The Pipes of War The Irish
Pipes: Their History, Development and Divergence from the Simple
Highland Type. By W. H. Gratton Flood, Mus D., K.S.G.
THERE is ample evidence that the
bagpipe was used in pie-Christian Ireland, whence it was brought to
Scotland. It is referred to in the Brehon Laws of the fifth century.
Irish writers allude to it as Cuisle and as Piob mor and this is the
warlike instrument which was adopted by our Scottish brethren and became
the national instrument of Scotland.
During the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries
Irish pipers accompanied the Irish troops that fought in Gascony and
Flanders under King Edward I. Strange, too, that Irish pipers were
heard, in opposition to the Scots, at the battle of Falkirk (July 22,
1298), and it is surmised that the strident tones of the Irish piob inor
suggested to the Scotch the employment of this warlike instrument in
battle. At Crecy (August 26, 1346) the Irish pipes were also in
evidence, and again at Harileur (1418) and at Rouen (1419).
Incidentally, it may be stated that there is no sound historical
evidence for the Scotch bagpipes in battle at Harlaw (1418), but it
would appear that they were employed at the battle of Inverlochy (1431),
Irish pipers were heard to advantage in Henry VIII.'s Toumay campaign
(1513) and also at the siege of Boulogne (1544). This association of
Irish pipers leading the charge is strikingly pourtrayed in the Mask of
Irishmen played before Queen Mary at the English Court, on April 25,
1557, in which there were six Irish Kerne and two Bagpipers.
Here is Stanihurst's description of the Irish piob
mor, in 1575 The Irish, likewise, instead of the trumpet, make use of a
wooden pipe of the most ingenious structure, to which is joined a
leather bag, very closely bound with bands. A pipe is inserted in the
side of this skin,through which the piper, with his swollen neck and
pnffed-up cheeks, blows in the same manner as we do through a (ubc. The
skin, being thus filled with air, begins to swell, and the player
presses against it with his arm thus a loud and shrill sound is produced
through two wooden pipes of different lengths. In addition to these,
there is yet a fourth pipe (the chanter), perforated in different places
(having five or six holes), which the player so regulates by the
dexterity of his fingers in the shutting and opening of the holes, that
he can cause the upper pipes to send forth either a loud or a low sound
A few years
after Stanihnrst presented this description of the Irish piob mor, a new
development of this instrument came into vogue, that is, about the year
1580, and almost immediately came into favour. This development was the
Irish Uilleann (elbow) pipes, or domestic pipes, in which the wind was
supplied by a bag blown by the elbow. Shakespearian commentators have
been puzzled over the term "woollen " pipes in the Merchant of Venice
(Act iv. Sc. i) ; but the great bard of Avon, who derived much
information regarding Ireland from Stanihurst and Dowland (if he did not
actually visit Ireland at the close of the sixteenth century), used the
Irish term Uilleann, equating it with woollen ''—a corruption which
subsequently blossomed forth as " Union pipes" All during the
seventeenth century the Uillcann pipes became immensely popular, and
were used as an accompaniment for dancing, especially the Rinnec Fada
(The Long Dance), the qualifying word Fada becoming Anglicised as " the
Fading," also alluded to by Shakespeare (Winter's Tale, Act iv. Sc. 3).
Subsequently keys or regulators were added, a feature that we also find
in the Surdelina, or Neapolitan bagpipe, in 1625, as described by Père
Mersenne. It is of interest to note that the great English composer,
William Byrd, circa 1590, wrote a piece of programme music called "Mi,
Byrd's Battle," in which there are three movements; the Irish March, the
Bagpipe, and the Drone. Thus the Irish bagpipe furnished the musical
form known as "pedal point " or "drone bass."
When the Regiment of Irish
Guards was formed in 1662, provision was made for a drum major,
twenty-four drummers, and a piper to the King's Company. At the siege of
Derry in 1689, the Jacobite regiments had each fourteen pipers and
improvements in the Uilleann pipes were effected between the years ioo
and 1720, and, in consequence, they were taken up by musical amateurs or
"gentlemen pipers," of whom Larry Grogan, Parson Sterling, and Walter
Jackson were famous.
Irish 75iob nior was heard at the battle of Fontenoy (May 11, 1745), on
which occasion the pipers played " St. Patrick's Day in the Morning,"
and " The White Cockade "—two characteristic Irish airs. Irish pipers
were also heard during the American War of Independence, and, in 1778,
Barney Thompson, from Hillsborough, Co. Down, was pipe major of Lord
Rawdon's "Volunteers of Ireland," which corps merged into the 100th
Regiment in 1780.
revival of the Irish bagpipes in Irish regiments is due to Major Doyle,
in September, 1793. A few months previously, on May 23, his brother,
Colonel Doyle, in command of the 14th Regiment, found the fortunes of
the day at the siege of Famara going against the British troops, when,
by a happy inspiration, he ordered his band to play up the French
revolutionary march of 'ca Ira," and shouted to his troops: "Come on,
boys, and we'll beat 'em to their own damned tune." As a result, Doyle's
regiment successfully routed the French, to the strains of "ça Ira,"
which has ever since been the quick-step of the West Yorkshire Regiment
(the old 14th). The Colonel wrote to his brother the Major, who was M.P.
for Mullingar telling him of the advantage of a good band, and, as at
that very time (August) Major Doyle had been commissioned by King George
III. to form a new Irish regiment, originally called " Major Doyle's
Legion," the Major recruited a gallant body of his countrymen, known as
"The Prince of Wales' Royal Irish Regiment "—with a band of Irish
afterwards, in October 1793, Colonel de Burgh (brother of the Marquis of
Clanrickarde) formed the "Royal Connaught Rangers," with a fine band of
pipers and drummers. The Wexford Regiment (the 36th), commanded by Lord
Loftus, had also a pipe band ere the close of the year 1794 or early in
1795. Several years later there were pipers attached to the Tyrones (4th
However, after the year 1815, the vogue of a pipe band in Irish
regiments waned, and it was not till 1903 that the Queen's County
Militia—the 41h Battalion of the P.O.W. Leinster Regiment—again took up
the war pipes, thanks to the enthusiasm and generosity of their
commander, Lieut.-Col. Lord Castletown, K.P.
To the Tyrone Fusiliers, a link battalion of the
27th Royal Inniskilhing Fusiliers, is due the revival of the Irish Mob
mor in iS59. Some years later, Colonel Cox, commanding the 87th Royal
Irish Fusiliers, supplied eight sets of war pipes, as well as two drums,
to eight Irish pipers in his regiment. More recently, the 4th Battalion
of the Leinster Regiment (late Queen's County Militia) formed a pipe
band under the direction of their gallant Colonel, my dear friend, Lord
Castletown of Upper Ossorv, K.P., who presented the pipes, in 1903.
Since then all five battalions of this regiment have pipe bands, mainly
through the enthusiastic zeal of Captain Orpen Palmer who published an
excellent little book for the war pipes in 1913. Other Irish regiments
having pipe bands are the 2nd Battalion of the Dublin Fusiliers and the
3rd Battalion of the 18th Royal Irish.
In conclusion it may be briefly said that the
Irish war pipe of to-day is the same as the Scottish or Highland war
pipe. On the other hand, the Irish Uilleann pipes may be regarded as a
miniature organ. The old war pipe is only capable of eight notes with
certain limitations, whereas the Uilleann pipes are of two full octaves,
including chromatic intervals, and are thus capable of performing most
classes of music, added to which the four keys of the regulator on the
chanter make for a wonderful effect.
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