The Concise History of the Bagpipe
The Concise History of the Bagpipe in Ireland

Published winter issue 2006/7
Military Historical Society

Some thoughts on Irish Piping

By Frank Timoney

It is generally accepted today, that the Roman army introduced their bagpipe, the Tibia Utricularis, to the British Isles and other countries such as France, Spain, the Balkans etc. In England, it really caught on and several English variants of the Roman instrument came into being.

As far as is known, the Irish never took to the instrument, although it is felt today, that Rome invaded and conquered the country, the pipe never caught on. We know that in Britain, the Irish lived amongst the Roman army as victualers and that some lived with the Celtic tribes in England. Some actually invaded both camps. Still, the instrument seems to have been avoided, although it seems to have been worshiped by the tribes in England, who began to place depictions of the tibia on statues of Roman gods, such as the second century altar to the god Atys, unearthed in Gloucester.

The earliest Irish mention of the bagpipe is in 1206, approximately thirty years after the Anglo-Norman invasion. Obviously the instrument began to catch on in Ireland but as to whether it was the English or French variant, is anyone's guess. It certainly was not the Scottish Great Highland pipe, the Piob Mor, because that instrument had yet to work it's way up from England. Both England and France used the bagpipe in processions, church services, and festivities. The first pictorial representation of the native Irish mouth blown pipe is in 1578 and it shows a two-drone pipe much like both the English and French instruments.

The instrument fell out of use by the Irish after the O'Neill war ca. 1590.  The Irish now became an indoor society where the use of a loud instrument was no longer needed. It is felt that the Irish piping tradition was never very strong because of the ease with which the Irish gave it up. At any rate, they were now introduced to the English Northumbrian or pastoral pipe, which they managed, by the nineteenth century, to modify into their own bellows fed Uilleann Pipe.

Around 1880, a new Gaelic awareness began to hit Ireland. A Celtic twilight instituted mainly by Anglo Irish residents. The country began to look for ties to other Celtic countries, and Scotland seemed to hold the greatest appeal. The Irish began to reason, that since they had settled the north of Scotland, the Scottish traditions were actually theirs!  Onto the great stage of myth stepped the Royal Tyrone Fusiliers, a militia Bn. Of the 27th Royal Inniskilling Fusaliers, and one William O'Duane of Belfast. O'Duane invented a weird pipe he called the Dungannon. Most people today feel he hated pipes, because the instrument was utter junk! The Royal Tyrone Fusiliers felt the time had come for a pipe band in their regiment. Many "experts" in the regiment convinced the young Anglo Irish officers that it was only right for an Irish regiment to adopt the pipe, since Scotland really adopted Irish culture and traditions. So the old flute band was thrown over, and the flautists informed they would shortly become "pipers".

There was no thought given to the art of Scottish piping, which is produced by the middle joints of the fingers. When the flautists began "playing", they did so with the tips of the fingers, which prohibited the execution of Scottish finger movements. Every note was played with an equal duration of the proceeding note, which produced a very un-Scotish, un-crisp, round sound. But this was of little concern, going on to plague Irish piping until the 1980's. What was of the greatest concern, was what uniform would be worn! So it was decided to adopt the Scottish kilt, which remember, the new experts felt to be rightly theirs.  But what colour would it be?

Well, the conclusion was reached that tartan was out of the question. So experts of the Tyrone's searched the books only to find that the ancient Irish used "saffron"to stain their garments. But this produced a very yellow colour, exactly the same as was represented by the Fenian segment of the population. So brown was added to the dyestuff, the Royal Tyrone's called it saffron and Bob's your uncle, the Irish had their first pipe band and the army it's first Irish pipe band.

At this time, we must step back into the ancient world. Saffron, taken from the stigma of the autumn crocus, is not indigenous to the British Isles. It had to be imported at a very great expense, and no one in Ireland could afford it anyway. Around 1581, one Vincentio Galileo (Galilei's father) did a report for the Venetian Doge. He was somewhat like the Doge's man in Havana, Ireland being part of his assignment. He reported back to Venice all he noted about the Irish, including their mode of dress, the colour of which, he called saffron. At the time, the only person in Europe who could probably afford saffron was a Venetian. To Vencentio Galileo, the Irish colour looked like that obtained from saffron. English writers and soldiers soon picked up the term, so that a new piece of mis-information was added to Ireland's supposed dress tradition.

