History of the Piper’s Club

9 July 2007, 11:07 AM GMT

History of the Piper’s Club

Extract from “History of the Pipers’ Club” by Mick O’Connor (copyright)

Many people identify and associate our native music with rural Ireland. This is not the reality. Irish music survived and flourished in Dublin, particularly piping in the inner city. The Dublin Pipers’ Club is responsible for passing on unbroken the piping tradition to the present day. The origins of the Dublin Pipers’ Club are tied up with the Literary Revival, which focused interest on all aspects of our culture including the music. The National Literary Revival that began during the closing decade of the nineteenth century heralded the birth of the Gaelic League, the Feis Ceoil and the Dublin Pipers’ Club (all Dublin based).

Foundation 1900

A close examination of the Dublin Pipers’ Club minute book (1900-04) reveals the cross-fertilisation of interests coming together to promote Irish music. Many had dual membership of the Gaelic League and later of the Irish Volunteers. Members of the Club included some ardent nationalists and Gaelic propagandists. Perhaps the most famous was Eamonn Ceannt, the 1916 signatory and leader of the Easter Rising, who was secretary of the Club until he retired on his marriage to the treasurer, Aine Brennan.

The development of Irish music in Dublin can be traced mainly through the fortunes of the Dublin Pipers’ Club from the period 1900 to the present day. The Club became defunct on a number of occasions. Gratten Flood stated that after an existence of six years (1906) the Club got into financial difficulties and in 1911 was in a moribund condition. The last entry signed in the second minute book of the Dublin Pipers’ Club dated the 14th of October, 1913 is a request from Padraig Pearse via Eamonn Ceannt for pipers to play at a feis in aid of St. Endas.

The Troubles

From the period between the last entry in the minute book 15 January 1914 and a letter dated 2 November 1921 re-convening the Pipers’ Club in 1921, we have no documentary evidence of the Club’s existence. We know that the Cork Pipers’ Club went into a similar decline with the outbreak of World War I. It revived temporarily but continued to decline during the War of Independence and the Civil War that followed. Breandan Breathnach stated that the Pipers’ Club was reformed in Thomas Street in 1919 but was put out of existence by the activities of the Black and Tans who raided the Dublin Pipers’ Club on one occasion. Organisations and bands associated with Irish activities were frequently the target of the Black and Tans. The Fintan Lalor Pipe Band, and the Cork Pipers’ Club were raided and William Keane, the Limerick piper had his house burned by the Black and Tans. It is reasonable to assume that the Club was defunct from 1915 to the revival in 1921.

1916

In an article, “The Origin of Ceili Bands”, Leo Rowsome stated that after the 1916 insurrection, the Pipers’ Club continued to meet at his father’s house in Harold’s Cross. The continuity of the Pipers’ Club was broken. A letter from the Hon. Secs. of the Irish Union Pipers’ Club, in November 1921, announced the resumption of its activity at 132 Thomas Street and exhorted its members to support them. The letter was signed by Chas. J.B. Kenny and John Fleming (Honorary Secretaries). There is further evidence to support this: a copy of a printed letterhead of the Irish Union Pipers’ Club with an illustrated letterpress block of William Rowsome (Leo’s father) has survived. A roll book of this period 1921-22, with a list of members, also survived and is deposited in the National Library. A son of one of the members, Frank Rogan informed the writer that the revitalised Club went out of existence after a year or two. This is borne out by dates on the roll book.

The Civil War

Leo Rowsome stated that the Civil War put an end to all music gatherings and he missed the friendly sessions of the Pipers’ Club. The Civil War also disrupted the Oireachtas and subsequently, no instrumental competitions were held in 1922. In 1923, there were a very limited number of events. In 1924 the Oireachtas was held in Cork with very disappointing entries. There were no entries in the uilleann piper or pipe learner competitions. According to accounts, most people felt that there was no longer a need for the Gaelic League or specialist music organisations, that the country was in safe hands and our culture would receive due recognition from a native government. The first flush of enthusiasm from the cultural revival had run its course. It had in fact started to decline after a peak in 1905, reaching a low in 1915 and revived again in the years leading to the War of Independence. These ups and downs were reflected in the numbers of entries in the musical competitions held by the Oireachtas. An tOireachtas was discontinued after 1924 and it was not held again until 1939 when it was re-established in the Mansion House, Dublin with over 200 competitors who entered songs, plays, poems and music pieces.

