|Bettystown gathering of pipers in 1968.
This Saturday, October 19, is being celebrated as International Piping Day around the world and is sponsored in part by Na Piobairi Uilleann. (www.pipers.ie) NPU, based on Henrietta Street in Dublin, was established in 1968 in Bettystown, Co. Meath as a formal organization devoted to the promotion of Ireland’s native instrument.
At that time there was dire concern that the fine artistry associated with the Irish (also known as elbow or union) pipes was declining due to the diminishing number of players who had mastered it, and equally important the number of pipe makers and crafts people who would keep them in repair or production.
It is estimated that as few as 200 people played the uilleann pipes back then, which were so important in the preservation of traditional Irish music and a verifiable link between the singing tradition and musical ones, especially for slow airs in Irish and English.
Thanks to NPU and other organizations like the Willie Clancy Summer School, Armagh Pipers Club and Comhaltas, who saw the need to rescue the pipes from being relegated to Ireland’s ancient history, the pipes came roaring back, and it said that there are over 6,000 people playing them these days around the world.
NPU launched a training program a year or so ago and have 10 students learning the craft of pipe-making to help meet the demand. Last week they held a big fundraising concert aptly named after a tune called “the Ace and Deuce of Piping” in Dublin’s Liberty Hall attended by over 400 people to help raise funds to expand their headquarters in Henrietta Street into another historic Georgian townhouse, where it is hoped to build a theater and museum to properly showcase the impact and importance of the uilleann pipes to Ireland.
One of the largest U.S. gatherings devoted to the uilleann pipes is coming up once again in East Durham in the Catskills in Upstate New York when the East Coast Pipers convene at Gavin’s Resort on Golden Hill Road from October 18-21.
There are many intensive workshops lined up all weekend in pipes and also fiddle classes taught by Patrick Ourceau and Jesse Smith (visiting from Ireland).
On the piping faculty are Michael Cooney, Eamonn Dillon, Sean Gavin, Emmett Gill, Patrick Hutchinson, Brian MacNamara, Kieran O’Hare and Benedict Koehler. These require prior registration and late comers may be admitted if there is space.
The Saturday night concert is open to the public as well as the Sunday night Piper’s chair concert, and the evening sessions on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights and these concerts are truly entertaining for anyone who appreciates the Pure Drop and the skill and dedication of the pipers and their art.
It all takes place in a convivial manner, and this weekend has found a very harmonious home here at Gavin’s Resort in the Catskills as the campus-like setting suits the social aspect that fuels it as well.