Liam O’Flynn was born as Liam Ó Floinn on 15 April 1945 in Kill, County Kildare. His father was a teacher and fiddle player. His mother, who came from a family of musicians from Clare, played and taught piano. From an early age, O’Flynn showed musical talent, and was encouraged to pursue his interest in the uilleann pipes by the piper Tom Armstrong. At the age of 11, he began taking classes with Leo Rowsome. He was also influenced by Willie Clancy and Séamus Ennis. In the 1960s, he began to receive recognition of his talent, winning prizes at the Oireachtas Festival and the Fleadh Cheoil.
In 1972, O’Flynn co-founded the Irish traditional music group Planxty and remained a member throughout the band’s various incarnations. While Seán Ó Riada and The Chieftains had reinvigorated Irish traditional instrumental music in an ensemble format during the 1960s, Planxty built on that foundation and took it one step further. They brought a punch and vitality to acoustic music that drew heavily on O’Flynn’s piping virtuosity.
Following the break-up of Planxty in 1983, O’Flynn found work as a session musician with such prominent artists as the Everly Brothers, Enya, Kate Bush, Nigel Kennedy, Rita Connolly, and Mark Knopfler. He played the uillean pipes on Kate’s songs Night Of The Swallow, Jig Of Life, and Hello Earth, and pennywhistle on the song Night Of The Swallow.
He also worked on film scores, including Kidnapped (1979) and A River Runs Through It (1992). He was adventurous enough to work with avant-garde composer John Cage, but his most natural alliance was with neo-romantic composer Shaun Davey.
The Bothy Band were natural successors to the original Planxty, and one of its members, Matt Molloy, who subsequently joined The Chieftains, played with The Chieftains’ fiddler Seán Keane on O’Flynn’s album, ‘The Piper’s Call’, which was performed in the 1999 Proms season at the Royal Albert Hall. He also worked on projects with Seamus Heaney, mixing poetry with music.
On March 14, 2018, Liam O’Flynn passed away after a long illness.