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

The advent of the seventeenth century brought a new social order to Ireland. The O'Neill war had just ended and a general pacification of the people was now undertaken. As part of the plantation scheme, English customs were introduced to the young people. English dancing, music and language began to supplant the old Gaelic ways and customs. Ireland now became an indoor society and much less warlike. As there was no longer a need for loud instruments and bardic traditions, the harp and great drone bagpipe fell out of use. Young Irish people became more attached to the soft pastoral sound of the English Northumbrian and Scottish Border Pipe of the planters, which at this time, were both mouth blown. From these, a new mouth blown Irish pipe began to evolve.

The first change seems to have been in chanter construction. Evolving from conical to cylindrical bore, the foot joint was done away with and a unique Irish sound was developed. Early examples bear out these changes and show a marked resemblance to early pastoral pipes. Keys were added to the chanter in the very early nineteenth century.

Drones were an integral part of the "new bagpipe" since its inception. However, there is little documentary data on drone development anywhere, especially in Ireland. Geoghegan's tutor of 1746 shows two drones and a keyless chanter. A depiction by Hogarth of 1728, shows at least one drone.

The earliest reference to a bagpipe bellows is by Michael Pretorius, ca1619 in the "Syntagma Musicum". He describes a set of French bellows fed pipes with shuttle drones or tuning sliders. Small pipes, along with the keyed chanter, seem to have come to England and Scotland with traders from the Low Countries and France. The French bellows was soon adopted in the Border and Northumbrian pipe. The Irish copied it in turn.

The first regulator appears in the early nineteenth century, the shuttle drone of French provenance.

The evolution of the Uilleann Pipe benefited enormously from the Highland Society of London and gentlemen practitioners on the London scene. From the late eighteenth century, the H S L offered cash awards for "essential improvements" made to the instrument. By 1830, it had achieved its present state of development.

The term "union" was an invention of the London scene, just as "war pipe" was and began with the introduction of the London sponsored regulator, around the time of the "union" of the Irish and British Parliaments. The rebellion of 1798 in Ireland had just ended and Irish pipers to the H S L, in an effort to secure further employment, felt the necessity to demonstrate patriotism and approval of the British Government's manipulations. There were many military and civil officers in the ranks of the H S L.

There is no evidence for the expression Uilleann or "ellen" being used prior to the twentieth century, the Irish simply referred to it as "the bagpipe" or "the bagpipes". However, nationalism and romance required a new Gaelic association. We may be certain that the new Irish pastoral pipe is not ancient and was never associated with nor copied from the earlier Irish/Norman great drone pipe.

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