Louise Mulcahy

Louise Mulcahy Dftw Library Cropped Resized

The Liam O'Flynn Collection at ITMA

Liam O’Flynn collated a vast personal archive over his 50 year career. This precious collection was donated to ITMA by Liam’s wife, Jane, after his untimely death in March 2018, ensuring his legacy is preserved for present and future generations. Liam O’ Flynn’s legacy flourishes in this magnificent collection and is inspiring on multiple levels. The opportunity to ‘Draw from the Well’ at ITMA has been a magical and unforgettable journey into the music, life and times of one of Ireland’s most influential pipers, Liam O’Flynn. 

I spent much of the summer of 2020 exploring the Liam O'Flynn Collection at 73 Merrion Square and the journey was incredibly inspiring in so many ways. ‘Drawing from the Well’ has given me the opportunity to connect with the personal collection of Liam O’Flynn and has allowed me to gain a very special and rare insight into the ideologies, key reflections, influences, music and life of one of Ireland’s most iconic pipers. Without doubt, this is a collection I look forward to revisiting time and time again.

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Liam O'Flynn from the Liam O'Flynn Collection at ITMA

The collection is a fascinating treasure trove of unique material, handwritten notes, a multimedia collection of published books and periodicals, commercial and non-commercial sound and video recordings, photographs, original music scores, correspondence, newspaper clippings, reviews, research notes, business related papers and contracts. The specially curated 30-minute programme highlights some of the unique aspects of the Liam O’Flynn Collection including little-known original compositions, quotes from Liam O’Flynn’s handwritten notes, manuscripts, and rare field recordings.

He refers to many of his friends, colleagues, and musical experiences throughout the collection and his deep appreciation for their friendship, talents, and of course the tradition is shown. 

It offers a deep insight into Liam O’Flynn as a musician, professional, colleague, friend and human being.
Louise Mulcahy, 2020

Notes and Notions

One particular folder titled ‘Notes and Notions’ is insightful in multiple ways. Within this folder Liam O’ Flynn collates his ideologies, sources of inspiration and reflects on music, tradition and innovation. Liam documents key influences in his musical life, referencing master pipers Leo Rowsome, Séamus Ennis and Willie Clancy. Hand written notes document Liam’s reflections on these iconic pipers and give us a deeper understanding of his relationship with them and their influence on his music and life.

Leo [Rowsome] was that sort of unique genius whose influence has entered into the lives of uilleann pipes in particular and (trad) music fans in general. He has made an indelible mark on Irish Music and upon the uilleann pipes in particular.
Liam O'Flynn
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Leo Rowsome Quartet: Sean Seery, Leon Rowsome, Willie Clancy and Leo Rowsome
Hearing Willie Clancy for the first time - it gave me feelings I had never experienced before.. and I think I then realised that music is not something you listen but is something you experience!! Feelings that stir the soul!! Music making that reflects the soul.
Liam O'Flynn
[Séamus Ennis] was a beautifully balanced musician - he possessed exceptional skill and techniques combined with great dept of feeling for his music. He was not spectacular just for the sake of impressing an audience - if anything his playing was characterised by a certain sort of understatement and restraint.
Liam O'Flynn

Key figures within the community

Evident in the collection, is the thought and consideration Liam O’Flynn gave to many aspects of the tradition and key figures within the community. 

Here Liam reflects on broadcaster Ciarán Mac Mathúna and his contribution to broadcasting and the tradition.

His broadcasting style: 

1. Together with his music he brought into our homes, he also brought a lovely sense of calm… he wasn’t trying to force a particular message upon us or create controversy among the musicians or listeners - he wasn’t that kind of person  and indeed didn’t need to be.
2.  He was the first person to record my playing etc.
3.  As a collector he had the respect and confidence of the musicians and singers he recorded wherever he went…

Liam O'Flynn

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Ciarán Mac Mathúna from the ITMA Images Collection

Liam had a great love for the Irish language and poetry. Liam’s sense of gratitude and appreciation for poet and friend Séamus Heaney is highlighted in personal handwritten notes.

I felt at ease in his company, felt trusted and on the same wavelength with him. His poetry had a huge impact on me when I first encountered it and got to know and work with the man responsible was a privilege and to feel his approval was a precious thing.
Liam O'Flynn

A number of poems are included in the collection including compositions by Séamus Heaney inspired by Liam O’Flynn. A Japanese form of poetry called the tanka is the source of inspiration for a poem titled, ‘The Uilleann Pipes’, composed by Séamus for Liam. We also see Liam's writings on 'Port na bPucaí', the iconic tune featured on the album The Poet and the Piper. (Claddagh Records, 2003) 

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© Port na bPucaí, jig / composed by Liam O'Flynn. Manuscript from The Liam O'Flynn Collection at ITMA

Liam O'Flynn Tune Compositions

An exciting discovery within the collection are a number of tunes composed by Liam O’Flynn. The collection includes: 'The Piper’s Stone', 'Knockaulin', 'An Droichead', 'Sunset', and 'The Return of the Pedalboard'. Within the audio collection we can hear non-commercial recordings of Liam performing his own compositions.

