I write from my room overlooking the Irish Sea. Just north of Dublin. I’m here for the All Ireland Solos. Two hundred and one pipers and drummers. Yes, that’s right 201 and not a penny in prizemoney. The record entry is split 55-45% in the pipers’ favour.
By Robert Wallace
John Wilson and I are picked up by the Irish Pipe Band Associations’s Vice President Seamus Russell. A fiddle with the the sat-nav and we are at the the Shoreline Hotel near a Martello Tower one of those round structures built to forewarn of Napoleon’s invasion that never came.
At the meal Liam Og O’Flynn enters the conversation and Paddy from Dublin agrees with me: Liam was a true giant of the uillean pipe. (Who would declaim?) Paddy tells us that Seamus Ennis in his final illness bequeathed his pipes to Liam. Why? asked someone at the time. ’Because the man can play them,’ said Seamus.
There’s a reluctance in the republic. They don’t truly, completely, get the great Highland pipe. Yet they’ve had ‘war-pipes’ on the go at least as long as the Scots. When SLOT won the Worlds in 2010 not even a civic reception, no ticker tape in O’Connell Street. Still, the IPBA are working hard encouraging teaching and examinations. But there is no paid instruction in Irish schools. Terry and Alun Tully do it for free in the evenings.
As we supped our stout here was Johnny Sheehan, Secretary of the IPBA, telling of his time in the 60s when his band in Tralee inherited old regimental kilts from the Black Watch and Gordons, regiments stationed in Ireland pre-independence. Amazing to think that these kilts were still doing the rounds 50 years after these regiments had left. Paddy said his mother, fed up with the clutter, tried to burn the BW kilt but the thick material wouldn’t catch.
Piobaireachd features large in today’s competition though Seamus tells me that the stewarding was a short straw situation. I’m only one below the junior tenor drummers in the food chain. I’m just glad they’re putting on the stuff. It still doesn’t feature in the overall prize, that going to the MSR winner. John and Terry Tully will judge – sitting separately no conferring, summary sheet published later. The scrutineers will be out in force!
Next year’s All-Ireland band contest will be held nearby at a splendid estate at Newbridge House (4th of July, 2020). For now it’s off to Lusk National School and a day of ceol mor, 14 in the seniors and 12 in the juniors. That’ll do.
- Check later for results.