The history of Piping in Ireland extends over a span of many centuries, the earliest references being in ancient law tracts and annals. Some high crosses have carved depictions of early pipes (10th Century) and from the 15th Century onward references become more frequent. All of these pipes were mouth-blown instruments.
The “Big Pipes” The best known form of bagpipes is the mouth-blown “píob mhór”, Irish for “great pipes”, the “big pipes”. Scottish pipers often refer to the same instrument as the “great Highland pipes”.
The Uilleann Pipes The next most well known pipes are the bellows-blown “uilleann pipes”, developed after the big pipes, in Ireland. They are not blown by mouth, by by a bellows under the arm (“uilleann” is the Irish word for “elbow”) They are quieter and have a wider range (two octaves) than the big pipes. They are believed to have originated about the beginning of the 18th Century. No exact source of development has been found. The present form of the uilleann pipes,
with three drones and three regulators, came into being at the beginning of the 19th Century. Uilleann piping was at a height in pre-famine Ireland (pre 1847) and was not confined to any social stratum. Social changes in the second half of the 19th Century led to the decline in piping and by the beginning of the 20th Century the last of the old pipers were mostly destitute, finding refuge in workhouses. The latter half of the 20th Century into the 21st Century has seen a huge revival of uilleann piping in Ireland, the United States and in many other countries.
Explore the history of Irish piping
The following articles discuss the history of the píob mhór. They help show the great similarity between how the instrument was played in Ireland and Scotland before military and competitive influences were imposed on piping and how that diverted Scottish piping, in particular, from its traditional Gaelic roots.
- “The Monstrous Regiment”, introduction to “The Pipe Music of the Western People” by Thomas P. MacGloin
- “Quid Retribuam”, a forward to another collection by Thomas P. MacGloin
- “The Great Irish Warpipe, Forgotten Instrument of Ireland” by Garaidh Ó Bríain
- Bagpipes Always in Season on Long Island, by Philip O’Brien
- Subversion in Scottish Music – Liner Notes for “Stepping on the Bridge”, by Hamish Moore
- Allan MacDonald on the Gaelic Roots of Piping