Ennis, Séamus (1919–82), musician, folklorist, singer, and broadcaster, was born 5 May 1919 in Jamestown Lodge, Finglas, Dublin, son of James Ennis, civil servant and warpiper from Dublin, and Mary Josephine Ennis (née McCabe) from Co. Monaghan. He had three sisters and two brothers. His father played the warpipes on the airwaves at the inauguration of radio broadcasting in Ireland in 1926. Séamus was educated at Glasnevin primary school, Belvedere College, and Coláiste Mhuire in Dublin, where he studied Irish and music. He left Coláiste Mhuire in 1936 and went to work in Colm Ó Lochlainn's (qv) printing house ‘The Sign of the Three Candles’ in Fleet Street, Dublin, until 1942. His job at the Three Candles was to write and fill in the musical notation for the numerous songs in the Ó Lochlainn publication Irish street ballads, one of the best collections of ballads in existence. There is an insight into the work he did in one barony in Clár amhrán Bhaile na hInse, published in 1976 by Ríonach Ní Fhlathartaigh. In the late 1930s and early 1940s he began travelling with his friend Kevin McCann to Mayo, Donegal, Kerry, west Cork, and the western islands off the coast of Scotland, collecting songs and tunes of dance. From 1942 to 1947 he was employed in this work by the Irish Folklore Commission, and was deployed mainly in Connemara. By 1947 he had a reputation as a collector of sean-nós (traditional style) songs and at the Golden Jubilee Oireachtas of that year he organised a session about the meaning of singing, which lasted three days. In autumn 1947 Radio Éireann (RÉ) employed Ennis and Seán Mac Réamoinn (1921–2007) as outside broadcasting officers to collect speech and music, mainly from Irish-speaking areas. They travelled around Ireland collecting song texts and airs, and also many dance tunes, such as reels, jigs, slip jigs, set dances and hornpipes. One of their first trips was to Peig Sayers's (qv) house in Dún Chaoin, where they recorded sixty minutes of Peig's seanchas (folklore, mythology, legends, stories, etc.) on discs; tape recorders were not yet available. At this time it was one of the biggest broadcasting ventures. Ennis collected various eclectic materials in English and Irish for RÉ until 1951, when he left Ireland to work for the BBC Folk Music and Dialect Recording Scheme, assisting Brian George in promoting the successful BBC programme ‘As I roved out’. The programme achieved a listenership of 7 million during the 1950s. One fruit of Ennis's long experience with Irish musicians was seen in the Irish record in the series ‘Columbia Folk’. He left the BBC in 1957 to work as an independent journalist and musician. He began to provide English translations for Irish songs and in 1962 he translated Peig Sayers's 1939 work Machtnamh seanamhna into English under the title An old woman's reflections. He was in bad health from the 1960s and it seemed his lifestyle (involving travelling around the country in all weathers) was not helping. He began travelling with the Dubliners on tour, still collecting music. Hundreds of songs and tunes of his were lost in a fire in Lisdoonvarna on one of the tours. In 1968 he became a joint patron of the newly formed Na Píobairí Uilleann. He married (1952) Margaret Glynn, an air hostess, in Kerry; they had two children, Christopher and Catherine, and separated when their daughter was four. Apart from his music, Séamus had an extraordinary ear for language. In the Gaeltacht he could switch from one dialect to another with perfect ease; this facility extended even to Scotland. This and his easy manner made him the most successful collector of folklore in the Irish language. Most of his work in this field is in the folklore archives of UCD. He was a very private person and had all the detachment of an artist. He chose to live alone and though he had many friends his circle of intimates was quite small. He was living in Naul, Co. Dublin, in a caravan beside his sister Ursula (‘Pixie’) when he died on 5 October 1982. He had christened their place ‘Easter Snow’; it was located opposite the graveyard where he is buried. In 1994 a plaque in his honour was erected on the site of the Ennis home in Finglas. A section of Jamestown Road, Finglas, was renamed ‘Séamus Ennis Road’ by John Gormley, lord mayor of Dublin, in October 1994. In 2000 the cultural centre of Fingal was named after him. There are various recordings of his music, the most important being 40 years of Irish piping.
Maurice Gorham, Forty years of Irish broadcasting (1967); Beathaisnéis, v, 58; Ir. Times, 9 Oct. 1982, 27 Oct. 1994; personal knowledge; further information from Fingal Community Centre and Elaine Edwards, Fingal Independent