Jim Dowling was born in Dolphins Barn in Dublin in 1938 and attended James Street Christian Brothers School and Rathmines School of Commerce. He began his career as a messenger boy in Guinness Brewery at the age of 15, transferred to the Brew House 3 years later and remained there until the age of 31.
Jim was one of a select band of young musicians who trained with the legendary piper Leo Rowsome at a time when traditional music was confined to the back streets and the kitchens. But many people had begun to feel that there was a pressing need for a national organisation to promote Ireland’s unique musical culture. And so, in 1951, at the Dublin Pipers Club headquarters, the first standing Committee of Cumann Ceoltóirí na hÉireann was elected. Jim Dowling held the position as secretary for 12 years.
During this 12 year period Jim travelled as far as the US for traditional music sessions in New York and Boston. He featured on the Ed Sullivan Show and was one of a number of musicians who were due to perform at a concert for President Kennedy in 1966 but due to his assassination, the concert did not go ahead. Later he travelled to Europe with many visits to Germany and was a guest of Mayor Rommel at the Cologne music festival.
Jim moved down to Glengarriff in 1969 and set about popularising the playing and making of uillean pipes and traditional music. The seisiuns he held in the bar at Dowling’s Caravan Park soon became a focus for musicians from far and wide, and those who wanted the opportunity to learn from a master musician.
There was a legacy of piping in West Cork, a legacy that, over the years has featured extraordinary musicians such as the blind fiddler, Tom Kennedy who shared his extensive collection of tunes with West Cork’s much-loved Canon James Goodman. Canon Goodman was born in Ventry County Kerry in 1828 and was an outstanding Uilleann piper. He spent his life as a minister in different parishes in West Cork and he ensured that hundreds of tunes including those which Tom knew were preserved for posterity. He collected over 2,000 melodies, now safely ensconced in the library of Trinity College under the title of “The Tunes of the Munster Pipers.” Today his statue can be seen at the gate to Abbeystrewry parish church in Skibbereen.
Jim Dowling worked to revive that tradition of piping in West cork and was a founder member of the Glengarriff Branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Éireann. He died in November 2008 and this festival is a commemoration of his significant contribution to Uilleann piping and traditional music.