The Rowsome family are renowned for their dedication to the uilleann pipes. Kevin’s great great grandfather Samuel played and made pipes in his mid to later life. Three of Samuel’s sons played pipes, John, William and Thomas. Kevin’s great grandfather William, also made uilleann pipes for a living. Of William’s family, three of his son’s, Sam, Leo and Tom also played pipes and one, Leo carried on the tradition of pipemaking. Kevin’s father Leon, Leo’s son, also played and made pipes.
Samuel Rowsome (1820 – 1914)
(source – “Irish Minstrels and Musicians” Captain Francis O’Neill.)
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” by Captain Francis O’Neill.
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.