Around 1900, a most ingenious businessman entered the stage and began to create his own Irish myth. Mr. Henry Starck, a London manufacturer of musical instruments and of Jewish persuasion, saw a brilliant business opportunity. His ancestors had come over to England with Handel to produce woodwind instruments. Henry was in partnership with one William Ross, Queen Victoria's piper. Ross was a big figure in the Scottish piping world, supplying all her majesty's Scottish regiments with pipes, etc.  Around 1900, he passed away and his partner Stark took over the business. Starck was no fool. He saw a new market and in 1902, took out a patent with O'Duane for a new Irish chanter that allowed a full chromatic scale with four keys! Starck's next step in 1908 was the publishing of a tutor for the new Brien Boru pipe. He took a step further, going to all the Irish infantry regiments, convincing the young Anglo Irish officers that by "tradition", they needed a pipe band. He, by dint of good fortune, had all the "ancient " measurements of the "ancient" Irish mouth blown bagpipe, as well as the "ancient" details of "correct" Irish dress.

The young Anglo Irish officers fell for it, no questions asked. However, there was a great cry of disapproval from the older Irish officers who missed the auld flute bands and lovely Irish tunes. "Aping the Scot" was their unheard cry because the English CO was totally enamoured with the Celtic "revival" going on, and felt his regiment needed a little more gregarious panache, as much the same as the Scots regiments had. By now, one of the first things the newly formed regiment of guards did was to form a pipe band. Some said the new regiment should even be kilited! What everyone overlooked, was the fact that their was no native Irish music specifically composed for the mouth blown pipe, so that new keyed chanter fit the bill quite well. Starck's son A.H went on to become "instructor" to the London Irish Rifles pipe band.

So there we have the "ancient" tradition of Irish mouth blown piping. All that was now needed was the printed word to make it all puncture proof.  Up to the wicket stepped Dr. W.H. Gratton Flood who, in 1911 published a totally false "Story of the Bagpipe". It had became necessary to refute Scottish Highland piping culture, in order to give the new, "ancient", Irish "piping" effort an older and greater history. Ireland became Scotland's teacher! This Flood successfully accomplished and his book of fantasy is eagerly sought after today in Ireland, America and Australia. Archibald Campbell, in his additions to The Notices of Pipers, reminds us that, in an attempt to give piping in Ireland some kind of pedigree which it never had, Flood invented a whole history for the instrument and presented his entire package with a marked prejudice against the Scottish Highland Pipe. The Royal Irish Fusiliers fell for it, hook, line and sinker. In 1924, their regimental newspaper, "The" Faug A Ballagh", contained articles from the sergeant's mess and pointed out a new fiction, that Irish piping was headed for great things, until the 1366 Statutes of Kilkenny put the Caedbosh on it, and that  caused the Irish to "forget" their piping tradition. By now, the newly invented Irish "piping" had come under the scrutiny of Scottish piping circles, but sadly went on.

Today, however things are much brighter for Irish regimental piping thanks to the efforts of the Army School of Piping and the Piobaireachd Society.  The old Brien Boru pipes and the keyed chanter have been chucked out (hopefully, burned at the stake). Three droned pipes have been issued or purchased for all Irish regiments and Irish regimental pipers now play with more expression, using Scottish finger movements. Thankfully, some have even begun to play Piobaireachd, the great classical music of the bagpipe.

By the way, no one in Ireland or Scotland ever referred to the mouth blown bagpipe (the Piob Mor) as a "war pipe". It was sixteenth and seventeenth century English writers who first used the expression and with such continued persistence as to lead one to speculate that the instrument possibly was known in England, in earlier times, as a war pipe. But this is still a complicated subject, inclined to bring some to tears and some to their fists!


The Piping Times
The Traditional and national Music of Scotland by Francis Collinson
The Bagpipe by Francis Collinson
Irish Archaeology Society
Journal of the Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, volume 48, 1918
Irish Music, A Fascinating Hobby by Captain Francis O'Neill ca. 1911
Irish Regiments by RG Harris
Journal of the Society for Army Historical Research, #82, 1942
History of Highland Dress by JT Dunbar
The Piobaireachd Society

Interviews by the author during late 1950's with many ex-army Irish regimental pipers from the 1914 period and prior. Much to their credit, these old boys (contemptibles) never went back to the flute after their military service. They continued with the pipe and were much the backbone of the Irish piping scene. Their good natured humour made them a great pleasure to be with. To a man however, they continue to play with the tips of their fingers and with a minimum of graces notes some forty years after their introduction to the instrument.

