Píobaire, An, Volume 4, Issue 40, Page 10

Píobaire, An, Volume 4, Issue 40, Page 10


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Na Píobairí Uilleann
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Chairman, NPU
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Píobaire, An
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19of Reily’s other three instruments being‘punctuated with the dark chant of the Irishuileann pipes, whose warped notes andswirling drones blared out the slow lamentshoned by repeated defeats and the fast jigsthat induced a heady forgetfulness’.8The 1749 date of Reily’s letter has implica-tions for the history of the instrument in hishomeland. That he should be playing elbows-blown chamber bagpipes in that year accordswith the c1745 date of publication in Londonby John Geoghegan (a musician with ostensi-ble Westmeath connections) of the first tutorfor the bellows-blown pastoral pipes, a rela-tive of the uilleann pipes or possibly even amember of the uilleann pipes family.9The1749 date also accords with the Dublinappearance of a bellows-blown bagpipe withthree drones lying over the player’s left armin an undated (but post-1741 and pre-1753)landscape painting ‘View of Dublin fromChapelizod’ by the professional painterJoseph Tudor (fl. 1739–59).10The date of the letter extends the implicationsof recently adduced evidence that the uilleannpipes had reached such a degree of popularityten years later, in 1759, that they were beingfirst advertised for sale, in central Dublin, andthat within another eight years they werebeing advertised as manufactured there bymusical instrument makers who also pro-duced ‘Bassoons, Clarionets, Hautboys,German and Common Flutes... Birdpipes, andTaber-pipes’.11Reily had evidently acquiredhis instruments (which were all of types rela-tively new to Ireland)12from some such sell-ers or makers in Ireland earlier than thesedates and learned to play them before emi-grating. If this is the case, it indicates a yetearlier period for the selling or making of uil-leann pipes in Ireland: the mid-1740s at least.And it indicates that they had already becomepopular among the musically fashionable andformally educated there by that decade. Thisin turn implies that uilleann pipes had comeinto existence by the 1730s, if not earlier.The nature of the other instruments played byReily lends further support to speculation thatthe early morphology of the uilleann pipesmay have been influenced by that of the con-temporary German flute and oboe.Charles Lewis Reily is currently the earliestknown uilleann piper in America, and almostthe earliest known in Ireland.13There are sev-eral other extant references to Irish pipers inAmerica in the eighteenth century, earlier andlater, but it is generally impossible to be cer-tain whether they are players of mouth-blownor bellows-blown pipes. The next earliestcandidate for an uilleann piper in Americaseems to be an Alexander McCormick ofMorris County, New Jersey, who in 1766 wasdescribed as ‘a noted player of the Irishpipes’.14NOTES1 Richard E. Day, ed., Calendar of the Sir WilliamJohnson Manuscripts in the New York State Library(Albany 1909); James Sullivan, Alexander C. Flick,Milton J. Hamilton, Albert Corey, eds, The Papers ofSir William Johnson, vols 1–14 (Albany 1921–65)2 Reading O’Toole’s book brought me to these pas-sages. I am also obliged to Jim Dunne and LucyMcCaffrey of Albany, New York, who first broughtWilliam Johnson and Charles Lewis Reily to myattention, pers. comm., May 1989; and to SeánDonnelly for reading over this note and making use-ful suggestions.3 James F. Dunne, ‘O’Cahan, the Blind Harper ofJohnson Hall’, Folk Harp Journal no 59 (Dec. 1984):11; O’Toole (2005): 305-74 Sullivan, vol. 1 (1921): 242-5. I am obliged to theNew York State Library for a copy of the letter astranscribed by Sullivan. While I have not yet seen theoriginal letter, a later transcription of it (Kerby A.Miller et al. eds, Irish Immigrants in the Land ofCanaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial andRevolutionary America, 1675–1815, Oxford, NewYork, etc. 2003: 466-8) differs from Sullivan’s only inunimportant presentational details. The letter was ear-lier published, from Sullivan’s edition, by Vincent18More and more evidence has beenemerging in the last few years forthe early history of the uilleannpipes, which are now all of three hundredyears old. A recent sighting is in FintanO’Toole’s book White Savage: WilliamJohnson and the Invention of America (Faberand Faber, London 2005), a study of animportant eighteenth-century Co Meath-bornlandowner, soldier and trader in upper NewYork State. O’Toole draws on the papers ofSir William Johnson which were assembledduring the nineteenth and twentieth centuriesby the New York State Library and Archives.A calendar and transcriptions from them havebeen published,1and transcribed passagesincidentally throw some new light on theearly history of the instrument.2In 1749 the musically inclined Johnson, whowould later go to great trouble to bring a harp-er from Ireland to entertain him in New York,3received a letter written on 24 August in Latinand English (with a sentence in Irish) from aCharles Lewis Reily, a fellow-Meathman andfamily friend who seemed to have recentlyarrived in the new world.4Reily, also a car-riage-maker, was at the time a schoolteacherin Goshen, Orange County, New York, andhis teaching contract was about to expire. Hewished to visit Johnson in his home atMohawk Castle in Albany County and, itmust be inferred, find alternative employmentthrough Johnson’s patronage. In listing hisaccomplishments, Reily states:Varias artes excolere possum tales aedifica-tiones omnium generum vehiculorum, etLucro & Voluptati, ad hoc multa altera quibis-cum Solitudine memet recreo; tunc deindeSiquando fatigatus essem, canendo variismusiciis in[s]trumentiis, nunc tibiisUtricularibus nunc fistula germanica, tuncSambuca, tum Cithara Minore alliis cum quo[ word covered by seal] recreativa mihi Suntanimum remitto.5A note is appended to the Latin: ‘I’ll also ifyou please bring with me all my musicalinstruments Fiddle German flute Hautboy &Bagpipes’.6Reily then translates his Latininto English:I am able to practice various arts, such as theconstruction of all kinds of carriages, both forgain and pleasure; in addition, many otherthings with which I amuse myself in solitude;then again, if at any time fatigued, with play-ing various musical instruments, now the bag-pipes, now the German flute, then the haut-boy, then the violin – with other things when,as I engage in recreation, I relax my mind.7Given the genteel social associations of theother three instruments cited, and of the play-er, the bagpipes in question were undoubted-ly uilleann pipes, that is to say, the elbow-blown chamber bagpipes which first maketheir appearance in Ireland in the early eigh-teenth century. O’Toole certainly thinks thatthey were and speaks eloquently of the music~ Seanchas ~An Early Uilleann Piper in the New WorldNicholas Carolan
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Píobaire, An, Volume 4, Issue 40

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