Six Generations of Uilleann Piping & Pipemaking

Samuel Rowsome

(1820 - 1914)

In early and middle life this typical amateur piper enjoyed a great local reputation in the barony of Scarawalsh, County Wexford. Far-famed as a jig player-the jig which has become unfashionable in his old days-it was no vain boast that he had a hundred of its several varieties at his finger tips. A man of untiring energy in all respects, Samuel Rowsome was an indefatigable piper. On one occasion, Mr. Whelan his friend tells us, he supplied the music unaided at a ball held at “The Harrow,” where eighty-four couples assembled, and in the words of one who was present “gave them all dancing enough.” In fact, Mr. Rowsome could “fill the house with music.” Contemporary with the late John Cash, his inborn love of the native music and talent for playing it on the Union pipes was developed under the tuition of the famous but almost forgotten minstrel, “Jemmy” Byrne, the piper of Shangarry, County Carlow. Mr. Rowsome, who was an extensive and prosperous farmer and whose commodious dwelling typified Irish hospitality, adopted pipe playing not as a vocation but as an accessory to pleasure and recreation, for he was ever an advocate of pastimes and social intercourse. He attended the “’patron,’ race, and fair,” and went everywhere a good piper was to be heard. Not many indeed were the wandering musicians worthy of note in that part of the country he had not come across, and few were the tunes they played that he did not memorize, if new to him, and reproduce at will. A piper of acknowledged ability, he was no less skilful in equipping and repairing the instrument from bellows to reeds, so that we can well conceive how much in demand a man must be who combined the various endowments of Samuel Rowsome of Ballintore, whose hospitable home sheltered many a wandering minstrel in times of stress and stringency. How could the later generations of Rowsomes escape their musical tendencies if heredity is to be considered as a factor in influencing out lives. Mrs. Rowsome, born Mary Parslow, was not only one of the finest dancers of her day, but also an excellent violinist by all accounts, being taught by her father, William Parslow, of Ballyhaddock, a townland adjoining Ballintore. Not only that, but her brother Thomas was a piper of good local reputation. Example, heredity, and environment could hardly fail to produce conspicuous results under such circumstances. At the patriarchal age of eighty-four, Mr. Rowsome is still living at the old homestead.

Other references to Samuel Rowsome in “Irish Minstrels and Musicians”  

Thomas Rudd

Thomas Rudd of Clone, near Ferns, County Wexford-a gentleman farmer whose name comes down to us as a piper of no inferior merit- was an early contemporary and friend of Mr. Rowsome’s. He used to enliven the harvest-work of his employees by bringing his pipes to the field and playing to them the popular melodies which they loved and were accustomed to hear, and which in those days when the peasantry had few comforts and no luxuries, constituted one of the greatest joys of their existence. Mr. Rudd was one of the leading farmers of Wexford in his time. As none of his family inherited his musical proclivities, his instruments, of which he possessed more than one valuable set, passed after his death, which occurred fifty years ago, into the hands of the late John Cash.A defective chanter, which Mr. Rudd owned, after undergoing an overhauling at the hands of his friend Mr. Rowsome, was declared to be the “truest he ever handled.”

The Byrne Family

Collectively the Byrnes belonged to Shangarry, in County Carlow, from whence they radiated to the “patrons,” fairs, and races in that and neighboring counties, returning again at stated intervals to enjoy a season of domestic reunion on their replenished purses. After the death of “Old Jemmy” Byrne sixty years or so ago, and the subsequent emigration of John to America, the home at Shangarry was broken up. “Young Jemmy,’ emigrated to the vicinity of Ballyearney, where he lived with a man named “Matty” Rigley, whose brother Ben was a good amateur piper. While at Mr. Rigley’s he was frequently visited by John Cash and Samuel Rowsome, who became noted pipers themselves. Here we have a musical chain the most complete of any which has come to our attention. “Old Jemmy”, Byrne, the Carlow piper, and his three sons all professionals, of whom young “Jemmy” communicated his art to Samuel Rowsome of Ballintore, County Wexford, who in turn transmitted it to his three sons. The art is still further perpetuated in his grandson, Samuel Rowsome, Jr., of Dublin, who recently gained distinction as a prize winner at the age of sixteen, being the fifth generation of pipers of note. ‘Twas in the blood of the Byrnes and the Rowsomes, though in the latter family music was a pleasure rather than a profession. When Mr. Rigley removed from Ballycarney to Knockinarshal near Enniscorthy, seven miles from the former home, “Jemmy” Byrne accompanied the family with whom he lived to the end of his days. His death, which was rather sudden, occurred about the year 1867 and before he had rounded out three score years. For many a year at Shrovetide, he made a trip to his native Carlow to play at the weddings, for it appears that the music of the Union pipes retained its hold on popular sentiment more tenaciously in that county than in Wexford. Michael Brandy of Ballycarney, a veteran of seventy-four, to whom Mr. Whelan, our correspondent, is indebted for not a little of his information, relates that once when Byrne was about to start on one of his annual expeditions, finding that his funds were exhausted, asked for a loan of five shillings until his return. Brandy being then young and unmarried was glad of the opportunity to oblige such a friend with twice that amount. A month or so later the piper returned. Repaid the ten shillings, “treated” his generous friend to all he cared to drink, and still had left a balance of six pounds in his pocket.

