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Responding to Paul Roberts’article on the possible origins of the uilleann pipes (Vol.1, No.2), PAT McNULTY, piper and a founder of the Glasgow-based Society of Union Pipers (SOUP!), takes issue with some points, while applauding the initiative.

I FOUND the article by Paul Roberts '‘Unravelling the history of the Uilleann Pipes' (Vol. 1. No. 2), to be fairly interesting and entertaining, but very speculative and misleading in some ways and inconclusive (not unexpectedly) in determining the details and dates of the origin of the Irish Union (or Uilleann) Pipes.

Most of his data and theories regarding the origin and development of the uilleann pipes revolve around the so-called "pastoral pipes", and, more specifically, Geoghan's tutor for this instrument; the tutor itself is rather scanty in information and indeed a lot of "reading between the lines" and guesswork is involved if reference to it is used. The statement that the name Geoghan is Scottish, has already been corrected in a previous issue of your journal where the writer pointed cut that it was of course an Irish name. Incidentally, I recall reading somewhere that the first edition of Geognhan's tutor was published in Edinburgh and not London.

Indeed, with reference to Geoghan's tutor itself, the fact that he calls it a "new" bagpipe, plus the fact that it contained mostly English music, aimed at an English audience (as Paul Roberts agrees) would to me indicate that it was an attempt to extend, or "improve" the already existing (and by then popular) Irish union pipes. Geoghan was obviously not acquainted with the union pipes, as his lack of references tc the regulators (which were certainly in existence before his tutor appeared) would indicate.

The scale (or fingering) charts given in Geoghan's tutor would not be applicable to the union pipe chanter as we know it, as Paul Roberts stated. The pastoral chanter is in effect the Irish union chanter with an extension added, which has a vent hole, therefore preventing the piper from obtaining the second octave, which he normally obtains by silencing the chanter momentarily and increasing the bag pressure, thus causing the chanter reed to overblow (second harmonic).

I feel that it would be unpractical and too time-consuming to discuss, in an article such as this, the various aspects of the physics/acoustics of these pipes, but I firmly believe that much of the development of both of these pipes (and indeed other pipes) can only be definitely and conclusively arrived at, (if at all) through studying the possible developments of the mechanics/physics of the instruments, since there is little written or documentary evidence to be obtained anywhere. I have in my possession a well made specimen of the pastoral chanter which I hope to study to see how it blows, works, tunes etc, but up till now I have not had sufficient time to really study it in much detail. Might I say here, in passing, that such researches into all older bagpipes should be made by those pipers competent to do so, and a conference arranged to present the findings, I feel strongly that the various societies now in existence, or being formed (eg. LBPS, Northumbrian Pipes Society of Union Pipers, etc) should get together regularly, not only for pipe music sessions etc., but for such scholarly or academic exercises as I have mentioned above.

However, to return to the evidence relating to the union pipes’ origins, Grattan Flood and Capt. F. O'Neil give several references to the playing of the union pipes in Ireland long before Geoghan's tutor appeared, A full set of union pipes, apparently made by the older Kenya about 1778, are to be found today in the Dublin Museum. It is an elaborate instrument, with double bass regulator, thus indicating that the union pipes were well developed by that date, and therefore I would say that the regulators must have been introduced many years before that date, allowing the normal passage of time (tens of years?) for the development of musical instruments,

There are several references to famous performers on the union pipes in the early part of the eighteenth century (e.g. Larry Grogan, Walter Jackson etc.). Indeed the first named, has been quoted as the person to have invested (or introduced) the regulator to Irish union pipes at that stage only one regulator; the middle, or baritone one, The second named piper of course is famed as a composer of Irish dance tunes, particularly jigs, e.g. ‘Jackson's Morning Brush'. Indeed the great Handel (whose tercentenary we celebrate this year) is said to have listened to an itinerant Irish piper while in Dublin in 1741-42, and noted down a tune from this paper which ne called ‘The Poor Irish Boy'. The Irish union pipes therefore were very much in vogue and well developed as a sophisticated pipe, as early as the first half of the eighteenth century, long before the era (nineteenth century) which Paul Roberts describes, curiously, as the period when the “union pipes became increasingly regarded as Irish".

Two other little points worth mentioning. The Irish union (or uilleann) pipes were also sometimes called the "Irish organ". This of course refers to the sound of the pipes (particularly the very old pipes which were pitched much lower than the present day pipes) when the regulators were used. Such references to the pipes were made as far back again as the early eighteenth century, indicating the developed status of the union pipes even then.

Secondly; the existence of keys on chanters -- it is not correct to say, as Paul Roberts does, that keys are not used much on Irish chanters even in the present day. Certainly most dance tunes can be executed without the use of keys, but the slow airs in many instances require the use of at least three keys. Unfortunately most pipers today shy away from slow air playing.In Irish airs, it is not really a case of sharps or flats, but these airs were written in modes, which in some cases, would be interpreted as flattening or sharpening notes in the “conventional keys" of G and D. However, again this is a subject too technical to go into in an article such as this.

The C natural in the second octave of the union chanter cannot be obtained by fingering, hence the reason this particular key is always present on the Irish chanter. As Paul Roberts correctly points out, Geoghan mentions in the preface to his tutor, that keyed chanters did exist, although he had not seen them. These would almost certainly be the multi-keyed union chanters which were in existence, as I've said, early in the eighteenth century.
I could not conclude, without mentioning the celebrated O'Farrell'’s ‘Treatise on the Irish Bagpipes’ (published in 1801), which gives instructions for playing the Union Pipes, I am surprised that Paul Roberts did not refer to his famous work. It even has a section entitled 'Of the use of the regulator’. Note the use of the work in the singular; as I said previously, initially the middle (baritone) regulator was the first to be played, and it is this one which O'Farrell describes.

In conclusion, I find it not only interesting, but refreshing, to see the LBPS raising the important and intriguing subject of the origins and development of the Irish union pipes, and I am grateful to them for doing so. It has been said before that there is little documentary data on these pipes anywhere, especially in Ireland, and this lamentable state of affairs continues down to the present day, where it appears that it has been left to people like the LBPS and even myself to not only research the origins and development, but sing the praises of this, the most sophisticated bagpipe in the world.