Tommy Kearney piping is one of the primal cries of the Déise. It is a cry of celebration, of lamentation, and of meditation. In that way it echoes the geantraí, golltraí, and suantraí of the music of Early Ireland and reminds us that he is a tradition bearer of the most significant kind. In carrying the sonic flame through his own generation, he has carried the torch of tradition like an Olympic runner into a new era when piping has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. The passing of the repertoire and technique of his teacher Liam Walsh into Tommy Kearney’s own hands has honoured both men, and has reset the foundations of Waterford and Déise piping tradition.
I first met Tommy in 1974 when he agreed to be the piper in the group Tiompán. An album followed, released by Gael Linn, entitled Óró Dámhnaigh. The weekly sessions and rehearsals were like master classes with everyone in the group bowing to the maestro himself – Tommy Keane on whistle (later to become a supreme piper himself), Mattie Fahy on flute (whose house hosted the rehearsals, and whose father Joe Fahy was so central to introducing me to Tommy), Noirín ní Ríain (who was beginning her singing journey with the Déise songs she learned from the Cork singer Pilib Ó Laoghaire which were to lead her onto the spiritual repertoire at the heart of her musical life), and myself, finding my way slowly on the piano keyboard inspired, by the great Ó Riada who had died three years previously and whose pioneering work with Ceoltóirí Chúalainn was the central inspiration for the group Tiompán. Tommy inspired each and every one of us to greater things within ourselves.
Tommy is in the tradition of the gentleman piper. His music has the generosity of his own personality, the humour of his own mind, the warmth of his own heart, the passion of his own blood, the individuality of his own fingerprint, and the strength of his own soul. His is the music of the fireside, the hearth of tradition, the home of piping. His is the sound of Helvic Head, the dance of the Three Sisters as the ‘lovely sweet banks’ of the Suir, Nore and Barrow swim as one into the city of Waterford. His music is the music of the place names of Na Déise – Dún Garbháin, Ceapach Chuinn, Carraig na Súire, Rinn ó gCúanach, Baile Mhic Cáirbre, Cill Mhic Thomáisín, An Trá Mhór.
Tommy Kearney has brought the piping of his people from one century into the next, and from one millennium into another. This recording testifies to that heroic journey.
- Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin
- Professor of Music, University of Limerick.
- Director, Irish World Music Centre.
- (From the sleevenotes to NPUCD012 Tommy Kearney – The Master Pipers Vol. 2)