Published Spring 2007
By MHS in response to members questions regarding

"Some Thoughts on Irish Piping"

By Frank Timoney

We now know that the bagpipe is not Celtic in origin and owes nothing to the Irish or Scots, although, the Scots perfected it composing a classical musical form for it. The Uillean (or pastoral) pipe was never called a "parlor pipe". This term refers strictly to Scottish Lowland pipes. The old "war pipe", a disgusting, degenerative term, goes back only to the twelfth century in Ireland, in highland Scotland, approximately the fifteenth century.

It does indeed seem that the old English "war pipe" (which the Irish seem to have copied) had a very long flat pitched chanter, which produced a louder sound. There was no persecution of the instrument in Ireland and it was never proscribed in Scotland except by the Presbyterian Kirk in the Highlands. In the Lowlands town, laws proscribed it, during plague.

Regarding Irish regiments, pipers were not attached to companies prior to 1918. Scottish military practice seems to be romanticised here. The invention-not revival- of Irish piping goes back only to ca1900. Grattan Flood invented the date of 1859. The tradition of military pipe bands in Scottish regiments only begins ca1849, the first civilian pipe band, The Govan Police, is ca1883.

There was no such thing as a "great" (mouth blown) "pipe", or "Irish pipe", played in Ireland after the eighteenth century. Obviously, as time went on, piping had a few adherents in Ireland as one would find in Mozambique today. But by far, it was dead. During the mid-nineteenth century, there were makeshift contraptions that emulated a gimmick Uillean and Highland pipe sound. Scottish manufactures are known to have been producing gimmick instruments at this time for the Irish emigrant market. Neither pipers of the period, nor we today, had or have any idea as to what the original Irish mouth blown instrument sounded like. By mid-nineteenth century, it was dead for over a hundred and fifty years.

People claiming possession of a model of the sixteenth century Irish Piob Mor had no doubt an invented product from the workshops of Mr. William Ross and Henry Starck. In 1910, the only difference between Highland pipes and the new, "old," Irish "war pipe," was one drone. In any case, it did not much matter because the piping "abilities" of the new Irish regimental adherents produced nothing but squeaks, screeches, and squawks. It was said that the new "old", two-droned pipes were louder than three-droned pipes. This indeed seemed to be the case in the 1960's when tests were performed.  The difference seemed to come from the fact that Irish regiments had a more simple dress, and fewer accoutrements to absorb the sound.

It wasn't the pipe major to the London Irish Rifles that produced the new un-musical keyed chanter, but his father. By the way, Henry Starck produced pipes of far superior quality to pipes made in Scotland.  Each projection mount was threaded and fit exactly, as opposed to the hemp and glue still used in Scotland today. Starck patented the newly invented "Brien Boru" pipe, and the new-keyed chanter. He and O'Duane seem to have entered into a limited partnership.

The scale of the Highland pipe is not "restricted" in any way. It admirably suits the music composed for it. Anyone trying to play music out of its range should simply adopt a tin whistle.

National Irish dress died hundreds of years ago. It has never been resurrected. If we did so, it would be cloaks covering hides! The national dress for Irish pipers is Scottish! Hibernian dress is a myth created by Starck, English CO's, and Scottish manufactures.

Regarding the business of "full dress", it is here that we find the one item, which is Irish, the Brat of ancient Ireland or the cloak of the Irish Guards and Royal Irish Fusiliers. The cloak and the caubeen are about the extent of it, the cloak being far older.

It must be remembered that when the Celtic revival first hit Ireland, most of its adherents were Anglo-Irish. The common folk detested the loud bagpipe, as many do to this day. Out of dear old dirty Dublin came an unpleasant quip, "The definition of a gentleman, is one who can play the bag pipe, but doesn't!" Perhaps the greatest form of admiration is emulation.

Published summer 2007
Response to member's questions regarding

"Some Thoughts on Irish Piping"

By Frank Timoney

Standish O'Grady was a romanticist poet of the late nineteenth century, who knew nothing of ancient Irish dress. His prejudicial statement that Highland dress was derived from old Irish dress was utter nonsense.

There is no tradition amongst the ancient Irish of wrapping a garment around the body. Indeed, the origin of Irish dress seems to be based on that of ancient Rome. The 1947 publication "Old Irish and Highland Dress" by H.F. McClintock, makes this point clear. In Rome and in her empire the Leine was the tunic; the Brat was the hooded cloak. The Leine was never dyed in saffron. The word chroich was never used in conjunction with the word Leine. It is a corruption of the word crotal, which in Gaelic means lichen. This would clearly give a more correct picture of the dyestuff used to colour the Leine. Chroich or croich has no meaning! The Brat or Brath was never folded or worn over a single shoulder. It was worn over both shoulders like a shawl, fastened on the chest with a brooch. There is no Gaelic word for kilt nor is there one for tartan, so that breacan an fheille would translate as a spotted wrap, not a tartan kilt. (At this point we would do well to burn Flood's book.) The Highland dress that was proscribed in 1746 no way resembled the Brat or Leine. Did it really suffer? Thanks to the army, I think not. By the way, the Celtic language was most definitely spoken in Western Scotland long, long before the fifth century AD.

