When I stayed in Doolin, I heard bagpipe music. I stayed at Craggy Island B&B in Ardeamush. This is the home of musician Adrian O’Connor and his family. I spent a couple of days wandering. Traditional Irish music spills out of the pubs.
When most people think of bagpipes, they probably think of Scottish bagpipes, but Bagpipes are Irish, too.
Some form of bagpipes have been played since Bible times. Bagpipes have been all the around the Isles, Europe, northern Africa and western Asia, including Turkey, the Caucasus, and around the Persian Gulf.
Bagpipe or bagpipes?
Both are correct. People who play bagpipes usually call them just “pipes”, “the pipes”, “a set of pipes” or “a stand of pipes”.
The Image of Irelande, with a Discoverie of Woodkarne is a history of Ireland and its conflicts with the English (with a decidedly English slant) written by John Derrick and published in 1581.
One of the woodcut illustrations shows a bagpiper. Historians consider the illustrations reasonably accurate, so this is probably what a 16th century Irish piper and bagpipes looked like, pretty much the same as the bagpipes played in Scotland. In Gaelic, this was the Great Pipe or “píob mhór.”
The Uilleann Pipes are now the national bagpipe of Ireland.
The name, “uilleann,” comes from the Irish word for elbow. Instead of blowing to inflate the bag, a bellows is attached to the waist and arm. That way the piper can also sing (or talk, or drink). The photo above shows this more clearly.
Uilleann pipes have a different sound. They are quieter and sweeter, more of an “indoor voice.”
Scotland has bellow-blown bagpipes, too, the Northumbrian Smallpipes and Scottish Lowland Bagpipes.
How old are Bagpipes?
Some trace bagpipes back to reed pipes found in the ancient city of Ur, where Abraham came from. Reed pipes have been found in remains from ancient Egypt that scholars believe to be an early form of bagpipes. There is no evidence of a bag, though… so hardly bagpipes.
The Bible book of Daniel, uses the Aramaic word sum·pon·yahʹ at Daniel 3:5, 10, 15. Some translate this as bagpipe. (Others chose dulcimer or symphony.)
There are still forms of bagpipes used in Iran, India, and China. Oriental bagpipes use an airtight goatskin, sometimes with the hair still on it, to blow flutelike reed pipes with cow-horn tips.
The Roman army had bagpipes. Did they bring them to the British Isles? There is no evidence either way.
France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Spain, the Balkans and Scandinavia all had bagpipes. The Celts may have introduced some form of the bagpipes everywhere they went.
All different kinds of bagpipes are played by pipers in Britain, Canada, the United States, Europe and other places.
The featured image at the top of the page shows Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains playing the Uilleann pipes, photo by Candy Schwartz and buskers on Quay Street, Galway City playing a Bodhran, the Uilleann or Irish pipes and a guitar, photo by Trish Steel.