Longford's Mattie Fox: When master piper Liam O’Flynn played it was mesmerising

Mattie Fox

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Mattie Fox

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Mattie Fox

Longford Leader columnist, Mattie Fox

The first time I became aware of a tune called ‘The Easter Snow’ was when Liam O’Flynn played it at the graveside of the great Seamus Ennis.

Shortly afterwards, a sad Liam arrived at our house and proudly announced that Ennis had bequeathed his pipes to him, with the note inscribed in the will document “I leave my pipes to Liam O’Flynn, who can play them”.

If ever any man had received a clear endorsement of his talent, Liam was that man, on that day.

Liam was a frequent visitor to our house in those days and could stay for the night, or two, or a week, or even several weeks at a time. Once he stayed three months.

He loved the quietness that prevailed, and loved to visit our family and friends with us.

He looked forward to calling into Rawle’s of an evening, where he warmed himself by the fire and Stella, who knew him well, chatted away with him while we had a drink.

On another occasion, one night we headed for Mullinalaghta, collected Jimmy Joe, and called to another friend ho lived over that country.
In that house there were other visitors, parents and an elderly man called Phil who had just sold his herd of cattle that day, and was in high spirits, having done well on the price he got.

He could now retire comfortably and high comedy arose as to whether he’d invest his nest egg in dollars or sterling!

Songs were sung and there was much laughter and chat.

Uncharacteristically, Liam slipped out to the car and brought in the pipes. A rare occurrence.

What a treat we all had that night.

Phil sang the ballad of Selton Hill - which I had never heard before and of course it was relevant, being the story of how our own Sean Connolly met his untimely death.

On another occasion we brought him to Keogh’s pub on a New Year's Eve - thinking that there might be a bit of activity there on such a night.

However there was just ourselves and two others. Coming on to midnight, Mary turned on the radio - a poor battery powered yoke that made the ringing of the bells sound like a grating ruckus; a happy new year!! Liam however, loved it and said that “it was the company that mattered”.

That was him, gracious, gentlemanly.

He didn’t need the bright lights or the stardom, but he did like to be recognised as the master piper which description didn’t even come close to portraying his absolute genius.

When Liam O’Flynn played it was mesmerising, because he became part of the pipes, and the pipes became part of him.

To hear him play in The National Concert Hall in Dublin and watch him perform from memory for two hours, while all around him the orchestra were glued to sheet music as they executed the Brendan Voyage, was indeed a sight to behold.

Liam knew every nuance of the new piece, from memory. He knew his music literally inside out; notes, timing; pauses; were meticulously committed to memory so there would be no mistakes, because he became part of the entire, thereby playing with an internal abandon, yet disciplined, that nobody could imitate, or copy.

Always the gentleman, he chose projects carefully and never overworked himself.

He liked horses and would frequent race meetings and while living in Kildare would often ride out with others whom he knew, in the mornings from the nearby stables.

Just when he seemed to be the confirmed bachelor for life, he met Jane on one of those occasions. Jane was English, and was working with a trainer in his neighbourhood.

They married and settled down, and Liam had finally found his beloved.

Liam played with many artists, including Mark Knopfler for whom he had great admiration, Kate Bush with whom he became very friendly, Emmylou Harris, The Everly Brothers, Sinead O’Connor, and numerous film scores.

He worked with poet Seamus Heaney and they produced a stunning concert in words and music.

As I write this the ground is again white with snow, and no doubt Liam and Seamus are up in heaven playing ‘Easter Snow’ together.

Goodbye my dear friend and thank you for the memories.