The bagpipe in the British Isles was never banned by any government. That is to say in Scotland it was not banned in 1715 or 1746. In Ireland, neither Elizabeth nor Cromwell nor the Statutes of Kilkenny ever abolished the playing of pipes. Cromwell may well have targeted Irish pipers in much the same way and for the same reasons that the Hun Army of 1914 targeted Scottish pipers, but no one ever really put a ban on piping except for the Presbyterian Kirk!

Yes, Scottish Lowland regiments went into tartan in 1881, but they had to be led into it by a nose ring because even as late as 1881, tartan was considered in the Lowlands to be the dress of a thief. Playing off the right shoulder seems to have been, once upon a time, the preferred manner of playing a set of pipes. This had nothing to do with wounds, but probably a desire to free up the top hand of the performer, removing bag pressure on the Edre and Crunluath movements.  The statement that at the battle of Falkirk, the Scots realised for the first time the potential of the mouth blown pipe is an interesting one. I think it is an Irish prejudicial statement, no doubt from Flood. There is certainly no reputable reference anywhere or evidence to support it. Nor is there evidence to support the claim that the Scots first used the mouth blown pipe at Bannockburn. Also, there is nothing restrictive in the scale of the Highland pipe chanter, which by the way is pitched in B flat, not A. The mouth blown bagpipe is quite capable of producing the lovely tunes written for it, especially Piobaireachd, its classical form of music.

We must also, at this time, do away with the insulting sobriquet "war pipe"! The claim that the Irish mouth blown pipe was unsuitable for military use and that its use declined as being too cumbersome due to its drone and chanter length sounds Floodian and as such is total rubbish! These very same characteristics have permitted the mother of all mouth blown bagpipes, the Italian Zampognia, to flourish till this day!

Major Doyle of the 87th advertised for pipers in September 1793 in a Dublin newspaper without mentioning the intention of forming any kind of band. On the 2 of November, the same paper advised that a band was formed. However, we do not know how successful it was or how long it lasted, apparently not very long, as the regimental history is void on the subject. The claim that the pipers were attached to companies and financed by Doyle's C.O. is confusing the Scottish system. Irish regiments may have always had lads that could give a wee blow; however they were certainly never classified as duty pipers, company, or regimental pipers until after 1918.

Regarding the sixteenth century Irish mouth blown pipe, as of today, we have no idea of its music, what it looked like, nor of its pitch, which must have been quite flat due to its length. Perhaps Grattan Flood held the answer to this mystery.

Nevertheless, of course we do know one man who laid claim to that knowledge and that was Mr. Henry Starck, who was not pipe major of the London Irish Rifles although, he gladly sold his spurious designs, the spurious designs of others, and his inventions to the gullible Irish regiments. Starck had nothing to do with the development of the Dungannon type of bagpipe. He simply manufactured it and also made a two-drone pipe he called the "Brien Boru" using Scottish measurements. He patented along with one William O'Duane, a keyed chanter on which one could "play" tunes that were not in the compass of the Highland chanter. He sold his pipe with either type of chanter desired.

In SUMMARY, it is clear that Scotland owes nothing to Ireland for its dress or piping traditions and that mouth blown piping has nothing to do with Irish musical tradition. It is all a myth copied from the Scots. What makes this myth grow is the countless, continuous deluge of spasmodic and confusing articles based on Celtic romance by people who acquire "knowledge" overnight. Did Scotland and Ireland influence each other? Yes, probably as much as England influenced Ireland or France, Scotland, although not in piping. The Irish clan system died in the fifth century AD. Never, never ever had they an association with tartan. Irish tartans are a myth created by the Scottish tartan industry for overseas customers with money and little else.

Another book of interest might be "Early Medieval Ireland 400-1200" by Daibhi O'Croinin, Longman, 1995. For further details on some of my statements, readers could contact the College of Piping, 16-24, Otago Street, Glasgow G12 8JH and also subscribe to their monthly publication, "The Piping Times".

Great PipeScotlandRome/Ancient WorldPiobaireachdIrelandWar PipeUilleann PipeSaffronReferences