Festival celebrates legendary Irish piper

Legendary uilleann piper Jim Dowling, whose legacy is being celebrated with a music festival in Glengarriff this weekend.

West Cork has produced some remarkable people over the long years, men and women who have left their mark on the history and culture of this unique area.

One such luminary was the much-loved Canon James Goodman who died in 1896. Canon Goodman was born in County Kerry in 1828, the third child in a large and happy family of nine children who were bilingual and who had a real affection for the language and culture of their homeplace.

His father, the Reverend Thomas Chute Goodman, was Rector of the local Church of Ireland and as a young boy, James first met the legendary uilleann piper Tom Kennedy, a man who carried hundreds of tunes in his head.

Musical evenings were a feature of the Goodman household, events where Tom and other local musicians would gather and share their wealth of musical bounty.

James was ordained as a minister in the Church of Ireland in 1853 and was appointed to the parish of Creagh near Skibbereen. A posting to Ardgroom followed and it was here that Canon Goodman learned to play the uilleann pipes, which had so captivated him as a child.

Tom Kennedy travelled to the Beara Peninsula to share his wealth of musical knowledge with the Canon and James Goodman began to carefully document this unique musical legacy for posterity.

He eventually collected over 2,000 melodies under the collective title of The Tunes of the Munster Pipers — which is an invaluable archive now preserved in the library of Trinity College in Dublin.

In 1879, Goodman was appointed Professor of Irish at Trinity College and managed to combine this role with his clerical duties in Skibbereen.

During this time, some of his pupils included Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League and the first President of Ireland and playwright John Millington Synge.

In 1866, Canon Goodman was appointed to take over the parish of Abbeystrewery in Skibbereen, where he made considerable contributions to the rebuilding of the dilapidated church and became known for his charitable works to the poor of the parish. Later, when James Goodman died, the grief in the area was palpable.

Businesses were closed and crowds lined the streets to mourn his passing.

His obituary in the Irish Times stated: “The death of this popular, esteemed and well-known clergyman will be received with feelings of deep and sincere regret far outside the limits of West Cork where he was so well known and universally respected by all creeds and classes of society.”

A statue of this much-loved figure was erected at the gate of Abbystrewery parish church and it is still there today, showing James Goodman playing the pipes he loved so well and which were buried with him.

The uilleann pipes have been inextricably linked with Irish history for many years. During that time they have experienced a rise and fall as the vagaries of history sometimes took their toll. In Dublin, the Literary Revival, began during the closing decades of the nineteenth century heralded the birth of the Gaelic League, the Feis Ceoil and the Dublin Pipers Club.

The piping tradition, which had been largely relegated to the back streets and kitchens, experienced a revival when the esteemed piper Leo Rowsome gathered a few enthusiasts together and began teaching and holding regular sessions. It was during this fertile period that Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann was born and enthusiastically nurtured by the members of the Dublin Pipers Club.

In Cork, the Pipers Club also experienced its own difficulties and was put out of business by the activities of the Black and Tans in 1919, but eventually reformed and has continued to go from strength to strength.

Today it is a vital and energetic supporter of the tradition, which offers classes in playing, pipe making and more.

Dublin-born Jim Dowling was a student of Leo Rowsome’s who eventually moved to Glengarriff, where he is fondly remembered for the sessions he hosted and for his own kindness to young musicians and for his part in founding Glengarriff’s Comhaltas Ceoltoirí Éireann.

Glengarriff village is hosting the first Jim Dowling Piping and Traditional Festival from Jun 14 to 16.

I spoke to festival organiser Alan Callendar about the importance of reviving the piping tradition in this area and of Jim’s enduring legacy.

You knew Jim well didn’t you Alan?

“Yes I did. He and his wife Mary moved down here in the seventies. I’m originally from Dublin myself. I took up playing the mandolin when I came to Glengarriff. The riproaring sessions that Jim hosted at Dowling’s Caravan Park became an important focus for local musicians. And Jim was an incredibly kind and patient teacher to aspiring young musicians like myself, supportive and always willing to share his considerable store of musical knowledge and tradition.”

What inspired your own move to Glengarriff?

“My family have had a house here since my grandparents time. Glengarriff Lodge, a historic and important building, was in need of renovation and I became involved with the restoration work and reviving the gardens. Today we rent the Lodge out for weddings, to holiday makers and just lately, my mother Rosheen and my stepfather Des Geraghty, who was a friend of Jim’s and a musician too, have begun holding small, intimate musical evenings at the Lodge with guest musicians, such as Jimmy Crowley and Tony McMahon.”

So becoming involved in this festival has been a natural evolution for you?

“Yes it has. And festivals have become an important part of the summer calendar. But we didn’t want to just pull something out of the air for the sake of doing it and hoping that it would stick. We wanted something that was relevant to the area. The Piping Festival not only commemorates a remarkable musician, but it also revives what was an important musical tradition in this area. We have an enthusiastic and hard working committee who are already planning next year’s event. For this year, we have three full days and nights of great music, local musicians and guest appearances from members of Kila Dervish and others. We’re looking forward to it being a great annual event.”

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