Musicians of Derry: (Courtesy of The Knotted Chord Archive, 2002).
Tomas O’Canainn (1930- ) Uilleann pipes, accordion, singer, composer.
Born in Pennyburn on the outskirts of Derry.
Sean emigrated to England where he was a founder member of the famous Liverpool Ceili Band and was among their number when they won the All-Ireland Ceili Band competition in 1963 and 1964. The band also won Oireachtas titles in 1962 and 1963.
Tomas later moved to Cork where he became Dean of Engineering at the University. He also took over the Irish music lectures from Sean O’Riada at the College after his death in 1971 and taught music at the Cork School of music.
In the late 1960’s and 1970’s Tomas, a co-founder, was with the group Na Fili with fiddler Matt Cranitch and whistle player Tom Barry. They gained considerable popularity and recorded several albums on the Outlet label.
Tomas won the All-Ireland solo piping title and is known as "The Pennyburn Piper". Hence the title of his album recorded in 1998 with Neil Martin "The Pennyburn piper presents: Uilleann Pies", on which he also sings.
He has two other solo albums called "with pipe and song" 1980 and "song of the chanter" both also on the Outlet label.
Author of "Traditional Music in Ireland" and co-author of an acclaimed biography of Sean O’Riada "A shaol agus a Shaothar" Tomas also has a book of his own choral and traditional tunes to his credit. The book is called "Tomas’ Tunebook: 50 new tunes for old", which also comes with a cassette of the tunes. "Traditional slow airs of Ireland"(Ossian) is another of his books which comes with a double cd containing the 100 listed tunes.
Also more recently available is a video "Tomas O’Canainn and friends at The Heron’s Perch" which is a regular session haunt. The video contains almost two hours of music, song, poetry and storytelling from some thirty contributors.
Tomas’ daughters also play, violin, viola and cello and all 3 three appear with him on his last solo release.
As well as being a renowned musician and singer Tomas has also written poetry, a novel and most recently an auto-biography "A lifetime of notes: the memoirs of Tomas O’Canainn".