Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers

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Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers

Post by tjnor » Wed Aug 05, 2015 11:40 am

I haven't seen much discussion of this, so I thought I'd start the topic. There is a new book by Colin Harper (with John McSherry) called (oddly enough) The Wheels of the World; but it is the sub-title that explains it all: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers. The book grew out of a proposal by John McSherry to feature some of his tune transcriptions along with a short biography and a shorter history of the pipes. He contacted music historian Colin Harper for assistance and soon, due to Harper's enthusiasm, the project ballooned into this 600-plus page work covering some of the major piping figures since the 19th century and much more.

It is filled with wonderful photographs, copious quotes from piping royalty, and some intriguing historical investigations. Although some of McSherry's transcriptions are included, this is not a book on piping technique but rather a history of some famous pipers and Irish bands, including sections on Ennis, Rowsome, Clancy, Doran, the Furey's, O'Flynn, and Keenan.

Part of the historical approach is to stress the role of the BBC broadcasts of Seamus Ennis and Leo Rowsome in creating broader interest in the pipes, and in paving the way for the inclusion of the instrument in the great bands of the 70s, and thence to its current worldwide appreciation. He suggests that Ennis and Rowsome were prophets without honor in their own country and needed to broadcast from abroad before the native Irish would embrace the pipes. Some may argue with this conclusion, but Harper makes a convincing case, and he includes the archival references to substantiate it.

I also enjoyed his debunking of the problematic name of our beloved instrument. The strange history of the word Uilleann as applied to the pipes needs to be better known.

Harper includes some early history, a good appreciation of Patsy Touhey, and a consideration of piping in Ulster. One of the best and necessary sections is the chapter devoted to the 50 year efforts of Brian Vallely in creating a piping and Irish music instrument school in Armagh. Although NPU is not slighted it is good to see Brian's stalwart efforts being recognized at length in this book.

Finally there has been some controversy over the book's seeming argument that the history of piping leads inevitably to John McSherry. Some have objected to one of the book's authors supposedly being so immodest. I think this can be forgiven once the account of the book's formation is understood, and also when it is understood that McSheery himself writes only one, autobiographical chapter. The rest is all Harper's work. Perhaps it would have been best to separate the two projects, but I wouldn't want to have missed this labor of love.

Here is a link to the book's website: http://www.thewheelsoftheworld.com/, and no, I have no financial or personal interest in the book's production. I'm just an admiring fan. The book is a paperback but it is printed on quality paper and on the cover is a priceless photograph of Seamus Ennis on pipes with Jean Ritchie on the recording equipment.

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Re: Wheels of the World: 300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers

Post by Mr.Gumby » Wed Aug 05, 2015 2:00 pm

a priceless photograph of Seamus Ennis on pipes with Jean Ritchie on the recording equipment.
The Pickow/Ritchie collection, including George Pickow's Irish Music photographs from their trip to Ireland during the 60s are part of the Pickow/Ritchie collection in the Hardiman library in NUIG and can be seen on the library's website : here.

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