The Limerick Piper



Clare honours the
Limerick Piper

A plaque will be unveiled to the blind piper Patrick O'Brien, known as The Limerick Piper at Knockaphutteen, Labasheeda on Monday 14th August at 2pm.

The unveiling will be performed by Labhrás Ó Murchú, Ardstiúrthóir Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann. Music will be supplied by uileann piper Fergal Breen. Local historian Stephan McDonagh will give a short talk on the piper. Speakers will include Patrick Malone a next door neighbour to the piper's house, and Frank Whelan Cois na hAbhna Archive, Ennis.

Patrick O’Brien
The Limerick Piper

Patrick O’Brien or Pádraig Ó Briain as he was more commonly called, was born at Knockaputteen. Labasheeda, Co. Clare in 1773. His parents were comparatively well-off farmers, and Patrick who was a native Irish speaker, received a good education at the hedge schools. He was an excellent Latin scholar and great hopes were held out for his possibilities in life, but unfortunately his eyes were bad and before the age of 26 he was totally blind.

Like so many blind people of the time, Patrick turned to music for a livelihood and learned to play the Union Pipes (Uileann Pipes). Having thoroughly learned this instrument he went to Limerick City and, not finding the encouragement he expected, he became a street musician. His favourite stand was at the corner of Hartstonge Street and the Crescent, where he became one of the sights of Limerick. Few visited the city without going to hear him play his melodious Irish tunes.

Here, he was discovered by Joseph Patrick Haverty, the famous Galway artist, who, struck by the fine figure and noble features of the piper, made him the immortal figure of his panting “The Limerick Piper”. In it, O’Brien is depicted as old and grey, but still possessing all the nobility and countenance of his youth, bent over his beloved pipes, playing, while his young beautiful daughter sits pensively beside him. The background to the picture is a woodland scene. The picture is painted in the romantic style and we cannot help thinking how much better it might have been, if Haverty had given O’Brien his proper background, the hard wet pavement and walls of O’Connell Street.

The original picture was painted for Sir Robert Gore-Booth of Lissadel, Co. Sligo in 1844, but it became so popular that a copy was made for William Smith O’Brien, who presented it to the National Gallery. From this an engraving was made by J.S. Templeton for the Royal Irish Art Union, and copies of the work can still be found in many Irish houses today. There is one in the Limerick City Art Gallery and one proudly displayed in the Headquarters of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in Monkstown, Co. Dublin. You can also see one in Cois na hAbhna, the Regional Resource Centre of Comhaltas in Ennis Co. Clare.

On the 3rd of December 1856 the Limerick Chronicle published the death notice of Patrick O’Brien.

Patrick O’Brien, the celebrated old and blind Limerick piper, died on Sunday evening 1st December at his lodgings at Pump Lane off Nicholas Street, Englishtown, at the advanced age of 94 years. In his declining days he was chiefly supported by charity. He had two daughters, grown up girls at work, one of them had to leave employment to tend to him during his last illness. During that period she was obliged to pledge most of her clothes to provide some comfort for her dying parent. Should the benevolence of any of our fellow citizens prompt them to assist her in releasing them from pawn, we shall be happy to aid their efforts by receiving and forwarding their subscriptions.

The artist’s skill has immortalised the Limerick Piper. The drawings of the old minstrel, Ultimus Romanorum – which were exhibited at all the print shops were much admired. O’Brien is said to have received a good education, and an anecdote is related of his having conversed on one occasion with Bishop Ryan, in Greek and Latin languages.

Patrick O’Brien the Limerick Piper is buried at Kilquane Graveyard, Parteen Co. Clare.