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Tradition Now 2018

Ómós: A celebration of the music and life of Liam O'Flynn

Sunday 28th October 2018

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With Steve Cooney, Paddy Glackin, Sean Keane, Neil Martin, Christy Moore, Gay McKeon, Rod McVey, Matt Molloy, Iarla Ó Lionáird, Usher’s Island, Olivia O'Leary with David Power and Tríona Marshall and The Brendan Voyage with RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra with Mark Redmond, pipes and David Brophy. More guests to be announced.

Host John Kelly

“The pipes call and raise the spirit. They also quieten and open up the daydream part of people”, wrote Séamus Heaney of the playing of Liam O’Flynn. Liam O’Flynn, was a musician who commanded deep respect from his fellow musicians and was revered as a modern master of the uilleann pipes, for this special evening we are pleased to celebrate his life and work in the company of some of his friends and with some of the music that defined him as one of the greats of Irish music.

Presented by NCH in partnership with The Arts Council with the support of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra
Supported by RTÉ Supporting the Arts


Liam O’Flynn obituary - The Guardian

Revered as a modern master of the Irish uilleann pipes, Liam O’Flynn, who has died aged 72, was a solo performer who commanded deep respect from his fellow musicians, and a collaborator with a wide range of folk, classical, rock and popular music performers. Kate BushEnyaMark KnopflerJohn CageMike OldfieldEmmylou HarrisSinéad O’Connor and the Everly Brothers were among the artists whose albums benefited from his playing. A further pairing was with the poet Seamus Heaney, who explained his love of O’Flynn’s playing: “The pipes call and raise the spirit. They also quieten and open up the daydream part of people.”

Above all, it was O’Flynn’s membership of the Irish folk band Planxty, with Christy MooreAndy Irvine and Dónal Lunny, that established his reputation as a piper to a wider audience. The band had first come together when they all played on Moore’s 1972 solo album Prosperous. Planxty took the Chieftains’ concept of group instrumental playing to a new level with the addition of traditional and new songs and instruments including the guitar and bouzouki. The band captured the imagination of a young audience in Ireland more accustomed to listening to rock music, and also found success among folk enthusiasts in Britain. O’Flynn’s playing introduced many people to the uilleann pipes for the first time.

The uilleann pipes are a bellows-blown bagpipe with a chanter and three drones, plus three regulators which play chords or a simple harmony and allow syncopation. An indoors instrument, softer than the Scottish pipes, they are played for dancing as well as for listening, especially the slow airs, at which O’Flynn excelled. For Moore, O’Flynn’s playing had a “deep and moving soulfulness”.

O’Flynn was born in Kill, County Kildare, attending school locally and in the county town, Naas. Both his parents were musical: his father, also Liam, a teacher, played the fiddle, and his mother, Maisie (nee Scanlan), taught the piano and was a cousin of the County Clare fiddle player Junior Crehan.

The young Liam was first captivated by the sound of the pipes when a local piper, Tom Armstrong, visited the house to play duets with his father. From the age of 11, he travelled weekly to Dublin for lessons with the great piper Leo Rowsome, and was later influenced by the other two giants of Irish piping, Willie Clancy and Séamus Ennis.

By his early 20s, O’Flynn was playing informally with two future members of the Chieftains, Seán Keane and Matt Malloy, and he won prizes at the Fleadh Cheoil music competition and the Oireachtas festival. In 1968, he was a founder member of Na Píobairí Uilleann, the Society of Uilleann Pipers; he was their honorary president at the time of his death.

O’Flynn gave up his job as a teacher to co-found Planxty, and although he remained a constant figure in the band as the other members left and returned, the relentless touring led them to disband in 1983. A staple of the band’s live performances was Raggle Taggle Gypsy followed by Tabhair Dom Do Lámh (Give Me Your Hand): the transition from the song to the tune in a different time signature led by the pipes always brought applause and cheers from the audience. Among their best albums was The Well Below the Valley (1973); O’Flynn also played whistle with the band. The four original members re-formed for a couple of years from 2003.

In 1980, O’Flynn collaborated with the composer Shaun Davey in The Brendan Voyage, the title of Tim Severin’s account of his re-enactment of the Irish saint’s 6th-century journey to Newfoundland, based on legend. The pipes told the story of the boat, the orchestra the story of what the boat encountered. The innovative use of Irish music, and the pipes in particular, with a classical orchestra in both live performances and the album, had a groundbreaking impact. Further collaborations with Davey included The PilgrimGranuaile and The Relief of Derry Symphony.

O’Flynn recorded relatively few solo CDs, most notably The Piper’s Call (1999), on which he performed with an orchestra and with the Galician piper Carlos Núñez, and which included traditional tunes performed with his regular touring musicians, Arty McGlynn, Rod McVey and Steve Cooney.

The Piper’s Call Band appeared at a concert devoted to Irish music at the 1999 BBC Proms to great acclaim. O’Flynn also performed the musical scores to several films, including Cal (with Mark Knopfler, 1984). In 2007 he received the TG4 Gradam Ceoil award for musician of the year.

He is survived by his wife, Jane (nee Nightingale), whom he married in 1988, and sister, Maureen.


Born in 1945 in Kill, Co. Kildare close to the county bounds with Dublin Liam O’Flynn was widely acknowledged as one of the great figures of recent Irish music. His peerless command of the uilleann pipes and whistle established his reputation as a master of his craft. Liam had the unusual distinction of being close to three of the recognised giants of uilleann piping of the 20th century: Leo Rowsome, Willie Clancy and Seamus Ennis.

At the age of eleven Liam began his music studies under the Dublin pipe-maker and player, Leo Rowsome at the Dublin Municipal School of Music in Chatham Row, with his father driving him from north Kildare into classes in the sidecar of his motorbike. Through his teens Liam encountered many of the significant figures of traditional music in Dublin and wider afield. His father, also Liam, was from Kerry and his mother had west Clare connections and Liam was to spend much time in Clare where he came under the influence of players like the fiddler Junior Crehan and piper Wille Clancy amongst many others. In 1972 Liam was involved in the Christy Moore recording “Prosperous” along with musicians who were to become long-time colleagues, Donal Lunny and Andy Irvine. Together they were to form the seminal band Planxty whose influence on Irish music reverberates to this day. Vibrant, exciting and innovative, Planxty were to the forefront in creating and energizing a new audience for Irish traditional music and song. Liam worked with Planxty for most of the 1970’s into the early 1980’s and again when they reformed in 2003. He did not neglect solo and other work, recording with a range of musicians among them, John Cage, Kate Bush, Mark Knopfler, Emmylou Harris and the Everly Brothers. All the while he continued to maintain his involvement with lifelong musical friends from the traditional music scene Seán Keane, Matt Molloy, Arty McGlynn, Paddy Glackin and Steve Cooney.

Since its premiere in the NCH in 1980 Liam became indelibly linked with composer Shaun Davey’s most famous and enduring orchestral work, The Brendan Voyage. Shaun Davey worked closely with Liam on developing and composing a symphonic suite for orchestra and uilleann pipes based on the fabled voyage of Brendan the Navigator, who in the sixth century sailed a hide covered boat from Kerry across the north Atlantic to eventually find landfall in Canada. Liam was to go on to perform the Brendan Voyage on many concert stages around the world. His links with the National Concert Hall and the two RTÉ orchestras was something that Liam was proud to maintain throughout his career