Leo Rowsome—Ri na bPiobairi (1903-1970)

15 November 2009, 10:11 PM GMT

Leo Rowsome—Ri na bPiobairi (1903-1970)

His Life

Leo Rowsome was born in Harold’s Cross, Dublin in 1903. Samuel Rowsome, Leo’s grandfather sent his sons, John, Thomas and William to a German teacher of music who lived in Ferns, near their home in Co. Wexford to learn the theory of music and how to play various instruments. This knowledge was passed on through William to his son, Leo who made good use of it in his teaching, writing music for his innumerable pupils. Constantly watching his father making and repairing instruments, Leo learned the art of pipe making and instrument repair. So rapid was his progress at piping that in his seventeenth year, he was appointed teacher of the uilleann pipes at Dublin’s Municipal School of Music (now D.I.T. Conservatory of Music & Drama). He also taught at Dublin’s Pipers’ Club of which he was President and founder member. It was from this branch that Cuman Ceoltoiri Eireann was formed in 1950 with Leo’s brother, Tom being elected Secretary. The name was changed to Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann in the following year.

In 1925, Leo’s father died at the age of fifty-five. Leo successfully carried on the family business, after completing his own set of pipes in 1926. The instrument remained an object of fascination and veneration for countless audiences at home and abroad.

Leo was the first uilleann piper to perform on Irish National Radio in the early 1920s when he played solo and later in a duets with Frank O’Higgins (fiddle), Micheal O Duinn (fiddle) and Leo’s brother John (fiddle). Leo’s All Ireland Trio comprised Neilus Cronin, flute, Seamus O‘Mahony, fiddle and Leo pipes. He formed his Pipes Quartet in the mid 1930s and broadcast regularly throughout the 1940s/50s. The first Pipes Quartet comprised Michael Padian, Eddie Potts, Leo and Tom Rowsome. Later members included Willie Clancy, Willie Reynolds, Jim Seery, Tommy Reck, Sean Seery, Jack Wade, and Leo’s son, Leon. Leo was the first Irish artist to perform on BBC T.V. (1933). He made many recordings for Decca, Columbia and HMV. His last commercial recording, CC1 “Ri na bPiobairi” (King of the Pipers) was made for Claddagh Records in 1966.

In 1934 Leo married Helena Williams, a musically talented school teacher from Taghmon, Co. Wexford. They had two sons, Leon (1936-1994), Liam (1939-1997) and twin daughters, Helena and Olivia. All four play/played a variety of instruments. To commemorate the Centenary of Leo’s birth, his daughter, Helena had some of Leo’s original manuscripts published by Waltons in 2003. The Leo Rowsome Collection of Irish Music consists of 428 reels and jigs. Leo’s Tutor for the Uilleann Pipes (published by Waltons 1936) is included in that publication.

Leo’s grandson, Kevin (5th generation) is an accomplished uilleann piper. Leo Rowsome died suddenly whilst adjudicating ‘The Fiddler of Dooney Competition’ in Riverstown, Co. Sligo on 20 September 1970.

His Music

Leo’s skill in the use of the regulators is evident in his recordings.

“If Leo used the regulators more than other pipers, it was because he liked the sound of sweet harmonies and because of the sheer exuberance and joy that rose in his heart as he played.” —Sean Reid - Classics of Irish Piping - Volume 1

Useful References

Biography kindly submitted by Helena Rowsome

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