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Sunday 2 March 2014

Traditional Irish Instruments - Irish bagpipes

In Ireland have been two types of bagpipes. The first ones to be documented in the 1500’s was the Great Irish Warpipes (píob mhór; literally "great pipes"), an instrument similar in design to the Scottish bagpipes. It is called Warpipes because they were, like in Scotland, used as an instrument of war. An Irish Gaelic version of “Fierabas” may contain the first reference to warpipes: the quote “sinnter adharca agus piba agaibh do tinol bur sluaigh” translates as “let horns and pipes be played by you to gather your host.” The manuscript may date to the 15th century and the writer may have had bagpipes in mind.  Even Galilleo’s father (musician Vincenzo Gallilei), mentions the Irish pipes in a 1581 work. In “The Image of Ireland,” poem by John Derricke, published in the same year, there is mention of the Irish warpipes as form of communication in battle.

“The Image of Ireland,” by John Derrick 1581

It seems that the Warpipes disappeared from Ireland in the 19th century. By then another type of Irish bagpipes became popular. The “new kids in the block” were the ‘pastoral’ or ‘union pipes’ or píobaí uilleann (literally, "pipes of the elbow").

Uilleann pipes (pronounced ill-in or ill-yun depending upon local dialect), are a hard instrument to master, local lore mentions that a musician requires seven years learning, seven years practicing, and seven years playing before a piper could be said to have mastered this complex instrument. 

Uilleann pipes, full set

Amongst the bagpipes the Uilleann pipes are the most complex, they come as a learning set, the half-set and the full-set.  As an instrument, the Uilleann pipes are composed of the following parts: bag, bellows, chanter, drones and regulators.

The Uilleann pipes  appeared in the 1700’s, played by gentlemen and clergy alike. The most known players in the 20th century are Paddy Moloney, Liam O’Flynn, Paddy Keenan, Davy Spillane and others. Uilleann pipes has been an instrument played mostly by ‘traveller’ families, most notably by the Keenans, Dorans, and Fureys.

Paddy Keenan, Ottawa 2011

For more information on the history, structure and the playing of the Uilleann pipes, check Na Píobairí Uilleann (The Society of Uilleann Pipers).

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