Jerry O'Sullivan article.pdf

Traditional Music by Dan Neely

An Fheadóg Mhór Chill Lasrach, The Killasser Flute,
reviewed in
The Echo, NYC.
Arts and Lifestyle.
September 25 - October 2, 2018
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Mr. O'Sullivan by Earle Hitchner
Earle Hitchner is the "Ceol" columnist for the Irish Echo newspaper and a contributing music writer to The Wall Street Journal.

The danger with any archival retrieval in music is either too reverential or too roiling a treatment. Jerry O'Sullivan's uilleann piping smartly avoids those extremes here. It is respectful without being rigid, exciting without being eccentric.

The title of this CD points to a meeting of minds, and that it is. Not much is known for certain about the 18th-century Irish piper and tune compiler O'Farrell, not even his first name. What is known for certain is the breadth and depth of his musical legacy, a collection of over 400 tunes that have been largely unrecorded. The majority of those tunes were Irish, with perhaps another quarter of them Scottish.

Jerry O'Sullivan's mastery on uilleann pipes, warpipes (the first instrument he learned), and Scottish smallpipes makes him an ideal musical match for the O'Farrell canon. Though this is strictly a solo recording on D-pitched uilleann pipes, Jerry's comfort with the technical demands of non-Irish tunes and the finesse he brings to their performance stamp this album as both rare and refreshing.

His uilleann piping on "Sir Charles Douglas's Strathspey/Braes of Busbie" offers a sterling example of how literally in tune Jerry is with the challenge of playing Scottish strathspeys. Sometimes described as slow reels, strathspeys are dance tunes in quadruple time with a distinct, dotted rhythm. They are difficult to execute properly because of their elusive mid-tempo, which sometimes causes Irish players to speed up almost reflexively. (Think of the slightly faster highlands, adapted from strathspeys, that are played in Donegal.) Jerry's tempo never wavers, and his piquant accents on the regulators in the second strathspey expertly enhance its flavor.

Like strathspeys, hornpipes can be the undoing of less than confident and competent players in Irish music. The steady 4/4 time required in a hornpipe can lapse into metronomic roteness if played too slowly or sedately. In "O'Farrells Hornpipe/Mr. Walkers Hornpipe," Jerry maintains tempo while using his extensive piping palette to draw out all the colors contained in the melodies. It is an achievement all the more laudable for its subtlety.

There's a crisp, lively touch and joyful lift to the reels, slip and double jigs, and single set of polkas played by Jerry on the album. He invests the slow air "Adieu Adieu Thou Faithless World" with just the right amount of sentiment, contemplative rather than brooding. His approach to the set piece/waltz pairing of "Humours of Glen/The Youghall Waltz" has just the right amount of swing to it. And by overdubbing his chanter to create the air/march duet on "Mill Mill O," he gives this perennially popular Scottish tune a lithe, baroque texture that dissolves the hard casing of familiarity.

O'Farrell's penchant for musical variety and piping virtuosity in the tunes he published two centuries ago has clearly found sympathetic expression in Jerry O'Sullivan's selections and skill here. This discriminating yet expansive taste in music can also be heard to stunning effect on Jerry's previous solo recording, The Gift (Shanachie, 1998). The melodies on that album range from Irish, Scottish, and Cape Breton to American old-time, gospel, and Bach. Two of them, "An Féirín" and "Noel McCarthy's Jig," were penned by Jerry himself.

Widely recognized as America's most accomplished uilleann piper, Jerry O'Sullivan drew much of his musical inspiration from Ireland itself, whether through recordings made there or through direct personal contact with musicians who lived there.

Born in Manhattan on June 19, 1959, to a Dublin father, Peter, and an Irish-American mother, Frances, Jerry spent many Sunday afternoons as a child listening to LPs of Irish traditional music with his maternal grandfather, Andrew Duffy, who came from Killasser, Co. Mayo. As an adolescent, Jerry frequently visited relatives during summers and extended holidays in Ireland, where his fascination with traditional music grew dramatically. Musical kin such as his cousin, Dublin button accordionist Tom Dermody, and musical friends such as Longford's Peter Carberry, the first uilleann piper Jerry ever heard, had a strong early impact on his playing. The uilleann piping of Leo Rowsome, Liam O'Flynn, Paddy Keenan, Matt Kiernan, Fergus Finnegan, Mick O'Brien, Peter McKenna, Gay McKeon, Séamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, and Johnny Doran also fueled Jerry's enthusiasm for pursuing Ireland's most complex and exacting instrument.

