Leo Rowsome: a Tribute

Leo Rowsome Tutor Title Page
Leo Rowsome's Tutor for the Uileann Pipes (Waltons, 1936 [2020])
Ensuring that the Rowsome tradition of piping and music-making was passed on to his family to be safe for future generations, Leo left an enormous legacy of archival and commercial recordings. He continued his father’s work by completing his Tutor for the Uilleann pipes and dedicating it to him.
Helena Rowsome Grimes, 2020

Leo Rowsome (1903–1970) was a third generation uilleann piper.  His musical and pipe making skills were inherited from his grandfather Samuel Rowsome from Ballintore. Co. Wexford and his father William who established the family pipe making and repair business in Dublin.  One of six musical children, Leo was to play a pivotal role in the revival of uilleann piping in Ireland as a pipe maker, performer, teacher, organiser, advocate & publisher. He performed extensively in Ireland and abroad, and broadcast on both radio and televsion.  His recording career began in the era of the 78 rpm disc and  Leo recorded with a number of 78 rpm record companies and on vinyl with Claddagh and Topic Records. 

The Rowsome piping tradition continues through fifth and sixth generations of the family in both playing, pipe making and publishing. 


Material and references to Leo Rowsome feature throughout the ITMA Collection and have been the focus of two previously published digital features.

Leo Rowsome King of the Pipers, 78rpm Disc Recordings, 1926-1944 [Sound recording playlist]

Leo Rowsome on the Bill: Concert Posters, 1940s-1950s [Image gallery]

Today 20 September 2020, as well as the digital publishing of the 1936 Tutor, we are also delighted to feature below a written contribution from Leo's daughter Helena Rowsome Grimes. 

Rowsome Family 240109
Leon, Olivia, Leo, Helena, Helena, & Liam Rowsome. Image courtesy Helena Rowsome Grimes
When my father, played happily at my wedding on 10 August 1970, little did I know that he would die suddenly six weeks later.  I spoke with him from Belfast on the night before he travelled to Riverstown, Co. Sligo, where he was to adjudicate The Fiddler of Dooney Competition.  Noticing that he didn’t sound well, I asked him to try and get someone to go in his place, to which he replied “I wouldn’t let them down.”  That, and a "Cheerio" were his last words to me.  
That was the nature of the man, who lived for and by the uilleann pipes.
Leo was one of the last of that very small band of uilleann pipe makers and his skill in reed making and in turning pipes was unrivalled. His head was stored with the traditional lore of his father and grandfather and of the Cash and Byrne families and to this knowledge was added the experience of a lifetime, backed by outstanding manual dexterity, eyes like a hawk, a keen, analytical brain and a most retentive memory.
Seán Reid, 1975
Through his work as performer, teacher and maker of the uilleann pipes, Leo has been credited with saving the instrument from possible extinction.
In his workshop at the back of his family home, he repaired and refurbished instruments by the old masters, including those of his own father, William, ensuring their preservation for posterity.  
William Rowsome
William Rowsome. From: Irish folk music : a fascinating hobby / by Capt. Francis O'Neill (Chicago, 1910)
The first uilleann piper to play solo on 2 RN (Irish Radio) and the first Irish artist to appear on BBC TV., Leo became a household name throughout Ireland due to the frequency of his broadcasts, as a soloist, playing with his All Ireland Trio with Seamus O’Mahony and Neilus Cronin and later with The Leo Rowsome Pipes Quartet, among whose members were Leo’s son, Leon, Seán Seery, Willie Clancy and others.  
Séamus O'Mahony and Leo Rowsome / unidentified photographer
Séamus O'Mahony and Leo Rowsome / unidentified photographer
Séamus O'Mahony and Leo Rowsome / unidentified photographer

Séamus O'Mahony and Leo Rowsome / unidentified photographer

© 

Leo recorded on 78 rpm extensively for HMV, Decca and Columbia records. In forming Claddagh Records, Garech de Brún and Ivor Browne (both pupils of Leo’s) thought it to be essential that a complete long-playing record should be made of Leo’s piping, and so “Rí na bPíobairí” became the title of Claddagh’s first vinyl album. The first album proved to be a great success and that was followed by the piping of another of Leo’s former pupils, Paddy Moloney, playing with The Chieftains on their first Claddagh’s album.