From 1925 to 1936 the Pipers’ Club in Dublin ceased to exist. the music continued to survive in the homes of the following musicians: William Rowsome and John Brogan (both pipe makers living in Harold’s Cross), John Potts of The Coombe, and James Ennis of Finglas

Schoolhouse Lane

Leo Rowsome was instrumental in reviving the Pipers’ Club at this period. He got together a few enthusiasts and the Club was revived in Schoolhouse Lane off Molesworth Street. In an article “The Origins of our Ceilidhe Bands”, Leo Rowsome stated that after a performance in the Siamsa Mor in the Phoenix Park in 1936, Leo canvassed his pupils (thirty pipers) with a view to reviving the Pipers’ club. This initiative was well received, thereon they immediately arranged a meeting and subsequently Leo was elected chairman. In an article by Liam Rowsome (Leo’s son) in Treoir reprinted from The Irish Press, he states that Cumann na bPiobairi was founded in 1936. Pipers Jack Wade and Tommy Reck were prominent members of the Club at that period.

14 Thomas Street

In 1946 the Pipers’ Club moved to Arus Ceannt, 14 Thomas Street, the headquarters of the 4th Batallion Old IRA. Some of the members of the 4th Batallion sent their children to the Club to learn traditional music. Betty Nevin was one of this group and became a proficient piper. The Club began to thrive from then on, mainly due to the prudent management of Jim Seery and Paddy McElvaney. Andy Conroy brought Johnny Doran to the Club at this time and Paddy McElvaney recalled great piping sessions with Johnny and Leo Rowsome. Traditional music was still confined to the back streets and it was felt by many people that there was a need for a national organisation to promote our native culture.

Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann

The identity of the Pipers’ Club was eclipsed by the phenomenal growth of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, founded in 1951 by members of the Pipers’ Club at 14 Thomas Street. The new organisation was knowan as Cumann Ceoltóirí na hÉireann but was shortly changed to Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. A number of very energetic members of the Pipers’ Club gave unstinting service in the formation of a national organisation. They included Jim Seery, Leo and Tom Rowsome, and Paddy McElvaney.

On October 14th, 1951, at Arus Ceannt, Thomas Street, Dublin, the first standing Committee of Cumann Ceoltóirí na hÉireann was elected as follows: President, Most Rev. Dr. Kyne, Lord Bishop of Meath; Chairman, Cait Bean Ui Muineachain; Vice Chairman, Willie Reynolds, Walderstown; Secretary, Arthur Connick, Dublin; Assistant Secretary, Tom Rowsome, Dublin; Treasurer, Jim Seery, Dublin; Committee, Leo Rowsome, Dublin; P.J. Scott-Monsell, Dublin; P. McElvaney, Monaghan; Rev. Brother Redmond, Mullingar; P. Kelly, Donegal; Micheal MacCarthaigh, Tipperary; W. Hope, Belfast; Eamonn Murray, Monaghan; Jack Naughton and Eamonn O’Muineachain.

The Pipers’ Club in the 1950s and 1960s became a Mecca for visiting musicians and invariably musicians in town for a broadcast (broadcasts including Ceili House were recorded live) came to the Club afterwards. Many of the ceili bands of the period were connected to the club. They included the Kincora, Eamonn Ceannt and the Castle Ceili Bands. Families with connections to the original 1900 Club and Schoolhouse Lane were still involved. Leo Rowsome taught the Uilleann Pipes every Saturday night and invariably he played a session of music afterwards to everyones delight. Sean Seery, Jim Dowling and Mick Toughy were regular performers on the pipes. In the 1970s Sean Keane was teaching the fiddle and produced a group of fine fiddle players. The Pipers’ Club Ceili Band also came into prominence and won All-Ireland honours at Fleadh Cheoil na hEireann.

Belgrave Square, Monkstown

The premises at 14 Thomas Street were no longer adequate for the crowds attending each week. After much deliberation and a close vote the Pipers’ Club moved from 14 Thomas Street to a new premises located at Belgrave Square, Monkstown, in 1976 and is flourishing. As in previous moves of location, families with long connections to the Club kept the continuity. Paddy McElvaney, John Keenan and the Quinn family were among the people who provided the link. The branch was re-named Craobh Leo Rowsome, Cumann na bPiobairi in honour of its most distinguished musician. The Club continues to teach the uilleann pipes along with its other instruments. It is still one of the most active branches in the country and is justifiably proud of its musical lineage.

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