Spanning two full octaves, the uilleann pipes have a musical range wider than most, if not all, other bagpipes in the world. A metaphor sometimes invoked for the instrument is an octopus, and grappling with its appendages and stubborn nature can be unnerving for anyone lacking in complete commitment and training.

Jerry O'Sullivan's own commitment and training began in earnest at age 16. Though advised and encouraged along the way, he is self-taught, which makes his swift, sure taming of the octopus all the more impressive. A stint on warpipes with the County Tyrone Pipe Band in Queens, New York, likewise shaped his broader interest in different traditions of piping.

From the early to middle 1980s, an increase of session playing in New York City and of concerts and festivals Jerry did there and elsewhere sharpened his uilleann piping technique, deepened his repertoire, and extended his reputation. When the opportunity came to record The Invasion, his solo debut for Green Linnet in 1987, he was more than ready. For proof, listen on that album to his electrifying uilleann pipes solo on a reel that Johnny Doran, one of his idols, had recorded 40 years earlier: "Colonel Fraser."

In 1992, Jerry, his wife, and their children moved from Yonkers, New York, to Kilnaboy, Co. Clare, where they lived for about a year and a half. Before they decided to return to New York in 1994, Jerry sometimes played in sessions with Clare fiddler Tony Linnane and flutist Garry Shannon, and near the end of his stay he also visited a Monday night session in Ennis anchored by Lúnasa flute, whistle, and bodhrán player Kevin Crawford.

A fine flute and whistle player himself, Jerry maintains a busy music schedule stateside. He has performed or toured with the Windbags (a quartet comprising Jerry, John Skelton, Patrick O'Gorman, and the late Tony Cuffe), the Green Fields of America, the Eileen Ivers Band, the Paul Winter Consort, the Boston Pops Orchestra (under the successive batons of John Williams and Keith Lockhart), the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Bonnie Rideout's "A Scottish Christmas" ensemble, and the Eagles singer Don Henley's band. Jerry was also a guest soloist for Patrick Cassidy's Famine Remembrance and Siocháin ("Peace") when these orchestral pieces were performed in New York City and Washington, D.C., respectively.

We're Irish Still, issued by the Boston branch of Comhaltas Ceoltóirí’ Éireann in 1981, was Jerry O'Sullivan's first appearance on a recording. Since then, he has been featured on more than 90 other albums, including Paul Winter and Friends' Grammy-winning Celtic Solstice in 1999 and the Boston Pops Orchestra's Grammy-nominated The Celtic Album in 1998. Among the many other artists with whom he's collaborated on recordings are James Galway, Dolly Parton, Joanie Madden, Altan, Jennifer Kimball, Jonatha Brooke, Joe Derrane, Niamh Parsons, Rafe Stefanini, Nóirín Ní Riain, John Whelan, Pat Kilbride, Eileen Ivers, Mick Moloney, Akira Satake, and the late Johnny Cunningham.

That impressive list of credits attests to the versatility and appeal of Jerry's music, which was also heard in TV commercials for Texaco, Dr Pepper, Mobil, AT&T, and Folgers as well as in the soundtracks to the Tom Cruise-starring film Far and Away and the documentaries Out of Ireland, The Long Journey Home, Africans in America, and From Shore to Shore. Jerry additionally narrated From Shore to Shore and appeared on camera in it, and all four documentaries were broadcast on U.S. public-television stations.

Today Jerry O'Sullivan's long-standing excellence on the uilleann pipes is celebrated globally. His style is the outcome of many influences, but what makes his uilleann piping unique is how effectively he integrates those influences with his own personality, taste, invention, and sense of wonder. Grateful for the guidance and support he's received in the past, Jerry is also dedicated to passing on the instrument's beauty and intricacies through teaching.

His third solo album, O'Sullivan Meets O'Farrell, is a sparkling summit linking two uilleann pipers separated by more than two centuries. O'Farrell would have been proud of how well these 27 tunes, many lying untouched and unappreciated for far too long, are performed by O'Sullivan for entirely new listeners.

Bring on volume two.

