Dan O’Dowd was one of the most influential figures in the massive world-wide development of uilleann pipering in recent years.
For many years, his home at Malahide Road, Donnycarney, has been a mecca for uilleann pipers of every age from many parts, especially those with important recording or concert engagements who wanted help with the finer points of tunes. Many of the younger generation of great pipers would not be where they are but for the countless hours of unpaid tuition from Dan O’Dowd.
A senior Dublin Fire Brigade officer who retired some years ago, he was the recognised top exponent of the fonn mall (slow air) and, over his long musical career, enthralled thousands of listeners in many countries including America, Brittany, Czechoslovakia, Wales, England and Ireland.
Born in Marrowbone Lane, in Dublin’s Liberties, he began his musical career on the warpipes in the James Connolly Pipe Band, Thomas Street. A member of Fianna Éireann under Seán MacBride, he was later interned in Mountjoy Jail for his republican activities. He brought his pipes to Mountjoy with him, but his long hours of practicing were so unappreciated by friend and jailer alike that he was transferred to the Curragh Internment Camp. Dan led the contingent off the train with his pipes to be greeted by Maud Gonne.
Shortly after his release from the Curragh, while attending warpipe classes at the School of Music, the sound of the uilleann pipes as played by Leo Rowsome nearby attracted Dan and helped to change music history.
Active in Cumann na bPíobairí from its foundation in 1936, his work continued when the club initiated the founding of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. He was one of the original members of the former Coolock branch, and later Cluain Tarbh CCÉ. In one year, he won the senior pipes competition at Ulster, Leinster, Munster and All-Ireland fleadhanna. Fire Brigade duty caused him to miss Connacht.
Dan O’Dowd helped found Na Píobairí Uilleann in 1968 and was patron of the organisation.
Despite intermittent illness he remained active in both Cluain Tarbh CCÉ and NPU until his last hospitalisation. He was also the subject of a CCÉ video documentary.
His favourite uilleann pipes were an Egan set made in 1852 which had a fascinating history. A cobbler called John Coughlan, who emigrated to the US, passed them to his son, Tom, who then lived in Sydney, Australia. When he died they remained in a trunk for many years until a fireman-piper called Bill Crowe bought them. On a visit to Ireland in 1954, he struck up a friendship with Dan after visiting Tara Street and, before departing home, left the Egan set with Dan.
(Irish Times – Monday 26/06/1989)