Michael Keenan, c.1895-1978.
Tantalising evidence is emerging that suggests that Lowland Scots pipe-making did not disappear after the flurry of interest in Northumberland in the 1930’s. Here Paul Roberts reports on his investigation into the operations of an Irish pipe maker in the 1960’s

As a teenage schoolboy in 1965 I was suddenly gripped by an overwhelming desire to play the Highland Bagpipes. Somehow a friend and I scraped the money together to buy a cheap and nasty Pakistani set between us. Thus began my spasmodic piping career.
Unable to afford a decent set, I compensated by accumulating free catalogues, over which I would drool wistfully for hours on end. Some of these I still have, including two 5 ¼” x 10 ½” sheets from an Irish maker, Michael Keenan of Glasleac, Co. Cavan.
One sheet gives details of his “Irish or Highland War Pipe”, which ranged from 30 Guineas for a basic set to 100 Guineas for ivory and silver mounted. The other sheet details his “Irish or Uillean [sic] Bagpipe”, which ranged from £85 to £105 - the latter silver mounted with a detachable bass regulator.
I suspect I only enquired about these two instruments - either way, he didn’t send sheets detailing the other bagpipes he made, all carefully listed at the top of each page. The heading - which is rubber stamped on an otherwise professionally printed sheet - reads:

(Michael Keenan)
Expert in All Types of Bagpipes
Irish War Pipes - Highland Bagpipes
The Original Brian Boru Chromatic Bagpipes
Scotch Lowland Pipes **  English Northumbrian Pipes
Army Contractor, Kilts & Costumes
All Requisites

Clearly it is of great interest that any pipe-maker was still offering SCOTCH LOWLAND PIPES as late as the 1960s, but that one in Ireland was doing so is perhaps even more surprising. Indeed, as far as I know, the only other person to make the instrument between the disappearance of the “Reel Pipe” from Scottish makers lists about 1900 and the introduction of John Addison’s “Half-Longs” around 1975, was Pipe-Major James Robertson, for the short-lived Northumbrian Half-Long revival c.1926-39. And Keenan may well have been the only maker to have offered the instrument under the name of “Lowland Pipe” between the mid-19th century and the late 1970s. [1]
Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of the internet, I have been able to accumulate a certain amount of information about Keenan. Though now largely forgotten, in his day he was a well known figure in Irish music, and those few who remember him do so with affection.
He was born around 1894-96 and died in 1978 aged 82 or 84, so in 1965 he was already about 70.
He came from Glasleac, a small village in the civil parish of Shercock in southeast Cavan, on the County Monaghan border.  It is part of the ecclesiastical parish of Killan, which includes Bailieborough to the south. Although Cavan and Monaghan are in the Irish Republic, both belong to the historic nine counties of Ulster.
Like the rest of Ulster, Cavan and Monaghan had been subject to major settlement by British Protestants during the 17th century, and as a result a deeply politicized sectarian conflict was endemic here. Keenan was born into a world where to be Catholic was to be a Nationalist, and he was of the generation that transferred its loyalty from the moderate federalism of the Irish Nationalist Party to the hard Republicanism of Sinn Fein. It is not surprising, then, to find that Keenan was a committed Republican who preferred to use the Irish form of his name, whose proudest memory was  piping ahead of Arthur Griffith’s election parade in 1918, and whose workshop was decorated with IRA and Sinn Fein posters even when in his 80s. [2]
Given this background it’s not clear how far his involvement in Irish music and piping reflected his own local culture or was simply the product of the Gaelic revivalism which enthused Nationalist Ireland in his youth. In a deeply politicized area like south Ulster it would be hard to keep the two apart. But there was certainly a Union/Uilleann pipe tradition in south Ulster reaching back into the 19th century, and a Highland pipe scene which, though its great flowering was in the early 20th century among the rival nationalisms of Protestant and Catholic, probably had older roots.
What is clear is that traditional music dominated Michael Keenan’s life, and that he was that strange creature well known to readers of this journal - the bagpipe obsessive!
He was a leading member of important revivalist organizations like Na Piobairi Uilleann and Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, and was a well known figure in Irish music circles both nationally and locally, playing War Pipes, Uilleann pipes and mandolin at dances, concerts, public meetings, parades, and on the radio and TV. He played in several countries including the USA, and sold his pipes as far afield as Australia and Hong Kong. He taught the local pipe band in the 1910’s and 20’s, ran a successful local Ceili band in the 1930’s, taught or advised several young pipe-makers in the 1970’s, and taught many younger pipers throughout his life. It seems he also had antiquarian interests (for example, donating some of his own bronze age finds to museums) and was an inveterate collector of “interesting things” (his prize possession was an original Edison phonograph and 450 cylinders, all in perfect working order!)