2nd Generation

Samuel Rowsome
(1820 – 1914)
John Rowsome
(18 – 19)
William Rowsome
(1870 – 1925)
Tomas Rowsome
(18 – 1928)

John Rowsome

John Rowsome was the oldest of the three musicians in the family. This photo was taken outside the family house in Ballintore, Co Wexford.

John subsequently moved to Dublin and later emigrated to Canada where some of his decedents still live. 

JohnRowsome

“Who that has listened to the roar of the distant cataract in the stillness of the night would fail to be impressed with a sense that a greater volume of water overleaps the rock, and plunges into the chasm below with correspondingly increasing fury at certain intervals than at others?

“Any or all of the above similes might he taken as illustrations of his music, yet they are but poorly or indifferently put, for still the music swells, breaks, leaps, curvets, sighs, murmurs, ripples, laughs, rolls, thunders, on the ear of the enraptured listener.

“The noise emitted through the chanter and from the strings of many of the swelled heads, is mete musical chatter in comparison to his playing, nor is it to be wondered at, since the musical faculty with him was inborn, and James Cash, that ‘prince of pipers,’ was through all his early years his most intimate associate, friend, and tutor.”

But coming back to earth from Patrick Whelan’s aerial flights, we hasten to inform the reader that John Rowsome, as well as his brothers Thomas and William, studied music under Herr Jacob Blowitz, a German professor, who resided in Ferns from 1878 to 1885, and became efficient performers on various orchestral instruments. John was famous on the cornet, on which he could play jigs as fluently as William could on the violin. Strange to say, heredity overcame their training under Professor Blowitz, and all three owe their present fame to their skill as performers on the Union bagpipes.

Since succeeding his father in the management of the farm, John has not played in public, nor has he continued his practice of music except in a desultory way in private. Just as he would be warming up to his work and when his audience would be anticipating a musical treat, he would strike a few chords on the regulators and put away the instrument heedless of protest or entreaty.

Nearing the half century milestone in age, he is unostentatious in the extreme, though active in all that pertains to the revival of interest in Irish music, and the art of giving it traditional expression on Ireland’s national instrument. He has furbished, repaired, renovated, and reeded more foundered sets of bagpipes, for the unskilful, than any other man in the south of Ireland.

Neither is this splendid type of the whole-souled Irishman inclined to “hide his light under a bushel,” like so many excellent pipers whom we could name.

John Rowsome sees no glory in taking his art or his tunes to the grave with him. Like so many small-bore musicians afflicted with atrophied consciences. On the contrary, to his great credit, he is teaching his art, as his generous-hearted father did before him, to all who cared to learn. Among his present pupils are his young neighbors, David and Bernard Bolger, of the manufacturing firm of “David Bolger and Sons,” and their maternal uncle, Joseph Sinnott, draper at Enniscorthy. Who is active and enthusiastic in Gaelic circles.

Wealthy, popular, and patriotic, three members of the Bolger family represented constituencies in the first election assembly which supplanted the Grand Jury system in Wexford, and it is quite within the bounds of probability that in the near future two “gentlemen pipers” of the name will succeed their honoured relatives in the same capacity.

