Bowles, Michael Andrew (1909–98), musicologist and founder of the Radio Éireann Symphony Orchestra (later the National Symphony Orchestra), was born 30 November 1909 at Riverstown, Co. Sligo, eldest son among six daughters and two sons of Patrick Bowles, a shopkeeper, and his wife Margaret (née Dodd). His family moved to Boyle, Co. Roscommon, and later to Dublin, when he was seven. Educated at Mount Sackville convent, at Blackrock, and at Belvedere College, he joined the Department of Education as a clerical officer (1927–32) before entering the army school of music (1932–44). In 1936 he was commissioned second lieutenant and graduated B.Mus. at UCD.
With a shortage of civilian musicians in the late 1930s and 1940s, the army was obliged to provide conductors and musicians for various public events. Bowles retired (1942) with the rank of captain, after having become the first full-time director of music at Radio Éireann (1941–8), and was responsible for introducing the RÉ public symphony concerts in 1942. These were a great success, especially those conducted by Bowles himself, and later moved to the 2,300-seat Capitol cinema, increasing political interest in the creation of a professional symphony orchestra. Bowles is credited with providing the initiative for this, and in 1947 the RÉ Symphony Orchestra was formed, comprising sixty-two permanent players.
Given a leave of absence in 1947, Bowles was instructed to search through the postwar European countries for musical talent, bringing an international and diverse flavour to the orchestra. He was promised the conductor's job on his return, but returned to Ireland (November 1947) believing his position was under threat. Robert Brennan (qv), RÉ director of broadcasting, ordered him to resume his tour, but Bowles refused and tendered his resignation, which was accepted. He was to have a difficult relationship with RTÉ (as it became) and with the musical establishment in Ireland for the remainder of his life: thus, less than two months before his death, he publicly rejected – on the grounds that RTÉ had previously neglected him – an invitation to the concert marking the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the orchestra.
Embittered, he left Ireland and was appointed musical director to the New Zealand government, and principal conductor of the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra (1949–53). He then moved to America where he became professor of music at Indiana University (1954–7), and conductor of the Indianapolis Philharmonic Orchestra (1957–63). In 1959 he wrote a book entitled The art of conducting, which contained an introduction by the distinguished conductor Sir Adrian Boult. Bowles included a useful definition of a conductor as being someone who coaches an ensemble, a good conductor as someone who enhances the performance of that ensemble, and an excellent conductor as someone who can create art with any ensemble; by this definition Bowles was firmly in the second category.
Moving to England, he became conductor of the City of Birmingham School of Music (1964–9). In 1970 he retired and returned to Ireland where he ran a guest house, ‘The White House’, at Rosscarbery, Co. Cork, and taught music. He later moved to Wicklow, and then Dublin, where he resided at Heytesbury Lane. In the 1980s he had a column in the Irish Times. He died 5 April 1998 and was buried in Shanganagh cemetery, Co. Dublin.
He married (6 June 1946) Kathleen (1910–97), daughter of Martin Fitzgerald (qv), last proprietor of the Freeman's Journal. They had no children. Bowles was the author of a number of publications and pieces of music including A dozen children's songs (1936), Three masses (1948), Burl Ives book of (100) Irish songs (1960), and Songs on poems of James Stephens (1961), and articles in the Bell and the Capuchin Annual on music, on ballet, and on Lord Edward FitzGerald (qv). He also published works in Irish: Dosaen amhrán de leannaí (1943) and Claisceadal I-II (1985–6). At his death he was working on a new songbook, which is to be published posthumously.