He found time for all this by avoiding the two major distractions that have shriveled many a promising musical career: he never married (though apparently something of a ladies man in his youth) and he never drank (he was a lifelong member of Fr. Cullen’s Pioneer Total Abstinence Association).
He probably began his piping career on the newly revived Irish War Pipes when still a boy. He participated in a Fèis in 1907 when he was only about 12 years old, and was already a “renowned” War Piper when he started teaching a local Pipe band in 1917 (with whom he seems to have played till the band closed down in the late 1940s). He seems to have learnt the Uilleann pipes later, making his first set in the 1920s because he couldn’t afford to buy one. His Uilleann playing style was apparently affected by his War Pipe background, one piper recalling his decorations as “warpipey”.
However, the fact he made  Highland, Lowland and Northumbrian pipes as well as the full range of Irish pipes (including the revolutionary new bagpipe of his youth,  the chromatic Brian Boru pipes) suggests his bagpipe enthusiasm went well beyond the confines of Irish music.
But where did he get the idea of making “Scotch Lowland Pipes”?  In his time neither the instrument nor the name figured much in the piping world’s consciousness, unlike the other pipes he offered.
The instrument was once played over a wide area of the British Isles, but by the mid-19th century it was little more than a minor adjunct to the expanding culture of Highland piping. By 1900 it was virtually dead outside a few pockets like rural Aberdeenshire, and remained so until the 1980’s revival, apart from the brief “Northumbrian Half-Long” revival. In fact, apart from P/M Robertson, who supplied the Northumbrian movement, I know of no-one else who offered the instrument between 1900 and 1975. [3]
We cannot say for sure where Keenan first encountered the instrument, but he would certainly have been aware of the Half-Long revival because of his friendship with fellow piper William Clarke of Ballybay, Co. Monaghan. Ballybay is only about ten miles from Shercock and Keenan is described as a “frequent” visitor to Clarke - and Clarke was a regular visitor to the Bellingham show in Northumberland and a friend of both Anthony Charlton and P/M Robertson, the team behind the Half-Long revival. The three of them featured on the famous “Pipes of Three Nations” record, Clarke paying the Uilleann Pipes, Robertson the Highland Pipes and Charlton the Northumbrian Small Pipes. [4]
According to his friend George McCullagh of Derryvalley, Clarke picked up a set of Half-Longs around 1926 and played them till his death in 1934, teaching McCullagh to play as well (see appendix). So Keenan could well have got his inspiration from Clarke. It is still rather striking, however,  that he called them “Scotch Lowland Pipes” instead of “Half-Longs”, the term used by the Northumbrians and hence by Clarke and McCullagh.
Over the years and in different areas this instrument has had a variety of names. The term “Lowland Pipes” seems to have been created by scholars in the late 18th century - its first appearance is probably in Tytler’s “Bagpipe” article for Encyclopaedia Britannica in 1777-8. The name was popular for several decades, but seems to have disappeared from general use around the 1840’s as the lowland pipe tradition was absorbed into a pan-Scottish GHB based piping culture - thus there is no reference to the instrument in Britannica from 1842. In fact pipe-makers continued to make the instrument up to about 1900 but they no longer called them Lowland Pipes, they marketed them as bellows-blown “Reel Pipes” - the "Lowland" title must have ceased to have real meaning in a Scotland where all now claimed the right to the GHB as a national symbol, and Highland pipers like Malcolm Macpherson now played the lowland instrument for dancing.
The reassertion of the term “Lowland Pipe” seems to have arisen in the early 20th century out of a growing interest in the history of bagpipes and their music - with antiquarians, folklorists, and music historians like Manson, Flood, Charlton, Askew, and Cocks. But they were essentially talking about historic instruments.  The name in common usage since the 1840s/50s seems to have been “Reel pipes”, while the 1920’s Northumbrian revival used the local term “Half-Longs”.
Perhaps as a literate revivalist operating within a culture of bagpipe enthusiasts, Keenan knew the “Scotch Lowland Pipes” and the “Northumbrian Half-Longs” were essentially the same instrument. This fact wasn’t necessarily as obvious back then as it is now, but he could have got this knowledge from Clarke with his Northumbrian contacts - NPS scholars like Charlton and Askew were in the forefront of researching the instrument in the 1920’s and 30’s. Having made the link, perhaps he preferred to market them as “Scotch Lowland Pipes” - in a mental world where every culture province was supposed to have a distinct bagpipe proper unto itself, maybe he felt this filled a void between Highland and Northumbrian Pipes. Possibly his Nationalist spirit revolted at calling them English, though he had no qualms about advertising the small pipes as “English Northumbrian Pipes”. Perhaps he preferred to make them with bass and two tenors rather than bass, tenor, and alto/baritone, and was following the ideas of Charlton and Askew who tended to make a dubious distinction between Half-Longs and Lowland Pipes on the basis of the drone arrangement.
