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Sunday 28 May 2017

Pipe dream in need of craftsmen

Jerome Reilly

Jerome Reilly

They give Irish traditional music its most distinctive sound, but while playing the uilleann pipes has undergone a celtic renaissance, there is now a critical shortage of craftsmen who can make this most complex instrument.

Most pipers now agree that it takes a talented musician five to seven years to master the instrument on a practice set, then they have to wait another five years before they can get a full set of pipes, such is the waiting list.

Some of the best pipemakers in Ireland have closed their waiting lists, having taken orders that will keep them busy for at least 10 years. Now many of the top makers of pipes -- which can cost between €8,000 and €20,000 -- are overseas.

A pipemaker has to be skilled at working with metal, wood and leather, and making the reeds for the instrument that actually produce the sound is a consummate skill in itself.

Now 35 cyclists on their way to Milltown Malbay, Co Clare, this weekend for the Willie Clancy Summer School are trying to raise awareness for an uilleann pipe-making training course that has the backing of the pipers society Na Piobairi Uilleann.

With a backlog of unfulfilled orders representing over €7m sales, a new pipe-making course could create 30 additional jobs and re-establish the craft in Ireland. "There are actually some very good pipemakers all over the world, the US, Germany and France ,but very few in Ireland, perhaps two or three," says piper Sean og Potts. "It's a long apprenticeship to actually learn the craft and it's a long time before you actually begin making money out of it. At the same time, the number of competent players has grown enormously and they want to get their hands on a full set.

"All the great makers also had a wonderful ear. Take the great Leo Rowsome from Dublin, who was a fantastic player as well as a skilled craftsman. All the great traditional bands had the pipes as a central part of their sound; Planxty, Paddy Moloney of The Chieftains, The Fureys, and all the big ensembles like Moving Hearts. It is a unique sound and essentially Irish," he said.

"Cillian O Briain is a Dubliner living in Kerry who is a truly excellent pipemaker but demand is so high that he has closed his waiting list for full sets of pipes.

"If we can get more pipemakers trained it would be a small but significant boost to the economy. At the moment, if you order a full set of pipes it could take you five to 10 years to get them."

Sunday Independent

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