Irish Bagpipes (Brian Boru Pipe)

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  • Topic: Bagpipes, Great Highland Bagpipe, Uilleann pipes
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  • Published : April 9, 2002
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Irish Bagpipes (Brian Boru pipe)

The bagpipes have been a huge part of Irish music for many years. Today the bagpipe is synonymous with Scotland, but the pipes really came from Ireland. The earliest bag pipes date back to 4000 B.C. in the Middle East, where a bagpipe is found in Chaldean sculptures. This evidence shows it is ancient, certainly as old as the harp and nearly as old as the drum. Greeks, Egyptians and Romans all marched to the sound of the pipes to battle.

As for Ireland, a seventh-century account at the palace of Da Derg in Bohernabreena, County Dublin, lists people who came to pay homage to King Conaire the Great in 35 B.C., tells of nine pipers who came from the fairy hills of Bregia (County Meath), "the best pipe-players in the whole world," who are listed by name as Bind, Robind, Riarbind, Sihe, Dibe, Deicrind, Umal, Cumal & Ciallglind. The bagpipe was even given place in the Brehan Laws of the 400s. Here it is called the cuisle, meaning "the pulse," being a reference to the blood pulsing through one's veins. It's also in reference to the hum that comes from the drones. At the great Feis' held at Tara, the pipers occupied a prominent position. The pipes (called a cuisleannoch) were one of the favored instruments down to the last Feis that was presided over by King Dermot MacFergus in 560 A.D., there after Tara's Halls were silent.

After the Irish embraced Christianity, the bagpipe was used in church service to sustain the sacred chant or as a solo instrument. Depicted in one of the panels on the High Cross of Clonmacnois (dated about 910 AD) is a sculpture of a man playing a bagpipe standing on two cats. It is clear that the bagpipe existed in Ireland long before Scotland. The bagpipe is believed to have made its way to Scotland with the Dalradians upon their exodus from County Antrim across the Irish Sea at about 470 A.D., when Prince Fergus MacErc lead his clan in the invasion of the lands of the Picts at present Argyle.

The difference in the Scottish and Irish bagpipe is their name and the number of drones. The Scottish refer to their bagpipe as "the Great Highland Bagpipe," which today has three drones: one bass and two tenor. The Irish call theirs "the Great Irish Warpipe," which has two drones: one bass and one tenor. In Gaelic the bagpipe is called "Piob Mor."

By the eleventh century the bagpipe slowly lost favor with the upper and middle class in favor of the harp. Yet in two deeds, one dated 1206 and the other in 1256, both near Dublin, mentioned Geoffrey the Piper and William the Piper. Even though the upper class shunned the pipes, its music could still be heard among the working class, especially the military who used it on the battlefield. Unique to the Irish soldiers was that the pipers actually lead their men into battle playing the warpipes.

After the Normans came to Ireland in 1169, the Irish were forced to enlist its men into regiments to assist the English Kings in their wars. The Irish regiment marched to France in 1243 for King Henry III, and into battle they advanced to the sounds of their warpipes; as they did at Gascony in 1286-1289 under King Edward I, and into Flanders in 1297. In the following year, the Irish army was assigned to the English army at the Battle of Falkirk in Scotland against Sir William Wallace where the Irish marched into battle to the sound of the warpipes as the Scottish watched in amazement on the other side of the battlefield. It was at Falkirk that the Scotsmen saw the effect of the bagpipes upon the Irish soldiers and thereafter began bringing bagpipes into battle. The first mention of the Scots using their bagpipes in battle was at their victory at Bannockburn in 1314.

Just like in Falkirk, Irish pipers marched 6,000 men into the Battle of Crecy in France, which was fought in 1346. This Irish army contributed heavily to the English victory over the French. King Richard II delivered a silencing blow to the long...
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