Seamus Ennis was was an Irish musician, singer, and collector of Irish music, known primarily for his uilleann pipe playing. He was born on 5 May 1919 in Finglas, County Dublin, and passed away on 5 October 1982.

Ennis was the second eldest of six children, born to James Ennis, a civil servant and accomplished piper and dancer, and Mary McCabe from County Monaghan. He was exposed to music from a young age, influenced by his father’s expertise and the musical gatherings at their home, which included notable musicians like Dublin piper Liam Andrews and fiddler Frank O’Higgins. His father provided him with technical instruction in music, and he began playing the uilleann pipes at the age of thirteen.

In 1942, he was hired by the Irish Folklore Commission to collect traditional Irish songs and music, traveling across Ireland equipped with “pen, paper, and pushbike.” Ennis collected songs in various regions, including west Munster, Galway, Cavan, Mayo, Donegal, Kerry, the Aran Islands, and the Scottish Hebrides. In 1947, he became an outside broadcast officer with Raidió Éireann, where he recorded many traditional musicians. In 1951, he moved to London to work with the BBC, contributing to the program “As I Roved Out” until around 1960.

After his tenure with the BBC, Ennis returned to Ireland and continued to work as a freelance musician and broadcaster. He performed at various notable events, including the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. Ennis also played with the Halfpenny Bridge Quartet in the 1970s.

Ennis co-founded Na Píobairí Uilleann, an organization dedicated to promoting uilleann pipes and its music. Throughout his career, he preserved nearly 2,000 Irish songs and dance tunes. His musical style was characterized by clean, crisp playing, and he was known for his distinctive techniques.

He bequeathed his pipes to musician Liam O’Flynn. A compilation of his performances, “The Return from Fingal,” was produced posthumously. Ennis’s contributions to Irish traditional music are commemorated by the Séamus Ennis Arts Centre in Naul and Séamus Ennis Road in Finglas. The song “The Easter Snow” by Christy Moore is also dedicated to him.

Seamus Ennis played a significant role in the preservation and promotion of Irish traditional music. His work as a musician, collector, and broadcaster has left a lasting impact on the cultural heritage of Ireland.

Image: Alan Lomax, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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