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Leo Rowsome

Biography


Biography (Courtesy The Knotted Chord Archive, 2002).
PLUS Biography (Courtesy Kevin Rowsome site, 2005).

Leo Rowsome(1903-1970) Uilleann pipemaker and player.

Leo was born into a famous family of pipers and pipemakers. His grandfather Sam, from Wexford originally, passed on the playing, and uilleann pipe making, skills to Leo’s father William. William set up a business as a pipemaker and repairer in Dublin. Leo’s uncles John and Tom also played and made uilleann pipes.

Leo, the third generation of what is now 5 generations of pipers, in turn took over the business from his father. He devoted his life to the instrument through playing, teaching and making and repairing uilleann pipes.

He won first prize at the Dublin Feis Cheoil in 1921 and was a part time teacher of the pipes in the Dublin Municipal School of Music from age 17 for fifty years.

Leo reinitiated the Dublin Pipers’ Club in 1936, becoming its first president.

He wrote a tutor for the uilleann pipes which was published in 1936 and last reissued in 1999. Along with his brother Tom he was involved in the planning which led to the foundation of Comhaltas Ceolteoiri Eireann(CCE) in 1951.

Leo’s, and others’, teaching helped the instrument survive through a period of possible extinction to the stage today where there are new Pipers’ Club(NPU) branches opening up in all corners of the world.

Among his students was Liam O’Fynn , Willie Clancy, Sean Seery, Joe McKEnna, Paddy Moloney, Gay McKeown, Peter Brown and Al Purcell. He toured extensively through his life and played before an audience of 6,000 in Carnegie Hall in New York in the 1960’s, as well as appearing on television there.

Known as ‘the maestro’, his recordings include a number of ‘78’s as well as the album "King of the Pipers"(Claddagh) and "Classics of Irish Piping"(Topic). He also appears on a number of compilations. Himself and bother Tom also played in the Rowsome uilleann pipe quartet who made regular radio broadcasts.

Leo’s son Liam(1939-1997) was a hugely regarded fiddle player and violinist and another son Leon(1936-1994) also played and taught pipes as well as playing piano and accordion. Leo’s daughter Helena also played pipes and was a regular contributor to the CCE magazine Treoir.

Biography (Courtesy Kevin Rowsome site, 2005).
Born into a home saturated with music and passing musicians, Leo followed in his father’s footsteps who guided and tutored him.
Following his Uncle Thomas’s success, Leo also won first prize in the Dublin Feis Ceoil in 1921. At the age of 17 Leo was assigned a new post of uilleann pipe teacher in the Municipal School of Music in Dublin. This was the first time a traditional instrument was taught in the School. The presence of the uilleann pipes on the syllabus did in itself elevate their image.

The Pipers Club & Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann
The old Dublin pipers club was waining at the beginning of the 20th century, by 1914 it was practically extinct. All attempts to revive the club failed until 1934 when a grand effort was made. The new club opened at Áras Ceannt, 14 Thomas Street, Dublin. Named after Eamon Ceannt who had been secretary of the old club until 1905. A bagpiper, he had the honour of playing for Pope Benedict. He was executed for his part in the Easter uprising in 1916.
Leo Rowsome was the first president of the new club. He dedicated much of his time to teaching pipes to young enthusiasts. The Dublin club inspired the formation of other clubs, notably in Navan, Co Meath (1943) led by Willie Reynolds, another in Molesworth Street Dublin.
Towards the end of the 1940’s, interest in the uilleann pipes and traditional Irish music was continually gathering momentum. It was becoming apparent that there was a need for a national organization for traditional music. Negotiations took place in the pipers club and a new organization (Cumann Ceoltóirí Éireann) was formed in January 1950. Leo and his brother Tom Rowsome played a major role in the formation of CCE and the first Fleadh Ceol, which was held in Mullingar in 1951. Tom Rowsome was elected secretary to Cumann Ceoltóirí Éireann’s first board in 1951. Its name was changed to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 1952.
Leo Rowsome was one of very few professional musician’s of the day. His lifelong ambition was to raise the popularity of the uilleann pipes and to elevate their poor image. He took great pleasure in dressing formally for his concert engagements which doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary nowadays, but in those times it was virtually unheard of. Leo’s name became known the length and breadth of the country as a master piper, pipemaker and pipe teacher. To this day Leo is commonly regarded in uilleann piping circles as the greatest ever maker of concert pitch uilleann pipes.

Leo passed on his musical skills to the next generation of pipers. The list of pipers who took lessons from Leo is extensive. They include Al Purcell, Joe McKenna, Paddy Moloney, Gay McKeon, Liam O'Flynn, Peter Browne, and Sean Seery .

Kevin Rowsome


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