ‘traditional upbringing’ in Pat’s case were timing, with Traditional and ‘Folk’ music coming to public prominence as he came of age, along with his deep interest in music of all types.
Although living close to Bill Harte, the box player, and Larry Dillon of the famous music house in Monck Place in Phibsboro, Pat’s early, and minimal, exposure to Irish music came when the cottage he and his parents lived in was converted from gas lighting to electricity and a ‘wireless’ was acquired. This would have been around 1950 when he was seven. He clearly remembers hearing Leo Rowsome play “The Fox Chase” on Radio Éireann and being told by his parents, who had been friends of Sean Dempsey in their young days, that those were the uilleann pipes he was hearing. He didn’t get to see what this weird and wonderful instrument looked like till he came by chance at the age of 16 or 17 on a public performance on the bandstand in ‘The Hollow’ in the Phoenix Park in Dublin.
During the early teen years his main musical interest was listening to ‘classical’ music on BBC Radio 3 and the eclectic range of music broadcast on Voice of America – presumably in an attempt to subvert the Communist hordes of the USSR. By the later teen years his father, whose background was strongly republican, had given up singing the ‘rebel songs’ and occasional ballad of his youth. When the Clancy brothers’ songs started to appear on radio there was, as a result, a comfortably familiar feel to them. ‘Ballad concerts’ Pat attended would usually include traditional music acts ranging from The Dubliners to Nioclás Tóibín. At that time also, Seán Ó Riada was broadcasting and putting on concerts with Ceoltóirí Chualann. Their group playing was much more attractive and accessible to someone with Pat’s background in music than was that of, say, céilí bands. Through these he got his initial exposure to traditional music and song. Visits to the Fiddlers’ Club in Church Street and various fleadhanna cheóil provided a broader practical exposure while Breandán Breathnach’s Ceol magazine gave a captivating insight into aspects of the historical background.
A fascination with rhythm led to Pat’s first practical venture into the world of traditional music; he made a bodhrán – which to this day he still has, and occasionally thumps – and proceeded to terrorise musicians at the fleadhanna. Through visits to the Fiddlers’ Club he fell under the spell of the sounds being made by the young Finbar Furey, then playing on a low pitch chanter in the staccato style of Tommy Moore. Though still minimally familiar with the melodic side of the music he discerned similar sounds in the music of Séamus Ennis playing on the early RTÉ television programmes, and in that of Willie Clancy playing “The Old Bush” on a Gael Linn ‘78’ which he bought.
A few months learning the whistle and a mention by his uncle Leo that Dinny Delaney, whom he had discovered through Ceol, was a great-grand uncle was sufficient to convince him that a bag and chanter would make the ideal 21st birthday gift from his parents. Along with Brian Gallahar, who had also acquired a Leo Rowsome practice chanter, he attended classes with Leo for a few months and, through regular visits to the National Library, embarked on the research into the music that continues to this day. Within the year both he and Brian had bought C chanters from Matt Kiernan. Listening to Matt and Dan O’Dowd play helped Pat interpret, and later emulate, the ‘piping triplets’ in Breathnach’s Ceol Rince I.
A key turning point in Pat’s piping career came through a chance meeting with Sean Reid at a fleadh in Ballinasloe in 1965. Through Sean, he met Breandán Breathnach, Willie Clancy and many other notables who were at the fleadh. A subsequent visit to Miltown Malbay led to a close friendship with Willie and a lasting respect and affection for both him and his music. Following up on an invitation from Breandán led not only to the acquisition of priceless recordings – a resource which was to be re-visited again and again over many years – but to a long-lasting friendship as well. Through that association with Breandán Pat was involved in the formation of Na Píobairí Uilleann in 1968. He was elected to the first committee and his association with the organisation continues.
An admirer of Séamus Ennis’ playing for many years, Pat met him during the period in the late ’60s when he was making regular visits to the Royal Oak pub in Glasnevin. These occasions, along with Séamus’ annual Tionóil performances gave Pat the opportunity to study his technique at first hand.
1976 saw the research and practice of previous years bear fruit in the Topic recording mentioned previously along with the publication by Mercier Press of Pat’s edition of Willie Clancy’s repertoire, The Dance Music of Willie Clancy (subsequently re-published by Ossian). In the same year Pat was the leader of the piping contingent with the group chosen to represent Ireland at “Old Ways in the New World”, the Smithsonian Institute’s festival to mark the 200th anniversary of American independence. In the mid ’80s, in association with Jackie Small, he published The Piping of Patsy Touhey, a detailed examination and transcription of the great piper’s playing.
Over the years Pat has taken every opportunity possible to promote the beauty and musicality inherent in the good performance of traditional Irish music on the pipes. Along with his numerous piping classes and the two publications mentioned, he has contributed articles to An Píobaire, Dal gCais and the Sean Reid Society Journal and given numerous workshops and illustrated lectures, including the millennium lecture on piping at the Willie Clancy Summer School. He is at present working on The Music of Séamus Ennis, which will include detailed transcriptions and analysis of Ennis’ entire piping repertoire.
Terry Moylan (An Píobaire, Vol 4, no. 34)
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