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Leo Rowsome (5 April 1903 - 20 September 1970) was the third generation of an unbroken line of uilleann pipers. He was a performer, manufacturer and teacher of the uilleann pipes throughout his life.
Samuel Rowsome, Leo’s grandfather sent his sons, John, Thomas and William to a German teacher of music who lived in Ferns, near their home in County Wexford to learn the theory of music and how to play various instruments. This knowledge was passed on through William to his son, Leo who made good use of it in his teaching, writing music for his many pupils.
Leo was born in Harold's Cross, Dublin in 1903. His father, William realised that his son had the ability to become a talented musician and craftsman. Constantly watching his father making and repairing instruments, Leo learned the art of pipe making and instrument repair. So rapid was his progress at piping that in 1919 at the age of sixteen he was appointed teacher of the uilleann pipes at Dublin’s Municipal School of Music (now Dublin Institute of Technology Conservatory of Music and Drama) for 50 years. In 1925, Leo’s father died at the age of fifty-five. Leo successfully carried on the family business, after completing his own set of pipes in 1926. He also taught at Dublin’s Pipers Club of which he was president, having revived it as Cumann na Píobairí in 1936 after an 11-year hiatus.
Leo was the first uilleann piper to perform on Irish National Radio in the early 1920s when he played solo and later in duets with Frank O’Higgins (fiddle), Micheal O Duinn (fiddle) and Leo’s brother John (fiddle). Leo’s "All Ireland Trio" comprised Neilus Cronin, (flute), Seamus O‘Mahony (fiddle) and Leo on pipes. He formed his Pipes Quartet in the mid-1930s and broadcast regularly throughout the 1940s and 50s. Leo was the first Irish artist to perform on BBC TV (1933). He made many recordings for Decca, Columbia and HMV. His last commercial recording, CC1 “Ri na bPiobairi” (King of the Pipers) was made for Claddagh Records in 1966.
In 1934 Leo married Helena Williams, from Taghmon, Co. Wexford. They had two sons, Leon Rowsome (1936-1994), Liam Rowsome (1939-1997) and twin daughters, Helena and Olivia. All four showed musical talent on a variety of instruments. Leo's eldest son Leon carried on the tradition of uilleann pipe making in the Rowsome family, toured internationally as a solo piper, and recorded two solo albums on the uilleann pipes. Leon's son (Leo’s grandson) Kevin Rowsome is an accomplished fifth-generation uilleann piper.
To commemorate the Centenary of Leo’s birth, his daughter, Helena had some of Leo’s original manuscripts published by Waltons in 2003. "The Leo Rowsome Collection of Irish Music" consists of 428 reels and jigs. Leo’s Tutor for the Uilleann pipes (published by Waltons 1936) is included in that publication.
- Rí na bPíobairí (King of the Pipers) (1969)
- The Drones and the Chanters (1971)
- Classics of Irish Piping (1975)