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© Piper's Stone, jig / composed by Liam O'Flynn. Manuscript from The Liam O'Flynn Collection at ITMA

© Piper's Stone, jig / Liam O'Flynn, uilleann pipes, tin whistle, composer ; [Rod McVey], keyboards

Liam composed the jig titled, ‘The Piper's Stone’ having being inspired by this ancient site and area of incredible beauty in Co. Kildare. One of my ‘Drawing from the Well’ highlightswas a visit to The Piper's Stone organised by ITMA. The visit was very special and memorable and it was wonderful to meet Jane O’Flynn, Liam’s wife at the source of the inspiration of this composition. Jane gave us a rare insight into Liam’s sources of inspiration and musical life, and the day concluded with a visit to Liam’s home and music room. As one can imagine in any musician’s life this was a truly unforgettable day and I will treasure these memories for many years to come.

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Jane O'Flynn and Louise Mulcahy at the Piper's Stone, Co. Kildare, 2020


For me there is something very special in the light of a long summer’s evening which can create a great sense of calm. This tune was inspired by such an evening in the west of Ireland culminating in a magical and breathtaking sunset over the Atlantic Ocean.

Liam O'Flynn

© Sunset, air / Liam O'Flynn, uilleann pipes, composer ; [Rod McVey], keyboards

The Return of the Pedalboard

This tune concerns a cantankerous and unpredictable piece of electronic equipment which belongs to that great musician and friend Arty McGlynn. On more than one occasion on stage it has caused its owner great distress and the rest of us great amusement. So when it went missing after a trip abroad all seemed safe and well. But, unbelievably, it re-appeared soon after - delivered safely home by a returning musician. A new tune seemed the only response!

Liam O'Flynn

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© The return of the pedalboard, jig / composed by Liam O'Flynn. Manuscript from The Liam O'Flynn Collection at ITMA

© The return of the pedalboard, jig / Liam O'Flynn, tin whistle, composer ; [Rod McVey], keyboards

Compositions of other musicians are included in the collection including the reel 'Barr na Cúille' composed by Néillidh Mulligan. A hand-written transcription and note by uilleann piper Néillidh Mulligan accompanies the tune. Liam requested the tune having heard Néillidh play it in The Cobblestone in Dublin.

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© Barr na Cúille, reel / composed by Néillidh Mulligan. Manuscript from The Liam O'Flynn Collection at ITMA

Liam O’Flynn was undoubtedly one of the most important, pioneering and innovative Irish musicians of his generation. Liam brought the uilleann pipes to a worldwide audience and through his work with many unique collaborations, the iconic sound of Ireland resonated across stages throughout the world. Wonderful material relating to Planxty, The Brendan Voyage, Séamus Heaney, The Pipers Call Band and many other collaborations feature in the collection. This material alongside Liam’s handwritten notes in the collection offer an insight into Liam’s views on innovation and tradition.

All rational development of music depends on due attention to the character of the music and the nature of the instruments being used; the former teaches us what is advisable and the latter what’s possible! We should be guided by “the rational development of music. The exercise of good taste, common sense respect for the tradition. Also an understanding and respect for the emotional spirit of the music.
Liam O'Flynn

Liam O’Flynn’s meticulous nature is reflected in every aspect of this collection. It is incredibly inspiring on so many levels. Having the collection housed at the Irish Traditional Music Archive ensures his legacy is preserved for present and future generations. 

I am very grateful to Liam O’Flynn, Jane O’Flynn, ITMA Director Liam O’ Connor, and all the team at ITMA, to have had this incredible opportunity to Draw from the Well.

D’fhág Liam O’Flynn tobair sabhair ceol dúinn agus beidh daoine ag tarraingt ón tobair sin go deo. 

Written & researched by Louise Mulcahy

The Liam O’Flynn Collection at ITMA

The materials in the Liam Flynn Collection are multimedia in nature and represent the working collection of a professional Irish traditional musician who travelled both nationally and internationally performing as a solo artist, as well as with many of Ireland’s top musicians. O’Flynn’s frequent collaborations with internationally recognised artists are also evident throughout this collection, most notably his work with Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney. The collection includes: published books and periodicals, commercial and non-commercial sound recordings, video recordings, photographs, original and photocopied music scores, correspondence, newspaper clippings, reviews, ephemera (event programmes, posters, flyers etc.), business related papers (contracts etc.) and research notes. The collection is currently stored in 18 archival boxes and was kindly donated to ITMA by Jane O’Flynn.

For more information on the Collection please contact ITMA Archivist Maeve Gebruers [email protected]