Monday 20 May 2019

'King among pipers, prince among men' - tributes paid to trad music giant O'Flynn

Trad legend Liam Óg O’Flynn
Trad legend Liam Óg O’Flynn
John Meagher

John Meagher

It is 45 years since the release of Planxty's self-titled debut album but it remains one of the most influential Irish records ever. If The Chieftains helped ensure the survival of traditional Irish music in the 1960s, Planxty would demonstrate just how versatile and forward-looking it could be in the 1970s.

Liam Óg O'Flynn, who died yesterday after a long cancer battle, was a pivotal part of the success they enjoyed at home and abroad.

The world took notice thanks to the band's maiden album, the first of nine they made.

Together with Andy Irvine and fellow Kildare men Christy Moore and Donal Lunny, the piper would help change the course of Irish music and inspire a legion of future musicians, including two of today's most admired groups, the Gloaming and Lankum.

His mastery of the uilleann pipes - that most intrinsically Irish and demanding of musical instruments - helped ensure that Planxty's sound would remain indelible.

O'Flynn's virtuosic playing truly came into its own in concert. More than four decades on, the Planxty live experience is still rated as among the most thrilling ever from an Irish act.

Liam Óg O’Flynn playing a lament at the funeral of celebrated uilleann piper Séamus Ennis
in Dublin in 1982. Photo: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection
Liam Óg O’Flynn playing a lament at the funeral of celebrated uilleann piper Séamus Ennis in Dublin in 1982. Photo: Independent Newspapers Ireland/NLI Collection

The tributes have been robust and heartfelt: O'Flynn may have been able to walk down the street unrecognised by most, but true music fans would acknowledge the rare gifts he was blessed with.

"He leaves an important and lasting legacy, through his music, but also through his generous, uplifting and committed approach to the role of music in Ireland's cultural heritage, contributing to composition and performance with orchestras and in film," President Michael D Higgins said yesterday.

The chairperson of the Arts Council, Sheila Pratschke, said: "[O'Flynn] left behind him an incredible legacy of music through his recordings, his careful support of other musicians and artists, and his dedication to transmission of the great heritage of Irish music to future generations."

Songwriter Phil Coulter, who produced that debut Planxty album, said he was a "king among pipers and a prince among men… a complete musician and a gentle soul".

O'Flynn grew up in a music-steeped family and learned to play the uilleann pipes as a boy. His teacher was Leo Rowsome, one of the foremost proponents of the instrument in the 20th century - but O'Flynn would ensure that its unique sound would be heard all over the world.

In 1968, he was among the founders of Na Píobairí Uilleann, the organisation that would keep the tradition of making and playing the pipes alive. And it was largely thanks to stalwarts like O'Flynn - who was honorary president of Na Píobairí Uilleann at the time of this death - that Unesco would add the uilleann pipes to its register of important and unique cultural heritage symbols late last year.

It would have been a source of immense pride for him.

While O'Flynn's defining work was with Planxty, he was much sought after by musicians all over the world. He collaborated with everyone from Seán Ó Ríada to Kate Bush and from Sinead O'Connor to the Everly Brothers, and his love of the arts brought him into the orbit of people like Seamus Heaney: both men worked together.

His playing also provided the soundtrack for feature films including Jim Sheridan's 'The Field' and 'A River Runs Through It', starring Brad Pitt.

Some of his greatest accomplishments were in partnership with Shaun Davey, not least Davey's classic 1980 album, 'The Brendan Voyage', which was released in the wake of the much-publicised Atlantic crossing undertaken by adventurer Tim Severin two years before.

Liam O'Flynn, who was 72, died just days after the passing of his friend, Guinness heir Garech de Brún, another key figure who did much to ensure that traditional Irish music would not just survive, but thrive.

Irish Independent

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