O’Farrell’s Union Pipe Music

by Brian McCandless

In this, his second performance of selected works drawn from O’Farrell’s collections, Jerry O’Sullivan has painstakingly selected and arranged, interpreted and presented suites of tunes in a style that would have been most familiar to Mr. O’Farrell and his contemporaries. By recording O’Farrell’s tunes in Baroque style reminiscent of their original context, as heard by audiences long-vanished in concert halls long pulled-down, Jerry once again makes an important contribution to traditional Irish music. Now these tunes are accessible to a living audience, who is at once digitally-savvy and overly-busy, in contrast with 18th and 19th century audiences. The tune names and their associated stories may have faded, but as we listen to this record, we can gain a sense of what these tunes were to their composers - our own ancestors. We welcome Jerry, in his rendition of O’Farrell’s tunes, to penetrate and educate our senses as we move forward in our living rooms, patios, cars, and head phones, wherever we are.

We should all celebrate the fact that someone has finally gone to the trouble of performing and recording O’Farrell’s music for the Union bagpipes. Jerry’s attention to detail, exactitude and sensitivity to the history of these tunes ensures that they will be preserved for future generations, enabling this important musical collection and its history to come to life and remain alive. The subtle differences which distinguish these pieces can be fragile, at times hard to discern, always challenging – but the reward for the educated listener is the joy of knowing that all these subtleties are audibly preserved in a form that all listeners will agree is the most sophisticated and tasteful rendering possible, featuring pipes accompanied by harpsichord and cello. This essay elaborates on the musical and cultural context for the music contained in this recording.

This recording represents a rejuvenation of bagpipe music whose heyday has long passed and would be forgotten if not for the commitment of Mr. O’Farrell to assembling and publishing the music at the height of its popularity and proximity to its composition. The O’Farrell collections appeared at the dawn of the 19th century, in a period marked by a proliferation of musical collecting and publishing; in this case, O’Farrell’s effort resulted in the assembling and publishing of the repertoire of bagpipes and other instruments for performance on, ultimately, the London stage. Like modern music “fakebooks”, O’Farrell’s Companions and National Irish Music collections offered skeletal versions of tunes, often with variations. Any proficient performer of the period would have known the idiomatic system for articulating the tunes and arranging them for performance with accompanying instruments, including those listed on the cover pages of O’Farrell’s works – the German flute, Violin, Flageolet, Piano, and Harp. The collections do not offer much information regarding style or execution, apart from indications of trills and rests. Discovering the performing idiom of the tunes requires both an understanding of the Union bagpipe technique and of the Baroque system of musical composition and arrangement.

The term “baroque” came to the English language from French, meaning ‘bizarre’ or ‘whimsical’, by association with 17th and 18th century German and Austrian architecture. After about 1918, the term was applied to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). Centuries later, after 1930, the term became a more general label for European music composed from the time of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) though the Bach period. Three phases are identified within the Baroque period: early (1600-1640); middle (1640-1680); and late (1680-1750). Whereas early and middle Baroque composers favored homophonic texture -- in dramatic contrast to late Renaissance music -- late Baroque music is typified by polyphonic texture, with contrasting sounds, new uses of dissonance, and prominent use of unstable chording. It is during the late Baroque period that instrumental music attained equal status with vocal music, for the first time. With respect to Irish music, Baroque influences likely presented (welcomed) challenges for composers and performers accustomed to a drone-based modal musical cultural heritage. This album is crafted as a series of suites, using the Baroque formula based on sets of dance-inspired pieces. A typical Baroque suite features movements written in the same key but with different tempo, meter, and feeling. The custom of adapting dance pieces to the Baroque suite is what fostered its success as a mode for preserving traditional dance music.

At the end of the 18th century, in Ireland, Scotland and England, as in continental Europe, popular demand for new musical forms and entertainment benefited from technological advancements in the fabrication of high quality musical instruments capable of delivering the requisite sounds. Prior to 1800 most documented music was commissioned, written to-order, to meet the specific demands of the courts, churches, opera houses, and municipalities. The interplay between technology, amateur and professional musicians, and elegiac inspiration among the increasing audience roles fostered the adoption and spread of the newly refined Irish bagpipe, with chanter, drones and regulator, and its growing repertoire. Like the hautboy (oboe) and flute before it, the Irish bagpipe reached a high level of technical development and acceptance during the Baroque period, complete with tutor books containing a codified playing system and repertoire.