William Rowsome

William Rowsome was an Irish uilleann pipe maker and player in the late 19th and early 20th century. He was among the artists profiled in the 1913 Irish Minstrels and Musicians by Captain Francis O’Neill of Chicago. He  was one of the Irish musicians who maintained the culture of playing the uilleann pipes during the 1925–1936 gap while the Pipers’ Club in Dublin was defunct.

Another notable instance of heredity of musical talent is to be observed in the Rowsome family. Mr. Samuel Rowsome, a “strong” farmer of Ballintore Ferns, County Wexford, was a fine performer on the Irish pipes, by all accounts.

His sons, William and Thomas, of Dublin, need no introduction to the lovers of pipe music in this generation. Perpetuating the name and fame of the family, young Samuel Rowsome, son of William, has already achieved distinction as a piper.

During a brief visit to Dublin in the summer of 1906, the present writer made the acquaintance of the subject of this sketch at his residence, No. 18 Armstrong Street, Harold’s Cross. Being favorably impressed by his manner and music, the visit was repeated in the company of Rev. James K. Fielding, of Chicago, next day. Of course, Mr. Rowsome “put on the pipes” and played his favorite tunes at a lively clip – a trifle too lively for a dancer, we thought. That, however, is a mere matter of opinion. But the spirit of the music was in the performer, unmistakably, for while he touched the keys of the regulators airily and in good rhythm, his eyes sparkled with animation and his whole anatomy seemed to vibrate with a buoyancy which found suitable expression in the clear tones of his chanter. The instrument on which he played and that used by Prof. Denis O’Leary, winner of the first prize at the Munster Feis a few days before, were Mr. Rowsome’s own make. In finish and tone there was no cause for criticism, unless possibly a greater volume of tone might be more desirable in a large hall.

Old-time instruments in all stages of dilapidation were strewn about the shop awaiting repairs, the most remarkable being an immense set made on an original design, and which had lain unused in a Clare cabin for many years.

Always an impulsive enthusiast, my reverend countryman, Father Fielding, was bound to take a shot at it with his ever-ready kodak. Yours truly was persuaded – very reluctantly, though – to hold up the framework of the wonderful pipes to the proper level, it being understood that I was to constitute no part of the target. Standing sideways and leaning backward as far as equilibrium would permit, my outstretched arms presented the derelict instrument in front of the camera. Three months later the morning rnail brought me a souvenir from the reverend photographer in which my distorted likeness was more prominent in the picture than the pipes I had been holding!

Commendably circumspect in his language and reference to others in his profession and trade, during our few hours’ stay, Mr. Rowsome has been almost as fortunate as “Billy” Taylor, of Philadelphia, in winning and retaining the good will of his patrons and associates. The artistic temperament, however, may be accountable for many little misunderstandings which sensitive natures magnify into grievances.

Never was there a greater surprise sprung on “the old folks at home” and the promiscuous array of pipers, fiddlers and fluters at Ballintore and vicinity than the discovery that “Willie” Rowsome had become an accomplished performer on the Union pipes. Having moved to Dublin and married there in early manhood, he was remembered by the people at home in Wexford only as a fine freehand fiddler who could also do a little at the pipes.

Blood will tell, and so heredity asserted itself nd his case. When he paid a visit to the old homestead in the summer of 1911, his general execution and command of the regulators was a revelation to his family and friends. Replying to a question as to the relative merits of William and Thomas Rowsome, John, the senior brother, said: “That is largely a matter of opinion; sorne would rather `Willie’s’ playing, others would prefer `Tom’s.’ I believe `Willie’ is just as good as `Tom,’ and his style is more staccato.”

In the language of an admirer who is himself a versatile musician, “his staccato style is a marvel of dexterity, as it entails an expenditure of muscular energy beyond ordinary manual effort. His tipping and tripling are admirable, and his manipulation of the regulators may well, in these degenerate days of piping, be regarded as an innovation in the art. In playing dance music, which he prefers, his chords, save at the end of the strain, are never sustained beyond the duration of a crochet, so that the bars of his accompaniment in reels and hornpipes are regularly filled with four crochets each, and not infrequently varying to the same number of quavers with equivalent rest intervals alternating.” Much more from the pen of a friendly biographer might be added, but believing it would be injudieions to eater unduly to personalities, especially in the case of a musician still in the land of the living, we must forego the pleasure it would afford us to be more generous with space under different circumstances.