Most intriguing of all is the possibility that he had an Irish market - that there lingered a tradition of playing this instrument in early 20th century Ireland, one that used the older Scottish name. The most likely group to harbour such a tradition would be the Ulster Scots. It’s a tantalizing thought for which I can offer no evidence, and it wouldn’t be easy to research. Ulster Protestant music and folk culture has never had the kudos of Irish music and culture: it has been generally ignored by the Irish and British folk revivals, and much of its music and lore has simply gone unrecorded. But if we view the Ulster Scots as a fringe Scottish community one might well expect them to be a bit behind the times and to host some antique cultural traits. There was certainly a Union Pipe tradition in the Ulster Protestant community well into the 20th century, long after its apparent disappearance in Scotland. [5]  
What is clear is that at some stage in his long career Keenan felt there was some sort of market for this instrument, or he wouldn’t have advertised it. Which leaves us with a whole series of unanswered questions.  How many sets did he actually make? Who exactly was buying them - and playing them? And are any of his Lowland Pipes still in existence?  [6]
Nowadays he is a little remembered figure. The only memories I could find beyond the sparse offerings on internet forums - mostly in response to my own queries - are purely local. The latest sighting is his inclusion in a 2009 talk to a local history group on “Local Characters” of Bailieborough. But in his lifetime he had a much higher profile and status than simply “local character”, as is clear from this obituary:

“Michael 0 Cianain of Glassleck, Shercock Co. Cavan, who has died, aged 84, was one of the oldest and best-known makers of Uilleann and other Irish bagpipes in the country. He was also a well-known bagpipe player and he exported his pipes to Australia, the United States and Britain. He also taught enthusiasts from Germany, France, Britain, as well as Ireland how to play the Uilleann pipes and he gave his last demonstration of  pipe playing at Cavan Trades Fair at Christmas. A leading member of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, he played on RTE television and radio on numerous occasions. “
But alas, no information on his “Scotch Lowland Pipes”, here or in the recollections of the few pipers and pipe-makers who still remember him.

APPENDIX: William Clarke’s Half-Longs
Whilst I don’t doubt that Clarke owned a set of Half-Longs, I have some doubts as to whether this was the instrument he taught George McCullagh.
The information about Clarke’s Half-Longs comes from extracts of an interview with McCullagh played during an RTE radio programme featuring Rab Wallace and his Lowland pipes, but mediated through articles in Common Stock and Musical Traditions. Possibly a full transcript of the interview would help clarify matters, but as it stands the available material suggests McCullagh was confusing the Half-Longs with the Northumbrian Small Pipes, which Clarke also played, made, and repaired.
“the instrument concerned was described as sounding rather like a practice chanter….‘it was nice for the house……nice little drones on them too, tenor bass and alto’.” (my italics)
This doesn’t sound like Half-Longs, certainly not a Robertson set which were notoriously loud and had a baritone drone. Possibly Clarke had one of Robertson’s prototypes, which had a different chanter and may have been quieter, possibly McCullagh was confused about the difference between alto and baritone drones, possibly the pipes were a quieter antique set, possibly the practice chanter comparison was not to be taken too literally. But if we do take this description literally it sounds much more like simple/early style Small Pipes than Half-Longs. The only reason for thinking these were Half-Longs is that McCullagh calls them that.
The Common Stock article states that McCullagh inherited Clarke’s Half-Longs and was still playing them at the time of the interview, but the Musical Traditions article only states he learnt to play them in Clarke’s house, makes no mention of current ownership, and implies McCullagh only “remembered” them, while all the quotes from McCullagh’s testimony talk about the instrument in the past tense. So he was probably talking about something from long ago.
Harry Bradshaw in the MT article writes:
“George McCullagh also remembered an unusual set of pipes which Willie had, the half-longs or Lowland pipes. This unusual instrument was a hybrid, a cross between the Uilleann Pipes and Bagpipes using a conventional bagpipe set, but having an elbow bellows rather than blowing them from the mouth. This instrument was the subject of a revival in Scotland at the turn of the 20th Century but sets are very rare in Ireland. George learned to play the instrument in Willie's house; ‘they were nice for a house, not as wicked a sound as the bagpipes’. ” (MT)
This is clearly describing Half-Longs,  and he even uses the alternative “Lowland Pipe” name. But this was written after the Rab Wallace programme by its producer - doubtless he got the “Lowland” name and probably his idea of what the instrument was like from Wallace. There is no indication anywhere that anyone had actually seen the instrument, and it is specifically stated in the Common Stock article that there was no recording of either Clarke or McCullagh playing it.