Starting in the late 1650’s, various instruction books for the ‘skill of musick’ were published for John Playford, the prolific and renowned English dancing master. In 1695 a Sprightly Companion for the Hautboy was published in London for his son, Henry, paving the way for “proper” instructions for a host of instruments – from cittern and viola to flute and bagpipe. In the reed and woodwind arena, O’Farrell’s Instructions followed a then-long tradition of supplying both method and repertoire to amateur musicians. Publishing houses in Ireland, particularly Dublin, tended to follow the example set in London, leading to the publication of many method books, collections and musical scores a few years following their emergence in London. For example, John and William Neale, who wrote A Handbook of Irish Dance (1726) and A Collection of Irish and Scotch Tunes (1726) also published scores to the operas “Beggar’s Wedding” in 1728 and “Polly” in 1729.

Mr. O’Farrell’s collections captured the dynamic development of both instrument and repertoire in nearly real-time, affording us a unique insight into the popular music of the period, from the eyes of the performers of that music. The O’Farrell collections, clearly modeled after other tutorials and collections of the Baroque period, contain a diverse range of music, intermixing indigenous Irish, Scots, English airs, and dance tunes with pipers’ compositions, such as those by Jackson, with then recent compositions by the professionals O’Carolan, Handel and Reeves, in addition to the melodies to popular songs of the day. The inclusion of music of by George Frederic Handel in contemporary collections seems to have lent them a certain degree of legitimacy, just as Handel’s emigration to and efforts in England and Ireland legitimized his rank among his continental peers. In England, it is clear that Handel’s visit posed something of a threat to current composers, such as John Gay (composer of “The Beggar’s Opera” in 1726), who wrote about the opera fad in a somewhat slanderous letter to Alexander Pope in 1710, which was ultimately sent to Jonathan Swift, writing “There is nobody allowed to say ‘I sing’ but a eunuch or an Italian woman. Everybody is grown now as a great judge of singing as they were in your time of poetry; and folks that could not distinguish one tune from another, now daily dispute about the different styles of Handel, Bononcini and Attilio...”

A popular and eccentric composer, Handel was said to have transported harpsichords to stage performances and provide solo entertainment between main operatic acts. Joseph Walker, writing in his Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards in 1786, gives us a direct insight into Handel’s unique and perhaps long-overdue influence to Irish music:

“In the year 1740, the sublime genius of Handel roused our feelings from the lethargy into which they had fallen. Banished from London by the spirit of [political] party, he sought protection in Dublin. Here he was kindly received, and due regard was paid to his extraordinary merit...Music was now the rage. Italian singers were invited over, and the fair Dames of Ireland learned to expire at an Opera...Concerts were the favorite amusements of the houses of the Nobility and gentry; and musical Societies were formed in all the great towns in the kingdom. In a word, every knee was bent to St. Cecilia.”

[Joseph Walker, 1786, pp. 159-160]

Mr. O’Farrell’s collections also contain a great number of native Irish melodies, and his contribution to the preservation of indigenous Irish music is borne-out a hundred years after the publication of his collections by P. W. Joyce, who wrote at the end of the Preface in his 1909 collection Old Irish Folk Music and Songs:

“In early times they had no means of writing down music; and musical compositions were preserved in memory and handed down by tradition from generation to generation; but in the absence of written record, many were lost. It was only in the seventeenth or eighteenth century that people began to collect Irish airs from singers and players, and to write them down.”

This vital concept, of collecting and noting down music, became a watershed for the idiomatic crystallization of Irish traditional music, specially once it was combined with a method for performing that music upon a certain instrument, such as a flute, a bagpipe, or a piano. Captain Francis O’Neill, in Irish Folk Music, A Fascinating Hobby in 1910, wrote that O’Farrell was a “pioneer in publishing music suitable for the Irish pipes,” being distinguished for having written the only “competent instructions” ever printed for the Irish bagpipes. In other words, no small amount of credit is owed to O’Farrell for his efforts!