George Carroll


A machinist and engineer by occupation, George Carroll is said to be a versatile musician also, his favourite instrument, upon which he is a fine performer, being the Union bagpipes. With his brother Denis, who is an expert on the fiddle, he devotes much of his spare hours to the practice of music. The most tempting offers to play in public have been steadfastly declined. To most pipers, the inducement of a five-pound note for one performance would be irresistible. Not so with George Carroll, for a theatrical manager who made the proposition had no better success.

One day in the autumn of 1911, while engaged “threshing out the barley” for Mr. Fernando Murphy, Fincurry House, Ballycarney, he spied a fine set of pipes made by William Rowsome of Dublin. When he had planted the machinery to his satisfaction, he left the engine in charge of his assistants, and going into the house hitched on the pipes, and, with O’Neill’s Music of Ireland open in front of him, played for hours uninterruptedly.

This amateur piper’s proudest boast is that he rode upon a “boneshaker” solid-tire bicycle from Kilrush—his home—to Ballintore, County Wexford, a journey of six miles, at frequent intervals for a period extending over half a dozen years, to receive instructions on the Union pipes from Mr. Samuel Rowsome.

Born in 1868, George Carroll is a piper of the transition period—that is to say, the period between the decline and revival of piping—and, though good-natured and genial like most men of ponderous build, his placid features betray less pleasant emotions when he thinks of the decline into which Irish music and Irish national instruments had fallen.

Tomas Rowsome


The following extract is from the book “Irish Minstrels and Musicians” by Captain Francis O’Neill. (Published: 1913)

Of this member of the Rowsome family of pipers we can say nothing from personal knowledge, but we are reliably informed that Thomas Rowsome is not inferior to his brother William as a performer on the Union pipes. In fact, some are inclined to believe that, in rendering Irish airs with the manipulation of the regulators, Thomas has the advantage. 

At any rate it speaks well for the latter’s ability that he was awarded first prize at the Dublin Feis Ceoil competition among pipers in 1899. Winning third prize even, in 1897, when “Bob” Thompson of Cork and Turlogh McSweeney. “the Donegal piper,” were awarded first and second prizes respectively, was no small honor indeed.

From a discriminating pen we learn that “Tom” Rowsome is a fine, steady player. And at times even a brilliant one. At single jigs it would be hard to beat him, though in general execution his style may be considered too open and flute-like. However, that is a matter of individual taste. As regards time, he stands pre-eminent; his last bar of a jig or reel, in fact of any tune, is played in precisely the same time as the first, and no dancer can influence him to accelerate his pace or tempo.

Mr. O’Mealy, the well-known piper and pipemaker of Belfast, who played in concert with him on various occasions, speaks very highly of his social qualities. Nothing else could have been expected from his father and mother’s son, anyway.

Differing from his brother, John and William, at least in one respect, he stuck to his first love-the Union pipes-and, notwithstanding his musical education acquired under Herr Blowitz of Ferns, his taste for traditional Irish music remained uncorrupted and undiminished. All three became skilful pipers under the instruction of their father, Samuel Rowsome, the famous farmer-piper of Ballintore, Ferns, County Wexford, and all three have won distinction in that line of musical art.

The “Harvest Home” was an established institution at Ballyrankin, Clobernin, Farniley, Morrison’s, St. Aidan’s Palace, and many other residential seats of the wealthy in north Wexford. The attendance of the three brothers was ever in requisition at those annual celebrations, “Willie’s” reputation as a violinist being less than that of his elder brothers as pipers, only in the degree that the fiddle is deemed an instrument inferior to the Union pipes in giving to traditional Irish music its characteristic tonality. The “Harvest Home,” be it understood, was essentially the same as the “Flax Mehil” in other parts of Ireland-all private festivals-the assembly consisting of the family, friends, employees, and invited guests.

During this period Thomas Rowsome became closely associated with the late James Cash in his periodical visits to the Rowsome homestead. Together “Young Cash” and the youthful enthusiast would proceed to a secluded nook in the garden, or, the weather being unfavorable, to a private room in the house, and indulge in long-sustained spells of practice, for everything new in music which the wanderer had picked up on his rambles through Munster and Connacht he would impart to his beloved protégé. More than once old Mr. Rowsome Would come upon them in the act of playing one instrument together, each with one hand fingering the chanter.

