An illustration of Tommy Reck’s standing in the world of Uilleann Piping can be gleaned from a quote from one of the giants of Traditional Music, Peadar O’Loughlin of Kilmaley, Co. Clare. Peadar, the legendary fiddle player, flute player and piper, has stated: “Dublin for me in the 1950s was Tommy Reck and Tommy Potts”.
Peadar understood and appreciated the uniqueness, ability,creativity and the tastefulness of these two wonderful musicians and the irony is, that Tommy Reck first learned his piping at the age of eleven from Old John Potts, father of Tommy Potts, and that later on in adult life, both musicians lived within yards of each other in Walkinstown, Dublin – Tommy Reck on Hughes Road South and Tommy Potts around the corner on Balfe Road.
What is not widely known is that Tommy Reck also played the fiddle himself and had a wonderful appreciation of the possibilities of that instrument. He loved to play the pipes in a duet with fiddle players such as the aforementioned Peadar O Loughlin of Kilmaley, Joe Ryan of Inagh [with whom he won an Oireachtas Competion], Tom Mulligan of Leitrim and Ciarán O Reilly of Dublin, to name but a few – for Tommy, heaven was playing the B set of Kenna pipes with the fiddle tuned down to B.
Tommy was born on the 8 November 1921 in the famous area of Dublin, south of the Liffey, known as “The Liberties”, at 2A John Dillon Street, under the shadows of the two great cathedrals, Christ Church and St. Patrick’s.
His first teacher was Old John Potts, originally from Kiltra in south Wexford and who was now living in The Liberties – Old John Potts having learnt the pipes himself from Nicholas Markey, tutor in the first Pipers Club in Dublin. Tommy was considered a child prodigy and after winning a Feis Ceoil competition in the Phoenix Park at the age of thirteen, the adjudicator, Leo Rowsome, invited Tommy to attend his classes at the Municipal School of Music/College of Music – Old John Potts advised Tommy to accept the invitation.
While Tommy always remained an exponent of the staccato/closed style of piping which he had learnt from Old John Potts, nevertheless Tommy was indebted to Leo, and Tommy always acknowledged that his own piping and appreciation of the music in general, was greatly enhanced by what he had learnt from Leo. Tommy was always in awe at the way Leo always had his pipes in tune and perfectly balanced. As Leo was also of Wexford stock, this was an added bonus for Tommy, whose own father was from the Oylegate area of Co. Wexford. Tommy was very honoured to have been a member of the famous Leo Rowsome Quartet, together with other pipers such as Seán Seery, Leon Rowsome, Willie Clancy, Tommy Brazil etc.
As well as learning the pipes from Old John Potts, Tommy always acknowledged how fortunate he was that Old John took him under his wing and used to invite Tommy down to the Potts’s home. Here Tommy was given the opportunity to mingle with great musicians and characters who regularly visited this Mecca of piping and music. It was here that Tommy would have met regularly his life long friend, Breandán Breathnach, who was a few years older than Tommy and a fellow son of “The Liberties”. Tommy remembered how the young Breandán had already started to notate tunes which were being played in the Potts’s home. Tommy fondly remembered being brought on a visit to Belfast by Breandán where they visited the famous De La Salle Brother and piper, Bro. Gildas, and Tommy also met R.L. O’Mealy, piper and pipemaker.
When Breandán Breathnach was immersed in the publication of CEOL, a journal of Irish Music, Tommy used to quietly help Breandán in distributing this much sought after publication, and in Tommy’s own handwriting we can see where this magazine e.g. “CEOL no. 3”, was sent to Felix Doran, 54 Mornington Street, Manchester [50 copies] on 15/5/1964 and 100 copies to Jack Wade, Clones, Co. Monaghan on the same date.
In 1977 when Tommy released the L.P. The Stone in the Field, he was very honoured that it was Breandán who wrote the sleeve notes for the album. Tommy always maintained that Breandán’s work for Piping and Traditional Music was truly outstanding and that NPU, and Piping in general, owed an immense debt of gratitude to Breandán – a view also endorsed by Tommy’s great friends, Dan and Mai O’Dowd of Donnycarney, Dublin.
