Andy Conroy

ANDY CAME HOME TO IRELAND IN THE EARLY 1970s – I first met him in the Four Seasons bar where John Kelly his old friend had a session. John introduced me to Andy Conroy, a man I’d never even heard of. Andy used to visit me in my flat in Dublin where we would play tunes and he would show me intricate triplets & quad-tuplets and the most amazing finger combinations on the chanter. Later on I moved to Drumcondra not far from Andy’s friend and pipe maker Matt Kiernan and we used to meet there. I would listen to Andy and Matt reminiscing on his times in America.

When he came back from the USA Andy’s pipes were in a white plastic bag. I put them together and got them going again and he was good enough to let me play his full set for two years. I eventually moved to Co. Clare and would see Andy now and again in Dublin or at the Willie Clancy week. Thankfully I met Andy when my piping needed direction. His tight Connaught style was exciting but difficult to master. It is the style I now play and I shall be forever thankful to Andy for his time and patience.

Andy Conroy was born in Lough Glynn, Co.Roscommon 1911, into his father’s second marriage, to Bridget Frain. Two years later Bridget died after the birth of her son Michael (uilleann piper & whistle player). At that time – 1911 – it was mostly whistle, flute and the odd single row melodeon that were played in his area. Around the age of six years Andy remembered the name of Gorman the piper being mentioned. Although Andy was related to the great Roscommon blind piper Johnny Gorman they never met as Gorman died in 1917. It was Andy’s younger brother Mick who first took to the music and gave Andy his first whistle and later piping lessons. The first time he heard the sound of an Uilleann piper was from a 78rpm record brought back from the states of the piper Pat Fitzpatrick. He thought the sound was beautiful. He went for lessons to Paddy Lavin who was home from America. Paddy Lavin had taken lessons from Kearney who had taken lessons from Patsy Touhey. Andy took great interest in Patsy Touhey’s tight piping style. In the 1930s he got lessons from a street player called Ashford who died young. That seems to have set him on his way, but Andy was playing without a teacher for a long time after that. He played with Michael Coleman’s brother Jim Coleman. He would sit in on the session in the dance halls playing whistle or flute and would get ten shillings a night plus mugs of porter; he said it was “terrific altogether”.

In 1929, aged 18 years, Andy went to London and stayed with his cousin Tom Costello. Tom was a bricklayer and Andy learnt the bricklaying trade from Tom as they worked on the building of the London underground railway. When the Second World War started in 1939 Andy came back to Ireland. During the 1940s he worked in Lanesborough where he met Jim Brophy. According to Jim, Andy was sporting a beard at that time. He then moved up to work in the six counties and while in Fermanagh he met the piper Philip Martin who told him about the great musicians in Belfast who Andy knew nothing about – the the McFaddens, and the McPeakes and of course piper R L O’Mealy who was living on the Omagh Road. Andy was very impressed with O’Mealy’s playing. He used to take musicians into an attic room to play music and Andy was delighted to have been asked.

He again moved back to Dublin in 1944, for many years taking lessons from Leo Rowsome and occasionally playing in Leo’s quartet. When the Piper’s Club moved to Thomas street Dublin Andy would bring Johnny Doran to meet and play with Leo Rowsome. Andy won the Oireachtas gold medal in 1949.

In the early 1950s Andy went to live in New York and stayed there 22 Years. He befriended and played with some of the great musicians in America, amongst them Louis Quinn, Andy McGann, Paddy Reynolds, Lad O’Beirne, Paddy Killoran and Paddy Sweeny. He also met Tom Morrison and Ed Reevy. He spent time with Tom Busby listening to Tom’s cylinder tapes of Patsy Touhey and often played at the “Paddy Killoran Traditional Irish Club”. He had a great interest in space exploration and in 1956 while staying at Mrs McGuire’s, at 106th and Broadway, he wrote the tunes Sputnik 1 & 2, and a tune for astronaut Colonel Glenn. He later wrote and recorded for the archives Conroy’s no. 1 and 2. He played at many festivals and concerts in America and in 1958 he was on the bill as “Andrew Ros Conroy” at the Newport Irish music Festival.

He retired and came home to Ireland in 1973 and settled in Capel Street, Dublin. He was a proud member and patron of NPU, and a great contributor to the club, passing on his tight Connaught style to many young pipers, and playing at the piping concert at the Willie Clancy Summer School. He was a man who knew his own worth and had a generosity and kindness. He died on the 23rd of June 1999.

I leave you with the following text from Dave Hegarty’s submission of Andy in the “Irish Life Pensioner of the Year Award” in 1992, for which Andy received a commendation.

Andy Conroy, Master piper, composer, former flute and whistle player, bricklayer (retired), musical, local and social historian, commentator, wrestler, boxer, weight lifter and Karate practitioner, is unquestionably an outstanding contributor to the social and cultural life of this country.