Uilliann piper Liam O’Flynn has died after a long period of illness. To most, he will best be remembered as a founding member of the groundbreaking Irish traditional group Planxty in which he played alongside Christy Moore, Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny. In 2012 he would team up again with Andy and Dónal to form LAPD which also featured Irish fiddler Paddy Glackin, a founding member of the Bothy Band. In the same year, he performed at Andy Irvine’s 70th Birthday celebrations at Dublin’s Vicar St.
As an uilleann piper, he was up there with the masters – even the legendary Séamus Ennis bequeathed him his pipes. His discography stretches to some 50 albums some of which we’ve featured on FRUK including The Poet & The Piper on which Liam played alongside the spoken words of poet and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney (you can hear some tracks on our Weaving the Land mix). Likewise, although very hard to come by today, Liam played pipes and whistle on the 1974 album Celtic Folkweave by Mick Hanly and Mícheál Ó Domhnaill. It featured an all-star cast of guest musicians including Lunny, Tommy Peoples, Matt Molloy and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill (a track features on our Irish showcase mix here).
He also recorded The Brendan Voyage in 1980, a work for uilleann pipe and orchestra which was written by Shaun Davey with whom he collaborated on a number of works. Those familiar with this album won’t be surprised that he’s also credited on film scores including works with Mark Knopfler and Elmer Bernstein.
His playing also led to many popular mainstream credits with the likes of Kate Bush (The Dreaming, Hounds of Love), the Everly Brothers, Enya, Emmylou Harris, Mike Oldfield and Sinéad O’Connor. He also appeared and recorded with John Cage.
Liam was born into a musical family in Kill, Co. Kildare in 1945. His father (also Liam) played the fiddle and his mother, Maisie Scanlan was the cousin of Irish fiddle player Junio Crehan of County Clare.
He began studying the uilleann pipes under Leo Rowsome at the age of 11 and was influenced by the legendary pipers Willie Clancy and Séamus Ennis. He went on to win prizes in the Oireachtas Festival and the Fleadh Cheoil. His reputation naturally grew and with that, he began to cross the paths of more musicians. Liam could be found playing with the best around Prosperous in County Kildare at venues such as Pat Dowling’s pub as well as the legendary Prosperous basement sessions. It was at Dowling’s that Liam was introduced to Seamus Ennis. Ennis took him under his wing and taught him his unique style of playing which drew on a variety of different styles.
“Seamus Ennis gave me much more than a bag of notes.” Liam O’Flynn
It wasn’t long before Liam became acquainted with Christy Moore, Andy Irvine and Dónal Lunny. Andy had already been making waves in Sweeney’s Men (initially with Johnny Moynihan, and Joe Dolan and then later with Terry Woods). Although Andy appeared on their first 1968 self-titled debut album (produced by Bill Leader) he had his eyes set on travelling in Eastern Europe and left the band. Christy was doing the clubs in England and was already planning a follow-up to his debut album…it was this album that brought the future members of Planxty together…(you can hear a track from the album alongside Sweeney’s Men, Seamus Ennis and a whole host of Irish greats in a special Irish mix I did a couple of years ago here).
In 1970 Bill Leader came to Ireland armed with his Revox tape recorder, he ended up in Prosperous where he went about recording Christy Moore’s second album (Prosperous). Christy was joined by musicians Andy (mandolin, mouth organ), Liam (uilleann pipes, tin whistle), and Dónal Lunny (guitar, bouzouki). These men were about to change the very future of Irish Traditional Music…they later went by the name of Planxty. As Christy describes the moment in his autobiography ‘One Voice’:
“It was a magical time. The music was fresh and it sparkled. Every day brought new fun as we rollicked around Pat Dowling’s pub and then up Rynne’s cellar to lay down another track.” He later added “When I think of all the recordings that have been done since none has ever achieved the same feelings of fun and crack. There has been lots of good music created and played, but seldom have we laughed so much”
Liam will be missed by many but what an incredible legacy to leave, one whose influence is still being felt today. Irish singer Niamh Parsons shared this with followers on Facebook
I remember him from when we were little, as Dad and Mam always had a session back in the house after the Old Sheiling folk club in the ’60s. We would lie in bed listening to him and Matt Molloy playing for hours, and Daddy singing. I was blessed later on in my career to meet and chat with him, and have the craic, especially in Holland…..Sad times
When I’m playing, I’m certainly lost within it. The only way to describe it, is that it’s like looking inwards. I think when a performer engages with the audience, and vice versa, it’s like a spell is cast and a terrific passage of feelings moves from the musician to the audience and back again. Liam O’Flynn
Liam Óg O’Flynn 15 April 1945 – 14 March 2018