Reid, Seán, 1907-1978

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Reid, Seán, 1907-1978

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Reid, Seán. (1907–78). Fiddler, piper, organiser. Born Castlefi n, Co. Donegal. His father, and uncle John Reid, played fiddle; the family home was a meeting place for musicians throughout his childhood. This listening was supplemented by 78 recordings and he learned fiddle and was taught ‘classical’ piano. School life involved Irish dancing; local fiddler Eddie Toland provided music for this. Raised by his mother, in 1927 he went to Queen’s University Belfast to study civil engineering and science; while there he learned to play bagpipes in the Officer Training Corps, and was a committed and successful athlete. Interested in literature, his regular browsing in the city’s famous Smithfield market yielded a Tom Ennis 78 rpm record and kindled his passion for the uilleann pipes. Competing in an athletics event at Feis na nGleann in Cushendun soon after brought him into contact with Meath-born piper R.L. O’Mealy. A period in Dublin brought him in contact with John Potts’s family and friends, a circle which included Breandán Breathnach and Tommy Reck.

In 1937 he began work with Clare County Council as a civil engineer. A friendship with fiddler Martin Rochford of Bodyke resulted in the two of them working together at learning uilleann pipes. Leo Rowsome was one of their mentors, as was Johnny Doran whom Seán visited regularly. Joe Leyden, who worked with Seán, was another invaluable contact in those years. Seán Reid’s presence in Clare was to have an important influence on the music and its players. From his house in Ennis he was a catalyst and voluntary coordinator for many of the musicians in the county and he played an important role as musician and leader in the Tulla Céilí Band. He brought players together at a time when transport was scarce and communication difficult, often taking them to competitions as far away as Dublin. Humorously described as one of the ‘driving forces’ in Clare (one of the few who had a car), he frequently endured personal sacrifice and expense supporting issues in which he believed, never afraid to speak out where he felt it necessary. His application and commitment to traditional music as an Irish art, as a bridge across political division, and to piping in particular, marks him as critical in the traditional music revival.

He was involved in the early CCÉ, in 1956 a key figure in introducing it into the northeastern counties through the Derry and Antrim Fiddlers’ Association, and he was the proposer of setting up Na Píobairí Uilleann in 1968. His work in the field of piping has been extremely valuable. In the years when pipes were held in little regard he collected several sets, passing them on to pipers when interest had revived, thus ensuring that players would have good instruments with which to continue the tradition. A gentle personality, a careful researcher and collector, a tireless organiser and a humble, caring, scrupulously honest man, he impressed and succeeded by conviction and discussion: one of music revival’s most fondly remembered mentors. [ JIO, EDI]


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