Collier's reel; Sligo maid, reel / Leo Rowsome (HMV, 1944)

Gillian's apples, jig; The maid of Tramore, jig / Leo Rowsome (Decca, 1936)

Londonderry air; Parnell's march / Leo Rowsome (Columbia, 1926)

Ri Na Bpiobairi Leorowsome Album Cover
Rí na bPíobairí Album Cover (Claddagh, 1959)
Leo was a global ambassador for Irish traditional music. He was the one who was asked by the Irish Government to entertain diplomats and visitors  to Ireland. Always on time, well dressed and charismatic, with his pipes shining and in perfect tune, he was a true professional. In his performances from Dublin to Fontainebleau, Covent Garden or Carnegie Hall, Leo brought the uilleann pipes to a wide audience, and in doing so earned huge respect for the music he played and for the uilleann pipes.

He appeared in a number of films, including Nora O’Neill (1934); Irish Hearts (1935); Broth of a Boy (1959); Home is the Hero (1959) and The Playboy of the Western World (1961).

Leo Rowsome, 1960. Image courtesy Helena Rowsome Grimes

There is no doubt that one of Leo’s greatest contributions to traditional Irish music was his appointment as uilleann pipes teacher in Dublin’s Municipal School of Music, at a very young age. It was the renowned Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin RIP, who asked me the cleverest of questions: “How did your father get a job teaching Irish music in a classical music institution” at the age of just seventeen”?
Samuel Rowsome and his wife, Mary were themselves clever in sending their three sons, William, Tom and John to learn the theory of music from a German teacher of music, Frederick Jacobowitch, who lived near their Ballintore home, in the Ferns area of Co. Wexford at that time. Then, in true tradition, William passed that knowledge on to his son, Leo who became an expert in the theory of music, and notated on manuscript all the tunes for his pupils, who themselves benefited greatly from Leo’s instruction. Another factor was that Leo was a kind man who presented himself well, had a great sense of decorum and knew how to communicate with people from all walks of life.   
Leo Teaching Group Of Young Pipers Incl P Moloney Betty Nevin
Leo Rowsome with pupils, including Betty Nevin and Paddy Moloney. Image courtesty Helen Rowsome Grimes
Leo Rowsome revived the Pipers’ Club (Cumann na bPiobairi Uilleann) in 1936, having called thirty of his senior pupils to attend a Siamsa Mór in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. He became President of the Club and in 1946, the Club moved to Aras Ceannt, 14 Thomas Street, Dublin. Leo and Tom Rowsome, together with their colleagues and friends from Cumann na bPíobairí Uilleann were adamant that a national organisation for the promotion of Irish traditional music should be formed. Leo began writing to musicians country-wide to alert them.  Much work was done, and mileage covered by Leo’s brother Tom in what was known as his “Comhaltas” car!  It was from the “Club” that Cumann Ceoltóirí na hÉireann was formed, which lead to the formation in 1951 of Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann. 
Cumann Na B Píobairí Uilleann Leo Rowsom E Chairman
Cumann na bPiobairi Uilleann Membership Form. Courtesy Helena Rowsome Grimes
Na Piobairi Uilleann, the organisation for the promotion of the uilleann pipes was formed in 1968 and Leo, with Seamus Ennis were its first patrons.  Its current CEO, Gay McKeon was a pupil of Leo’s. 
Ensuring that the Rowsome tradition of piping and music-making was passed on to his family to be safe for future generations, Leo left an enormous legacy of archival and commercial recordings.  He continued his father’s work by completing his Tutor for the Uilleann pipes and dedicating it to him. [now digitised and available online from ITMA]
I had the privilege of having a book of my father’s reels and jigs The Leo Rowsome Collection of Irish Music – 428 reels and jigs from the pen of master piper, Leo Rowsome published by Waltons to commemorate the Centenary of his birth in 2003. The tunes in the book are Leo’s own versions, handed down to him by his father, grandfather and uncles. The book which is dedicated to my parents also contains some of Leo’s own compositions. 
Leo’s daily schedule was a busy one: He worked making pipes, reeds, carrying our repairs in his workshop every morning, until he took the bus to Dublin’s Municipal School of Music on Chatham Row in the afternoons, where he taught until 9 or 9.30 p.m.  On arrival home, he would be encouraged by my mother to write a few more tunes before supper – It is that collection of reels and jigs, some of Leo’s own compositions, that I had published by Waltons in 2003. In that collection, ironically, the last tune he wrote was a jig – Goodbye and a Blessing.
Leo Helena Rowsome Helenas Wedding 10 Aug 1970
Helena & Leo Rowsome at Helena Rowsome Grimes Wedding, 1970. Images courtesy Helena Rowsome Grimes
Leo’s wife, Helena was a fantastic support to him in every aspect of his work. A musician herself with a good singing voice, she worked as a Primary School Teacher in a local school where she also was involved in choral work after school.  She had a deep appreciation of Leo’s talents and always did what she could to ensure that he had peace to complete those wonderful sets of uilleann pipes in his workshop at the back of the family home on Dublin’s north-side.
Leo and Helena had four children. Leon (1936-1994) was a superb uilleann piper and Liam (1939-1997) a genius on the fiddle. Liam and Tommy Potts playing together were, without doubt, the Menuhin and Grappelli of Irish traditional fiddle playing. My twin, Olivia teaches piano and music in our families continues to endure.
Piping in the family reached its 5th generation, with Leon’s son, Kevin, and is now in its 6th generation with his daughters and their cousins playing pipes. 
Thankfully, pipes made by Leo and his father, William, are in the hands of some of today's excellent uilleann pipers world-wide.
Leo’s unique set of uilleann pipes, the set he began making in 1922 and played for his entire professional life, is now part of the Irish national collection and patrimony at The National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, where they are on display for the entire world to see.  Gifting Leo Rowsome’s own handmade set of pipes to the people of Ireland fulfils a guiding principle of Leo’s, i.e. that the cultural heritage of the uilleann pipes belongs to everyone.