“Tom, you will become a great piper yet,}’ Cash would say, as a presentiment of his own impending death would cloud his brow. “The music of your chanter will thrill audiences when the name of James Cash will be but a reminiscence or merely the subject of unsympathetic gossip.” The forecast was prophetic, for he died in his thirty-eighth year, while his friend Thomas Rowsome, now a municipal employe of the city of Dublin, has made a name for himself in the world of music. His engagements are many, not alone in his native land, but on the stage and in the halls of London, Glasgow, and other cities and towns across the Channel, where the mellifluent tones of the “Irish organ” in the hands of a capable performer never fail to arouse the most enthusiastic applause.

About forty-six years of age, over six feet in height, handsome and of impressive appearance, “Tom” Rowsome may not owe all his popularity to his musical gifts. He is also accused of being both genial and kindly, yet apparently insensible to female charms. Whoever the “King of the Pipers,” may be, an ardent admirer insists “he is one of the Princes and Heir Presumptive.” Still there are others.

Sam Rowsome
(1820 – 1914)

John Rowsome
(18 – 19)

William Rowsome
(18 – 1925)

Tomas Rowsome
(18 – 1928)

Sam Rowsome Jnr
(1895 – 195?)

Leo Rowsome
(1903 – 1970)

Tom Rowsome
(1905 – 1973)

Samuel Rowsome, Jnr.

Murder will out, and so will music, and, though the days of fostering patronage and encouraging recognition are past, the divine art, whether begotten of nature’s whim, or vitalized as a manifestation of the laws of heredity, may be relied on to find some outlet for expression, but it will be noticed that environment and opportunity have much to do with determining the favored instrument.

To maintain the traditions of his family, what else could this promising scion be but an Irish piper, his father, and grandfather, before him having been worthy representatives of the class? Had they been fiddlers, no doubt he would have followed in their footsteps. Still we must rejoice in his choice, for, while we are likely to have with us always raspers, fiddlers, and even violinists, we cannot but regret that performers on the Union or Irish pipes-the real national instrument of the people-are declining in numbers year by year and may eventually become extinct, like the harpers, their predecessors.

This young musical aspirant, on whom will depend to a considerable degree the preservation of his art, is the eldest son of William Rowsome, piper and pipemaker of Harold’s Cross, Dublin, and grandson of Samuel Rowsome of Ballintore, Wexford, elsewhere mentioned.

Born September 25, 1895, he commenced his musical practice under his father’s tuition when but twelve years of age. Such was his proficiency on both chanter and regulators that he won many prizes, and had been highly commended for taste and style by the best judges of pipe music, though but a boy of only sixteen birthdays.

If appearance counts for anything, we are justified in assuming that the future has no small distinction in store for him.

The instrument on which he is represented as playing in the picture was manufactured by his father, and is of full tone and concert pitch, blending harmoniously with violin and piano.

Leo Rowsome

In the link below Leo speaks  about his family tradition, how proud of it he is and the importance that the Rowsome tradition played in the world of traditional music, in particular Uilleann Piping. (This is the only known recorded interview with Leo Rowsome)

Sam Rowsome
(1820 – 1914)

John Rowsome
(18 – 19)

William Rowsome
(186 – 1925)

Tomas Rowsome
(18 – 1928)

Sam Rowsome Jnr
(1895 – 195?)

Leo Rowsome
(1903 – 1970)

Tom Rowsome
(1905 – 1973)

Leon Rowsome
(1936 – 1994)

Sam Rowsome
(1820 – 1914)

John Rowsome
(18 – 19)

William Rowsome
(186 – 192)

Tomas Rowsome
(18 – 1928)

Sam Rowsome Jnr
(1895 – 195?)

Leo Rowsome
(1903 – 1970)

Tom Rowsome
(1905 – 1973)

Leon Rowsome
(1936 – 1994)

Nuala (Rowsome) McGranaghan

Kevin Rowsome
(1963 – )

Mary (Rowsome) Laghsat

Luke McGranaghan
(2001 – )

Alistar McGranaghan
(2002 – )

Tierna Rowsome
(2000 – )

Naoise Rowsome
(2000 – )

Mark Laghsat
(2001 – )

Left to Right: 
Alistar (Rowsome) McGranaghan, Naoise Rowsome, Mark (Rowsome) Lyghast, Tierna Rowsome & Luke (Rowsome) McGranaghan

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