O’Farrell’s tutor follows the pattern laid out by John Geoghegan in 1746, with his ground-breaking tutor for the pastoral or “new” bagpipe, a bellows-blown, common-stock, parlor instrument thought be the progenitor of the Union pipe [McCandless’ 2005]. O’Farrell’s introductory remarks follow a similar layout to Geoghegan’s and convey the desire to appeal to a similar audience. Geoghegan’s publication appears to have coincided with a refinement of the bellows-blown Irish bagpipe and its use in John Gay’s “The Beggar’s Opera” in 1728. Apart from that, however, no significant or unique repertoire seems to have followed or been preserved. O’Farrell’s work thus represents a break-through in combining a substantial repertoire with the method for a fully developed solo instrument capable of performing a variety of musical forms within a definable genre. It is worth comparing passages from the prefaces to the respective tutorials. From O’Farrell:

“Being an instrument now so much improved as renders it able to play any kind of music, and with the additional accompanyments [sic] which belong to it produce a variety of pleasing harmony which forms as it were a little band in itself. Gentlemen often expressing a desire to learn the pipes have been prevented by not meeting with as proper Book instructions, which has induced the author to write the following treatise, which it is presumed with the favorite collection of tunes added thereto will be acceptable to the lovers of ancient and pastoral music.”

[O’Farrell’s Collection and Instructions]

From Geoghegan:

“The bagpipe being at this time brought to such perfection as now it renders it able to perform the same number of notes with the flute or hautboy, I thought it might be acceptable to the curious to set forth this small treatise...[which] will not be unacceptable to the professors of this ancient pastoral music...”

[John Geoghegan’s Tutor, 1746]

Today, many uilleann bagpipe players and enthusiasts may be unaware that beyond preserving contemporary late 18th to early 19th century pipe music, O’Farrell’s tutor and collections defined much of what is now held to be traditional Irish pipe music and technique (not necessarily style) - despite these books having been published in London, England. The surprisingly widespread English acceptance of Scottish and Irish music at the end of the 18th century may seem puzzling and is best understood by separating the political goals of governments, as noted in history books, from the popular tastes of citizens, as found in their cultural record. A few significant facts are sufficient to reveal the popularity, in 18th century London, of music laced with Irish and Scottish content.

Publication in 1763 of James MacPherson’s Poems of Ossian popularized the notion that Britain’s Celtic hinterlands held an exciting repository of previously undocumented tales passed down via “oral tradition” from a once noble and heroic society, on a par with those of the Greco-Roman civilization. Suddenly the long excluded Celtic parts of the realm had a vehicle for access, if not to the nobility of England, certainly to the gentry. The popular sentiment may be partially understood by a contemporary statement, written in the autobiography of the ‘civilized minister of Inveresk’ Alexander Carlyle [1722-1805]:

“Dissatisfaction with the Hanoverian dynasty mitigated the anti-Scotch reactions [in London Society] to the Jacobite rebellion such that the ‘gay world at Bath and other parts of England’ seemed ‘very fond of white rosed buttons, plaid or tartan,’ with which they decorated even the harnesses of their horses”.

O’Farrell’s body of work was so defining and enduring because it came along in this period of popular acceptance, in which mass-entertainment in cities was dominated by regular stage performance. Celtic sensibilities agreeably met with English pastoral traditions, as Irish and Scottish idioms infiltrated opera, ballad-opera, comic-opera and pantomine productions. George Emmerson gives us a sense of the London scene:

“The principal theatres were Drury Lane, Covent Garden, and the Royal Opera House in the Haymarket, all in energetic competition. The theatre-goers thronged to the doors at four o’clock in the afternoon for a curtain at six. They sat on backless benches and were by no means inhibited in showing displeasure or approval, sometimes, in extreme cases, tearing up benches and breaking chandeliers, to say nothing of attacking the players, who were protected from intrusions by a row of sharp iron spikes running along the front of the stage.

To calm this restive mass, it was necessary to fill the intervals with music and dance entertainment, and so it would happen that between acts of Othello, for instance, there might be billed “The Highland Reel: a New Comic Dance by Aldridge, Miss Valois, and Sqa. Manesiere,” a feature which entertained the patrons of Covent Garden on several occasions from March 1768 to December 1774...hornpipes and dances in between acts of Beggars opera...”