On Leo’s 30th Anniversary, Mr Justice Vivian Lavan (a former pupil of Leo’s) gave a superb address at his graveside. I quote:

My first meeting with Leo was in the Pipers’ Club, Thomas Street, Dublin, where he held his Saturday evening classes. Even to my youthful and untutored eye, I knew that I was in the presence of a true professional. There he was in his bow tie, carrying his avuncular air, exhibiting a charm and courtesy – traits which endured for the years I knew him.
Like many other pipers, I joined the ranks of his pupils in the Municipal School of Music in Chatham Street. As a pupil I witnessed the true professional work. Leo had an unfailing and unflappable ability to each and to encourage from the very youthful to the more mature!  His teaching method was always one to one – never master to neophyte. His encouragement to try again, if the performance was less than ought to have been expected – and after that encouragement, he would take an empty manuscript and transpose on these some apposite and suitable piece of music to whet the pupil’s appetite. My years as such a pupil were a shared delight.  The second part of his teaching took place in the Pipers’ Club in Thomas Street on a Saturday evening. As in law, so also in the Pipers’ Club, there was strict order of precedence, from the youngest to the most senior. There boys of my vintage were to rub shoulders with some who were later to become household names – such as Paddy Moloney, Garech Browne, Liam óg O’Flynn and Des Geraghty. Those Saturday evenings some 45 years later are still firm in my memory for the commitment to the preservation and dissemination of Irish music, and the practice and playing of the uilleann pipes, which Leo gave. In this endeavour, he was ably supported by the Seerys, Tuohys, Crystals, McClouds, Pat Noonan and Tom McCabe, my uncle, and all of the others who in those dim, difficult and distant days had the vision to develop the organisation and structure of Irish music generally and of uilleann piping in particular. I began then to understand the contribution which Leo had been making to the popularisation of the uilleann pipes in the decades from the 1930s, 40s and 50s.
Vivian Lavan (1944-2011) died on 17 August 2011. He was enrolled as a pupil of Leo’s at the School of Music 1957-1960. 

Leo Rowsome's Tutor for the Uileann Pipes (Waltons, 1936)

Text written by Helena Rowsome Grimes, Nicholas Carolan [previous features] & Grace Toland.

Presented by Grace Toland.

September, 2020

With sincere thanks to Waltons Music Dublin and the Rowsome family for permssion to digitise and freely share Leo Rowsome's Tutor for the Uileann Pipes.