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Sunday 25 February 2018

Piper took a back seat to reel in the Nazis at Hitler gig

Ciaran Byrne

WHEN the famous uileann piper Sean Dempsey was ordered to sit and play for Hitler during a 1936 trip to Berlin, he quickly spotted a problem: a lack of seats.

After pointing out that he needed a chair, Hitler promptly ordered a hapless storm trooper to get down on his hands and knees so Mr Dempsey could sit and perform astride the man.

A new exhibition of rare photographs and archive material chronicling the last 120 years of traditional Irish music in the Dublin area recalls the story of the piper meeting the Nazi leader during the World Dance and Music Festival.

Third Reich propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels was also present and after Mr Dempsey had finished playing a haunting air, Hitler presented him with a gold fountain pen.

The story is the most unusual tale included in a new exhibition recording 120 years of traditional Irish music in all its forms.

It also recalls those who played instruments like the accordion, flute, concertina, banjo, fiddle and whistle.

Called 'Ceol na Cathra', the new exhibition is centred around a remarkable collection of photographs amassed over 50 years by legendary fiddle player Mick O'Connor.

Watched by musicians such as John Sheahan of The Dubliners and veteran fiddler Antoin Mac Gabhann, it was opened yesterday in Temple Bar as part of the TradFest which runs until Sunday.

The photo exhibition includes rare images of some of the biggest figures in traditional music such as Leo Rowsome, Frank O'Higgins, Sean O Riada and the Chieftains.

"When we play our music we think of all of them," said Mr O'Connor. "I'd like to do them justice as they passed on the music and their families passed on the photographs."

Among the collection are hundreds of pictures which chart the revival of traditional music just as the national movement towards independence was gathering pace in Ireland the late 19th century.

The National Revival heralded the formation of the Gaelic League, Feis Ceoil and the Pipers' Club in 1893 and 1894.

The collection includes pictures of the Pipers' Club and its secretary, Easter Rising leader Eamonn Ceannt. It was put out of existence by the Black and Tans.

Other images include the Abbey Tavern Singers, the Black Raven Band from Lusk, a 1925 shot of the Kincora Ceili Band and Ceol Tire in 1924.

Irish Independent

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