[Emmerson, Rantin Pipe and Tremblin String, 1972]:

In 1783, William Shield, born in Co. Durham, England, and composer to Covent Garden, introduced the Scots air “Auld Lang Syne” to the overture ballad of the opera “Rosina”, specifying that the bassoon and oboe are to “imitate the bagpipe”. During the same year his opera “The Poor Soldier” included a song “Farewell Ye Groves” which was sung to the air of “Erin Go Braugh”, or its progenitor melody “Savoureen Deelish”. In 1784, Shield introduced the tune “The Dandy O” as an Irish tune in his comic opera “Robin Hood”. In 1790 Shield was commissioned to write a pantomine based on MacPherson’s tragedy in the “Books of Temora” contained in the Poems of Ossian; this was to be called “Oscar and Malvina, or Halls of Fingal” and was to follow stage performances of “Romeo and Juliet”. In 1791, William Reeves replaced Shield as Covent Garden composer and completed the score to the pantomime, the music of which would later appear in O’Farrell’s collections. The storyline of Oscar and Malvina is centered on the heroic exploits of Oscar and the tragic loss experienced by his lover, Malvina, and their combined families. The setting for MacPherson’s heroic tale is the conflict between rival chieftains over land rights in Ulster and Scotland, a subject of much passion on all sides in 18th century Britain. The first performance was October 22, 1791, in Covent Garden, where it ran through 1800. In Ireland, performances ran as late as 1816, at the Crow Street Theatre, with “pipes played by blind piper William Talbot”, according to W. Grattan Flood [The Story of the Bagpipe, 1911].

O’Farrell also gave tribute to the harper Turlough O’Carolan (crediting his compositions simply to ‘Carolan’) by including eight of his compositions in the National Irish Music Collection and Instructions and Companion, most notably featured on this recording, the airs “Captain O’Cain” and “Princess Royal”. Mr. O’Carolan [1670-1738] lived about a generation before Mr. O’Farrell, having been in his early twenties when the Battle of Aughrim destroyed Ireland’s hopes of independence. He made his way as an itinerant harper, from his family’s adopted home in Roscommon, traveling throughout Ireland from about 1708 until his death, back at the homestead in 1738, leaving behind a rich body of music. Like O’Farrell, O’Carolan was a force in a changing culture; whereas he composed in manner of the old bards, with music serving as the accompaniment to poems, he is remembered for his music, and his poetry has fallen into relative obscurity. According to Flood, in A History of Irish Music (1905), “perhaps the greatest tribute to O’Carolan’s powers as a composer may be cited in the fact that dozens of his airs were printed during his lifetime, many of them being introduced into the various ballad operas that were fashionable from 1728 to 1738.”

Captain Francis O’Neill, in Irish Folk Music, pointed out that O’Farrell’s publications exhibited poor Gaelic usage, and today one wonders how well he knew to write down Gaelic and whether he employed a copy editor for his publications. It matters little, as tune names and melodies were commonly confused during this period; the tune “Sheela na Guira” featured at the end of this album has gone by names as diverse as “Chiling O Guiry”, Shilling O’Gairey”, “Sheling a Gairey”, “Sighile ni Gara”, and “Sheela ne Gaura”. Orthography notwithstanding, the O’Farrell works, taken as a whole, represent a new dimension in response to dramatic change in the Irish and British cultural landscapes, with acceptance of art forms moving in both directions.

Few copies of O’Farrell’s works were published, and he made very little money from his subscribers. The National Irish Music and Instructions became such a rarely encountered work that early twentieth century pipers were known to jealously-guard not only their copies of it, but the fact of their possessing it. In one well documented case of this, the piper Turlough McSweeny came to the United States from his home county of Donegal to perform in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition at Chicago, as the “piper at the gate”, playing outside of the Donegal Castle, while the Irish-American piper Patsy Touhey performed inside, as the main attraction. The story, told in wonderful detail in Captain O’Neill’s Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913) is notable for its conveyance of the yet-powerful mystique held by O’Farrell’s works. Captain O’Neill, a prolific 20th century collector and peer of P. W. Joyce, wrote how Mr. McSweeny spoke of being taught by fairies, and is indeed the apocryphal subject of the piper-fairy folktale. More importantly, he describes what a proficient piper was Mr. McSweeny, and the supposed origins of his proficiency:

“being in line with the tales of fairy enchantment, his mysterious allusions to a book of ‘instructions’ all through his career have served to make him an object of peculiar interest to people of his class everywhere. No human eye, except his own, has ever been permitted to profane this treasure by even a glance. As a concession to his benefactors before named, he presented them with a scale of the natural notes on the Irish chanter, which upon comparison, we find is identical with that to be found in O’Farrell’s National Irish Music...It is claimed that the only copy of O’Farrell’s work in Ireland is in the library of the Dublin Museum...even so, the ‘Donegal Piper’ may well regard his treasure as priceless, cherishing, as he undoubtedly does, the hallucination that he possesses the only copy in existence of one of the rarest and most unique works ever to be printed on a British press.”

