Master and patron: traditional music loses two pivotal figures

Liam O’Flynn and Garech de Brún enriched and strengthened our musical tradition

The passing of Liam O’Flynn and Garech de Brún mark the departure of two pivotal figures from the Irish traditional music firmament. O’Flynn came from a musical family in Kildare while de Brún’s lineage was steeped in the Guinness dynasty, but both men shared an abiding love of our musical tradition, and both have left it the richer for their contributions.

O'Flynn's mastery of the pipes was unequalled. Having learned his craft from Leo Rowsome and Seamus Ennis, he was never hidebound by the syntax of the tradition, but instead sought to reveal its many hidden riches. Dónal Lunny has compared O'Flynn's role in Planxty to a guiding star steering the ship. In truth, it was the draíocht of his magisterial piping that lured listeners and players to the tradition, from home and away, including Neil Martin to David Power and more recently, Brad Mehldau and Chris Thile.

O'Flynn's collaborations with composer Shaun Davey on The Brendan Voyage underscored his willingness to step boldly into the unknown, placing the pipes at the centre of a symphony orchestra where they charted an emotional course through the oceanic sweep of Davey's work. His partnership with Seamus Heaney on The Poet and The Piper was served by his unparalleled relationship with the pipes, and led them into the heart of Heaney's poetry, where music and words resonated deeply in one another's company.

Garech de Brún founded Claddagh Records in 1959. He also proved the spur that led to Paddy Molony's founding of The Chieftains. A passion for the music coloured every step he took to support it at a time when it was neither popular nor profitable.

It is arguable whether, without de Brún's involvement, our musical tradition would have found purchase among such a diverse musical listenership during the monochrome days of the 60s and 70s in Ireland. His patronage of the arts, and the stellar cast of characters who inhabited his social circle, were simply a reflection of the man's personality: witty, well-rounded and loquacious. Our world is the poorer for their passing.