When the Pipers’ Club was reformed in 1936, spearheaded by Leo, Tommy was a member and became actively involved. Tommy served as Secretary of the Club from 1944-1947. In those years the Club was located in Schoolhouse Lane, off Molesworth Street, Dublin.
Tommy made frequent broadcasts on 2RN and Radio Éireann from 1934 onwards, right up to the early 1970s. He made some classic recordings on 78s issued by Copley and by Gael Linn in the 1950s.
Rud nach bhfuil ar eolas ag a lán daoine ná go raibh ardmheas ag Tommy ar an nGaeilge – bhí traidisiún na Gaeilge i gcónaí láidir ina cheantar dúchais, “Na Saoirsí”, agus thaitin sé go mór le Tommy a bheith ag casadh ceoil lena chairde, Paidí Bán Ó Broin, Feistí Ó Conluain nó a bheith ar an stáitse céanna le hamhránaithe mar Darach Ó Catháin, Breandán Ó Dúill,Seán Ó Sé agus araile.
Nuair a d’eisigh Gael Linn na ceirníní 78 sna caogaidí, ba é Tommy an chéad phíobaire a roghnaíodh agus cinnte bhí sé i mbarr a réime mar phíobaire ag an am sin. Nuair a bhí ceol Uí Chearúlláin á chasadh ag Tommy – agus ba rud neamhghnáthach é sin ag an am – chuir Ó Riada an-spéis sa cheol áirithe sin. Chomh maith leis sin, nuair a craoladh Fundúireacht an Riadaigh/Our Musical Heritage ar Radio Éireann ag tús na seascaidí – na cláracha curtha i láthair ag Seán Ó Riada – ba é Tommy an píobaire a roghnaíodh mar eiseamláir ar na píobaí. Cé nach bhfuil mórán ceirníní de cheol Tommy le fáil, mar a deir an seanfhocal “Bíonn blas ar an mbeagán” agus cinnte is fíor é sin faoi Tommy agus a chuid ceoil.
Tommy had a most unassuming manner and never sought or hogged the limelight. He was an absolute gentleman and yet while having a quiet disposition, nevertheless he could hold listeners spellbound with his fantastic recollections of the Old Pipers, of hooleys and outings etc. When Tommy linked up with Dan & Mai O’Dowd or with Jim Brophy, stories and laughter flowed. Young pipers such as Pádraig Mac Mathúna, Neillidh Mulligan and Mick O’Brien were regular visitors to Walkinstown and relished being in Tommy’s company.
For many years in the 1960s and early 1970s Tommy played the pipes with The Abbey Tavern Singers & Musicians in Howth, Co. Dublin. Also Tommy and another Howth resident,Barney Mc Kenna – the outstanding banjo player with The Dubliners – were great friends. Barney used visit Tommy regularly in Walkinstown where he learnt a lot of tunes from Tommy. They enjoyed each other’s company and music, and each rated the the other’s musicianship very highly.
Tommy actually played with The Dubliners at the Gate Theatre in 1963 and 1966 and Tommy is actually to be heard playing a duet with Barney on an old Dubliners L.P. It’s the Dubliners, playing the double jig, “The Cook in the Kitchen”. All the members of The Dubliners held Tommy in very high esteem, especially Barney.
Mick O Connor, the flute player, collector, photographer,historian and authoritative expert on Irish Traditional Music has always acknowledged the positive, friendly encouragement that Tommy gave to him when Mick was starting out. Tommy was delighted to see this young man from “The Liberties” showing a great interest in all aspects of the tradition and Tommy always recognised the outstanding contribution that Mick made – and continues to make – to Irish Traditional Music and Musicians. Mick, Ann and family were truly great friends of Tommy and Tommy always valued this and never forgot it.
- Gerry Starr, Co. Thiobraid Árann
- Further biographical information on Tommy Reck is available in
- An Píobaire Vol 3 no.9 Jan 1992
- An Píobaire Vol 4 no. 2 Sept 1999
- Treoir Iml 23 uimir 4, 1991