[O’Neill, Francis, Irish Minstrels and Musicians (1913)]

I wind-down this essay with two historical gems regarding ‘Union pipes’ and their place in the organology of Irish bellows-blown bagpipes. The tradition of using the Irish pipes in stage performances can be traced in Ireland to a one-time production of Henry Brooke’s musical comedy “Jack the Queller” at the Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin in 1748. We don’t know the details of the Irish piper’s instrument for that performance, but the date is nearly coincident with the publication of Geoghegan’s tutor for the pastoral bagpipe. Many readers have no-doubt read or heard the phrase, “For he can play the Union pipes and nobly squeeze his bag.” published in The Rover, March 5th, 1796, Dublin. The Union pipes appear to have converged onto a common design sometime between 1750 and 1800, as a fully developed, unified, complete instrument musical tool for polyphonic performance, capable of harmony by the union of drones and a regulator. It may be a coincidence of history that English royal assent was granted to the Act of Union on August 1, 1800, thereby eliminating the Houses of Lords and Commons in Dublin; various so-called Union Catalogues of goods and services began to be published in 1801. The full reference for the above short quote, published as a poem conveying the rivalry between two Cork music shops, says much regarding the emerging position of Union pipes at the end of the 18th century and both a significant instrument, as emblematic of the rise of Irish nationalism:

“Brave Irish Daniel and his Harp

There is a man in fair Cork town

Fitzpatrick at the harp,

A choice musician of renown,

Can play a flat and sharp.

He can tune a violin or tenor,

And sweetly blow his flute,

A jolly soul of gay demeanor,

Which no one can dispute.

He can play the Harpsichord,

Guitar or hurdy-gurdy,

He found a dulcimer by the Lord!

Not one alive more sturdy.

He sells instruments of every sort

And music of all kinds,

The ladies fair his shop resort

To harmonize their minds.

For he can play the Union pipes

And nobly squeeze his bags,

The sweet hautboy can cure the gripes

Now there are two dammed imposters

Mere John Bulls of fellows,

Two rascally, imposing, Forseters

Want to damn his violoncellos.

Being jealous of Irish fame

Now look with envious eyes,

They give his music a bad name,

And encourage cursed spies.

Let these John Bulls now scold and carp

And vainly advertise,

Success to Daniel and his harp

May Irish merit rise!”

[The Rover, No. 26, 12 March 1796, Dublin, quoted in Hogan (1966)]

No published late 18th century descriptions of the Irish or Union pipes yet uncovered offer an overt reference to the “regulator”, that being the unique and contrasting component of the Union pipes which separated Union pipes from any earlier Irish, Scottish or English bagpipes. The moniker “regulator” first appeared unambiguously in Mr. O’Farrell’s Instructions. However, a copy of Dobson’s Encyclopedia, published in Philadelphia 1798, appears to refer, without naming it per se, to both O’Farrell’s Instructions and the regulator, providing confirmation of the date of O’Farrell’s National Irish Music Collection and Instruction, and of the Union pipe with regulator, as all occurring prior to 1798:

“Irish Pipe. This is the softest, and in some respects, the most melodious of any, so that music-books have been published with directions how to play on it. The chanter, like that of all the rest, has eight holes like the English flute, and is played on by opening and shutting the holes as occasion requires; the bass consists of two short drones, and a long one. The lowest note on the chanter is D on the German flute, being the open note on the counter-string of a violin; the small drone (one of them commonly being stopped up) is tuned in unison with the note above this, and the large one an octave below; so that a great length is required in order to produce such a low note, on which account the drone hath sometimes two or three turns. The instrument is tuned by lengthening or shortening the drone till it sounds the note desired."

In the above reference, the third drone, which is “stopped up”, is undoubtedly the regulator of O’Farrell’s Union pipes. The chanter scale, with its low note “D” allow us to separate this reference from any regarding the pastoral pipe, with its low note being “C”, as a sub-tonic on the “D” scale. The discovery of this 18th century encyclopedic reference strongly point to the earliest dates proposed for O’Farrell’s National Irish Music and Instructions, around 1797, and that the origin of the Irish, or Union, bagpipe with a regulator is earlier, sometime between 1760 and 1795. The reference also supports the idea that the Union bagpipe played a prominent and popular role in the progression of Irish cultural arts at the end of the 18th century – and that these arts were appreciated by a wide audience, in Europe and in America.

