Thomas (‘Tommie’) Potts

(24/10/1912 - 19/03/1988)

Born in 1912 in Walker’s Buildings in the Coombe, Tommie Potts grew up in a musical household surrounded by talented pipers. His father, John Potts, was a musician, and his brother, Eddie, was also skilled in playing the pipes. Breandán Breathnach, a renowned collector of Irish tunes, gathered many of the tunes from John Potts for Ceol rince na hÉireann.

At the age of 15, Potts received a scholarship to study as an apprentice plumber at Bolton St college. He also took bookkeeping classes and briefly went into business before working as a plumber and later as a full-time fireman with Dublin Fire Brigade. In 1946, he joined the rent collection office of Dublin Corporation, where he worked until his retirement.

Potts was known for his brilliant but controversial fiddle playing style. He was hesitant to perform in public due to his unique improvisational style, which included elements of classical and jazz music. His innovative variations on traditional tunes often deviated from the conventional structures, melodies, and rhythms of traditional Irish music. Despite criticism, his music was recognized by some, including Séamus Ennis, who praised Potts for his creative contributions to the genre.

In 1971, Potts recorded his only album, “The Liffey Banks,” which was met with a mix of confusion, criticism, and acclaim upon its release. His music legacy has been championed by Mícheál Ó Suilleabháin, and he has influenced musicians like Martin Hayes. Potts was married to Helen and had seven children. His nephew, Seán Potts, was a founding member of the Chieftains.

In 1988, Tommie Potts passed away at his home on Balfe Road in Walkinstown, Dublin. His impact on Irish folk music was profound, as he challenged traditional conventions and treated the music as a creative art form rather than solely for dancing. His style, characterised by deliberate variations and additions to traditional tunes, set him apart as a pioneering figure in the evolution of Irish folk music.

In recent years, a renewed interest in Potts’ music has emerged, with the release of recordings from the RTÉ Sound Archives and a documentary produced by TG4. His influence on contemporary traditional music performers, such as Martin Hayes, Liam O’Connor, and Frankie Gavin, continues to be acknowledged.

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Connection with area: Musician who lived and died in Balfe Road, Walkinstown.