Visitors to Galway City Museum were treated to an unexpected auditory experience last Saturday as the ancient sound of the uilleann pipes soared through the corridors. In a remote room looking out onto the River Corrib, a gathering of pipers and pipe fanatics was underway.
The event was organised by NPU to mark International Uilleann Piping Day. Now in its eleventh year, the day is “aimed at raising awareness of this iconic Irish instrument”.
As pipers around Ireland strapped on their pipes to mark the day, so too did their international counterparts who organised recitals, exhibitions and workshops in Montreal, Modena, Brittany, London, Boston and Santiago de Compostela to name just a handful of places suffused with pipe-mania.
In total, eight uilleann pipers stepped up to the plate at Galway City Museum to make a musical contribution. The event was led by local piping stalworth Tommy Keane. In an opening address, he said that event was organised to acknowledge “the international dimension of the instrument now being played and made in all corners of the world”.
This “international dimension” was represented at the event by Lorient native Emmanuel Houdayer who came to Ireland to play the pipes professionally. 20 years later, he has settled in Galway and has become an integral part of its traditional music scene.
The youngest piper at the event was 12 year-old Cóilín O’Reilly who played his “two favourite songs”. After receiving rapturous applause, he told the audience that when he began learning the instrument just one year ago, his teacher “gave me a goal to try and come here and play in November – and I’m here”.
Sonorous sounds were also produced by Tara Boyle, Cormac Cannon, Shauna Redmond, Siobhan Nolan and sisters Marion and Jacqueline McCarthy. The recital concluded with a lively set of reels played by the McCarthy sisters joined by Keane as Redmond showcased her step dancing talent.
The event was supported by the Arts Council and Culture Ireland. There was free admission which enabled museum-goers to wander in and out at will. At any given time, there were over 30 people in attendance.
Speaking after the event, Keane praised the success of NPU in reviving the instrument and stressed the importance of International Uilleann Piping Day in marking NPU’s success. He said that when the organisation began, the “majority of pipers were obviously in Ireland… some in England, some in America and maybe a handful in Australia but it’s literally a global thing now”.
Referring to the practice of uilleann pipe making, he said that “there was only one full-time maker back in 1970 (Leo Rowsome) and now there’s people making pipes in Japan, Spain, Germany, France, all over England as well”.
Na Píobairí Uilleann was founded in 1968 with the goal of promoting the playing and profile of the uilleann pipes. At the time, the national bagpipe was viewed as being on its last legs with only an estimated 100 uilleann pipers spread across the world and only one known pipe maker. Over the last 50 years, the instrument has surged in popularity within Ireland and on the international stage.