Néillidh Mulligan was born in Dublin into a family steeped in the traditional music of Co. Leitrim, and is the fourth generation to carry on this tradition. His father, Tom Mulligan, (1916-1984), was a renowned fiddle player and piper and first taught him the Uilleann pipes when he was 11 years of age. Néillidh was subsequently taught by Leo Rowsome and also came under the influence of Séamus Ennis, who was a long-standing friend of the Mulligan family. He has won all-Ireland titles at various age levels, has toured extensively throughout Europe and North America, and more recently, has represented Ireland at a number of international bagpipe festivals. He is a former chairman and founding member of Na Píobairí Uilleann.
The C# set of pipes he plays were made for his father by James Mulcrone of Co. Longford in 1938 – a set I had the pleasure of playing for a number of years. [He also plays] a flatter set . . . pitched in the key of B, and made by Alain Froment of Kenmare, Co. Kerry. As Tom Mulligan was such a great friend and musical partner of mine for so many years, I am delighted to see his son carrying on this fine piping tradition . . .
Tommy Reck, Dublin April 1991 (from sleeve notes to Neil Mulligan – Barr na Cúille)
Néillidh Mulligan’s father Tom first came to Dublin in 1935. He’d left a job shovelling coal from the Arigna train, the last of Ireland’s narrow gauge railways, onto that bound for Dublin. He arrived into a city caught between the Great Depression and what became known as The Emergency. The first jog Tom got barely covered his digs. Coming from a family of musicians Tom had a head full of music even if his pockets were empty and it was wandering the streets of Phibsborough one night that he first heard the music of the piper and pipe-maker, James Mulcrone, coming from an upstairs window. Through Mulcrone Tom Mulligan met other musicians; enduring friendships were formed with people like Tommy Reck and Séamus Ennis, and Tom, a fiddle player, bought a set of Mulcrone pipes. He married Kitty McMahon from Beale in Kerry, and they began a family.
The story of how Tom Mulligan met James Mulcrone and what followed is important. Important because Néillidh Mulligan’s music is very much steeped in what resulted from those associations. That and his father’s own musicianship! Every tune has a story, goes back to somebody who played it or composed it or remembered a snatch of it from somewhere else. Néillidh Mulligan’s music is unimaginable without his fierce knowledge of the tradition it springs from, whether that came from the playing of musicians like his first formal teacher, Leo Rowsome, or regular visitors to the Mulligan’s house like Tommy Reck and Paddy Bán Ó Broin, or guests who stayed longer like Séamus Ennis, already a legend even then.
It was Ennis who insisted that a musician spend seven years learning, seven years practicing and seven years playing before he described himself as a piper, and who looked upon the playing of music as a journey and an obligation. Ennis too influenced Neil’s attitude to the playing of airs. His insistence that the true authority lay in the original Gaelic, in an understanding of the sean-nós songs they came from. The singing of Seosamh Ó hÉanaí and Tom Phaidín Tom, amongst others, influences this piper’s music and those influences are fundamental.
Peter Woods (from sleeve notes to Néillidh Mulligan – An Tobar Glé)