Tuesday 12 December 2017

History of Uilleann pipes reflects influence of Wexford's Rowsome family

By Esther Hayden

Leo Rowsome in the 1950s.
Leo Rowsome in the 1950s.

The remarkable contributions of the Rowsome family, descendants of Wexford musician Samuel Rowsome, to the 300-year history of the uilleann pipes, are detailed in a new book entitled The Wheels of The World by Irish authors Colin Harper and John McSherry.

Samuel Rowsome was a popular piper in the 1820s who lived in Ballintore in the barony of Scarawalsh, Wexford. His grandson Leo Rowsome is regarded as one of the mainstays of the uilleann pipes tradition in the middle of the last century, alongside such other celebrated stalwarts as Seamus Ennis and Willie Clancy.

Leo married Helena Williams from Taghmon, and Harper acknowledges Leo as one of the best pipers of the 20th and 21th centuries. He compares his dexterity to that of guitar heroes such as Jimi Hendrix, and believes that the famous Italian composer Vivaldi would have composed for a player of Leo's superior talent. Harper also makes several references to Leo's father, Samuel's son William, who learned music from a German teacher in Ferns, who started making pipes in Dublin and impressed many with his playing when he returned to Wexford.

Other descendants of Wexfordman Samuel Rowsome covered in The Wheels of The World include Ciaran, Kevin, Leon, Thomas, Helena and Tom Rowsome. The book also concedes that there was a time when the uilleann pipes, once known as 'the Irish organ', were 'not always welcome in the Irish tradition', so there's little doubt that the five generations of the Rowsome family played a major role in re-establishing the instrument as a major force in Irish music. This mammoth survey also reveals how the uilleann pipes came back into prominence in the Irish folk scene in modern times thanks to the playing of Liam O'Flynn, Davy Spillane, the book's co-author John McSherry, Paddy Moloney, Paddy Keenan and Finbar Furey, all of whom helped popularise the instrument, both at home and abroad.

The Wheels of The World-300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipes by Colin Harper and John McSherry is published by The Jawbone Press.

For further information contact Colin Harper at

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