Tuesday 12 December 2017

School for making instruments not just a pipe dream

Grainne Cunningham

AMONG the heavy machinery of a busy industrial estate, the haunting sound of the uilleann pipes are an unexpected but welcome distraction.

But the music playing is not about entertainment -- it is a vital part of converting a traditional Irish craft into a livelihood for students of the country's first school of uilleann-pipe making.

A taxi driver, an IT worker and a former music student are among the first 10 trainees on a three-year, full-time course at the uilleann pipe-making facility, in Clonshaugh, north Dublin, which was formally opened yesterday.


The students range in age from 18 to 60 and share one passion -- to perfect the process which brings together the 200 separate parts, most of them handmade, to make the iconic Irish instrument.

"I'm living the dream," said taxi man-turned student Cathal O Droighneain. "This is what I was meant to do".

Another trainee, Conor Roche (21), from Naul, Co Dublin, spent two years at DIT school of music before realising that he wanted to focus on the practical side of music -- making instruments.

Mr Roche said: "You have to love what you are doing," adding that he was delighted with the machinery and the 'hands-on' approach of the training centre.

Teacher Bill Haneman, who is originally from North Carolina, US, stressed that students can expect to make a viable living, if a modest one, on completion of the course. There is a huge demand for uilleann pipes, with players waiting up to seven years for a quality set.

Despite its 250-year-old history, the craft faced extinction in the 1970s after the death of the only full-time master craftsman in the country, Leo Rowsome, and even today, most pipe sets are made outside the country, in Germany and the US.

A set of practice pipes cost about €1,000. But a full set could cost 10 times that and a master maker would only make four or five such sets in a year.

And one advantage the uilleann pipes have over their nearest relative, the Scottish bagpipe? "You can order your pint without stopping playing," said one veteran.

Irish Independent

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