By Brian McCabe
It was the day the President came to our parish.
We always knew ‘our’ Liam was well-known and respected in the field of traditional Irish music but, all the same, it was a bit strange to see the President of Ireland, all the great and good of the music world, and various media commentators and personalities all gathered for his funeral service in our little church in Kill, Co. Kildare.
Liam ‘Óg’ O’Flynn (so-called to distinguish him from his father, Liam) was born in the parish of Kill on 15th April, 1945, to musical parents. His father was the local primary school headmaster and fiddle player and a great lover (and collector) of traditional music. His mother, who came from a family of musicians from Clare, played and taught piano, and conducted the local church choir. Liam was one of three children.
From an early age, Liam Óg showed extraordinary musical talent. A local writer (and contemporary) remembered him as a young lad, dressed in a Fairisle ‘gansey’, brown corduroy trousers, grey socks and brown sandals, playing Irish tunes on the tin whistle, with one foot propped against an old stone trough in the yard.
At the age of 11, he began taking classes with the famous piper, Leo Rowsome. Liam himself recalled being brought to these lessons, in Dublin, in the sidecar of his father’s motorbike. This may have been the origin of Liam’s later lifelong interest in motorbikes!
Liam soon got to know – and learn from – other famous pipers such as Willie Clancy (probably through his mother’s connections) and Seamus Ennis, with whom he shared a rented house in Terenure for a few years.
Seamus passed on much of his piping knowledge and skill to Liam and, indeed, when he died, he expressly provided in his will that his own pipes were to go to Liam as “he was the only one who could play them properly”!