One thing we can be sure of: William Clarke will have known Half-Longs from Small Pipes. He was an  intelligent enthusiast who visited the Bellingham Show yearly, who played and made the Northumbrian Small Pipes himself, as well as the Highland, Irish War, and Uilleann pipes, and who knew leading Small Pipers like Billy Pigg, Archie Dagg and John Armstrong of Carrick, as well as the leading Half-Long experts of the time. I don’t doubt that if Clarke had a set of pipes he called Half-Longs, then that is exactly what they were, and the fact McCullagh used the name at all clearly suggests Clarke did own a set. Indeed, it’s doubtful if an eclectic bagpipe enthusiast and maker like Clarke could have resisted acquiring a set - the fact he is said to have got them in 1926, the year Robertson first introduced his, suggests early Robertsons. But while it seems highly probable that Clarke owned some Half-Longs, whether this was the instrument remembered by McCullagh remains open to question.
Notes [1] There is some uncertainty about who was first to start making the instrument again in the current revival, but it was probably Addison in about 1975, followed by Chris Bayley and maybe Colin Ross 1977/8. All these makers offered them initially as “Northumbrian Half-Longs”, though Ross at least may have sometimes sold them as “Lowland Pipes” in response to customer useage. Michael McHarg in Vermont may have been the first to advertise them as “Lowland Pipes” around 1980, followed by Grainger & Campbell in March 1982. During this gestation period a few individuals - notably Rab Wallace and Jimmy Anderson - also made their own sets, and some amateur makers like Brian Gumm in Northumberland appear to have made a few sets for others.  Research  is ongoing in this whole area, and hopefully will lead to a fuller and more accurate picture.
The inter-war Half-Long revival awaits a proper study. Robertson made his first sets in 1926, and from the trajectory of the movement as outlined in the NPS History and elsewhere I doubt if he made many, if any, after the mid-1930’s.
[2] One piper recalls that in the early 1970’s when a member of Na Piobairi Uilleann proposed a resolution against internment in Northern Ireland, and chairman Breandan Breathnach refused to allow it on the grounds it had no place in a musical organization, Keenan walked out of the meeting and had nothing to do with the NPU thereafter.
[3] Note the qualification “virtually”. The instrument probably never completely disappeared. Throughout the Victorian era it was used by some Highland Pipers as a secondary instrument, and there seem to have been scattered individuals playing throughout the 20th century, especially in north-east Scotland. And whilst the inter-war Northumbrian revival petered out it did leave behind a few players who were still active when the current revival began.
[4] See Common Stock Aug 86/Nov 87 re the “Pipers of Three Nations” disc and for a photo of Clarke, Robertson and Charlton at Bellingham. I have a copy of the 78 and can confirm that no one plays the Half-Longs on it, contrary to the statements in Common Stock and despite persistent optimistic rumours to the contrary!
[5] Though not, apparently, from Northern England.  Remnants of a Union Pipe tradition have been detected in east Lancashire in the early 20th century, and in North Yorkshire as late as the 1930s, though both sightings need properly following up.
[6] Regarding the quality of his instruments I find mixed messages. One piper comments: “I only ever saw one set of his [uilleann] pipes. I don't know how they sounded, but I thought them extraordinarily ill-finished”.  Pat Sky recalls: “There was a fellow in Rhode Island who had a set of his pipes. They were rather large and clunky based on the Taylor style.” And one piper who worked as Keenan’s apprentice in 1976 writes “ His pipes were quite Taylor-ish and the regulators were a bit bulky, being square and not turned except for the ends but the chanters were quite slim with dimples over the finger holes making then extremely comfortable to play.” All of which might imply that one man’s “ill-finished” was simply another man’s distinctive style. Certainly we have to consider that Keenan appears to have been a professional maker and player - at least there is no indication in any of the sources that he had any other career - and the reference to him being an Army contractor suggests at least reasonable competence, while one obituary describes him as a “meticulous craftsman” who took a year over each set of Uilleann pipes. SourcesTreoir, Marta/Aibreain (March/April) 1969; Iml. 10, 1978, Uimhir 2 & 3 (Vol 10, Nos. 2 & 3)
Anglo Celt, 12th January, 1946; 4th March, 2009
Bailieborough News, 25th March 2009
Common Stock, Vol. 3 No. 1 (Aug 1986) & No. 2 (Nov 1987); Vol. 16 No. 2 (Dec 2001)
http://comhaltasarchive.ie/system/documents/CPP/TRE-1978-2/TRE-1978-2.original.pdf http://comhaltasarchive.ie/system/documents/CPP/TRE-1978-3/TRE-1978-3.original.pdf