Paying the piper

TWO Laois men - Joe Walsh and Paddy Hyland - are set to be be part of an exciting new training programme to produce a new generation of uileann pipe makers that should guarantee participants a job for life.

TWO Laois men - Joe Walsh and Paddy Hyland - are set to be be part of an exciting new training programme to produce a new generation of uileann pipe makers that should guarantee participants a job for life.

On Wednesday June 27, Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan opened Pipecraft, a workshop and training facility dedicated to uilleann pipemaking at Clonshaugh in Dublin. The centre will be home to Ireland’s first-ever school of instrument-making and the will form craftspeople in the art of making this iconic, Irish, wind instrument.

Spearheaded by Na Piobairi Uileann (NPU), the Society of Uileann Pipers, and supported by Leader/Rural Development Companies from Laois, Donegal, Meath, Carlow and Fingal this first full time course in the craft involves ten trainees from several parts of Ireland including the two Laois natives.

The aims of Na Piobairi Uileann are to perpetuate the spirit of the music, in particular the playing of the pipes and the production and maintenance of the instrument itself. To achieve these aims the single most important facet of the Society’s activities is the teaching of the uilleann pipes, especially to young people.

Given that customers can expect to wait up to seven years for a new set of pipes it is hoped this three year course will produce pipe makers ready to respond to the crying international demand for uileann pipes.

A spokesperson for Na Piobairi Uileann explains that the the instrument has been produced by Irish makers since the mid-18th century. When the renowned piper and pipemaker, Leo Rowsome, died in 1970 he was the only craftsman in the world working fulltime producing instruments for less than 100 uileann pipers globally. Currently there are in excess of 60 makers around the world supplying instruments to over 6,000 players in over forty countries.

The majority of these makers are based abroad – in Britain, Canada, the USA, Europe and Japan. With the result that the identity of the craft and an instrument are in danger of being lost to this country. The craft of uilleann pipe-making is particularly intricate involving a comprehensive range of skills including wood-turning, engineering and metal forging, leather-work, reed-making and musicianship.

According to Anne Goodwin of Laois Partnership Company Pipecraft is a perfect project for Leader funding, “As far as the Leader groups are concerned funding the training at Pipecraft ticks all the boxes in the the rural development remit of our companies:  it involves the preservation of our heritage,  innovative training but most of all job creation and import substitution.”

Ms Goodwin explains that the investment by the Leader companies in each trainee over the three years comes to approximately €36,000.

The opening of Pipecraft will also mark the launch of a concerted fund-raising campaign by NPU to make up the current funding shortfall of €40,000 (€120,000 in total) in each of the next three years in order to deliver on the full programme of part-time and full-time courses. Along with the involvement of the NPU and the Leader companies the project is supported by the Arts Council, the Crafts Council and Minister Deenihan’s Department.