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The author expresses his heartfelt thanks to Jerry for his unequalled playing of Irish pipes and his encouragement towards research into the historical origins of our music. Julie Savell-McCandless provided Brian with the musicological resources, swaths of time, and editorial sessions needed to complete this project. The Cecil County Historical Society (Maryland) provided access to American documents which help anchor the publication date of O’Farrell’s “National Irish Music and Instructions”.


Dobson’s: Encyclopedia; or a Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature...Vol. II (Ang-Bar), Printed by Thomas Dobson, Philadelphia (1798).

Flood, William H. Grattan, A History of Irish Music, Browne and Nolan Limited, Dublin (1905).

Flood, William H. Grattan, The Story of the Bagpipe, Walter Scott Publishing Company, London (1911).

Geoghegan, John, The Compleat Tutor for the Pastoral or New Bagpipe, Containing all the necessary Instructions for such as are desirous to play that Instrument, and attain the true knowledge of all the Principles thereof, never before published written by Mr. Jn oGeoghegan. To which is added A Collection of familiar Airs, light Jigs, Etc., Curiously adapted to the Instrument, London (1746).

Hogan, Ita Margaret, Anglo-Irish Music: 1780-1830, Cork University Press, (1966).

Joyce, P. W., Old Irish Folk Music and Songs, A Collection of 842 Irish Airs and Songs Hitherto Unpublished, Dublin (1909).

McCandless, Brian, “Historical Links among Pastoral, Union and Uilleann Bagpipes,” Pipers Review, Na Piobairi Uilleann, Seattle (2005).

O’Farrell: O’Farrell’s Collection of National Irish Music for the Union Pipes, Comprising a Variety of the Most Favorite Slow & Sprightly Tunes, Set in proper Stile & Taste, with Variations and Adapted Likewise for the German Flute, Violin, Flagelete [sic], Piano & Harp, with a Selection, of Favorite Scotch Tunes, Also a Treatise with the most Perfect Instructions ever yet Published for the Pipes. Ent’d at Stat’s Hall..Pr 7S/-. To be had at McGow’s 31 Carnaby Street, Golden Square & Mr. O’Farrel’s [sic] 65 Swallow Street, where Gentlemen may Likewise be accommodated with Real Toned Irish Pipes (undated but presumably 1797-1804).

O’Farrell: O’Farrells Pocket Companion for the Irish or Union Pipes, Being a grand Selection of favorite Tunes both Scotch and Irish. Adapted for the Pipes, Flute, Flagolet and Violin, some of which was never before publish’d, with some favorite Duetts for the above instruments, Volumes 1-4, (Dates as follows: Vol 1, 1805; Vol 2, 1806; Vol 3, 1808-1810; Vol 4, 1810).

O’Neill, Francis, Irish Folk Music: A Fascinating Hobby with Some Account of Allied Subjects including O’Farrell’s Treatise on the Irish or Union Pipes and Touhey’s Hints to Amateur Pipers, Chicago (1910)

O’Neill, Francis, Irish Minstrels and Musicians with Numerous Dissertations on Related Subjects, Dublin (1913).

Playford, Henry, The Sprightly Companion: being a Collection of the best Foreign Marches, Now play’d in all Camps with Two Farewells at the Funeral of the late Queen, One of Four Parts, by Mr. Peasible; the other Three Parts, by Mr. Tollett; and Several other Tunes. Design’d chiefly for the Hautboy; Yet Proper for the Flute, Violin, and other Instruments: Also Plain and Easy Directions for Playing on the Hautboy. The First of this kind Publish’d. London, Printed by J. Heptinstall, for Henry Playford, at his shop near the Temple-Church,/or at his House in Arundel-Street in the Strand. 1695. Price Sixpence.

Simpson, Adrienne, A Short-Title List of Printed English Instrumental Tutors up to 1800, Held in British Libraries, Royal Music Association (1966).

Walker, Joseph C., Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards Interspersed with Anecdotes of, and Occasional Observations on, the Music of Ireland. Also, an Historical and Descriptive Account of the Musical Instruments of the Ancient Irish and an Appendix, containing several Biographical and other Papers, with Select Irish Melodies, Dublin (1786).