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The Bagpipe Society


Dear John,

I am not sure how many of the

readers of Chanter also take the Times Higher Education but for those who don’t subscribe I thought they might be interested in the following picture which appeared in the 13-19th October 2011 edition.

Rather surprisingly it accompa-

nies an article on the question of

whether some students who have been

found guilty of plagiarism are being

punished too harshly. Now I’ve al-

ways thought myself as being on the

“tough but fair” wing on this issue but if there are institutions who subject the guilty to torture by bagpipes made out of stool legs as illustrated here (are they an EMS proto- type?), my sympathies lie with the student. I’d be interested in whether there are any lip readers out there who can tell me what the chap in the pillory is shouting.

Best wishes, Clive Matthews

Dear Mr Tose,

Thank you for the article ‘Bagpipers in the Dock’ by Clive Matthews in the

current edition of CHANTER. I quite agree with him that he was right to re-present these Old Bailey cases involving pipers which I had presented in an AN PíOBAIRE arti- cle as ‘Uilleann Pipers at the Old Bailey 1802–1834’ in 2005 (vol. 4, no. 30, by the way, not no. 25), given his addition of commentary, paraphrase and visual illustrations.

Since my use of the term ‘uilleann pipers’ seems to cause some difficulty, I thought it would be helpful for mutual comprehension among people writing on the in- tertwined piping traditions of our two islands to say how the term is understood currently in Ireland, in speech and in print.

Simply, ‘uilleann pipes’ is generally used here now as a standard short-hand term for Irish bellows pipes played in any period and in any place. And it is reasonably assumed that bagpipes played indoors by Irish people in the nineteenth century are bel- lows pipes, even if there is no explicit reference to bellows. Such indoor pipes were played in Ireland since at least the early eighteenth century, and played by Irish pipers in Britain since at least the 1750s, and there is no eighteenth-century or later evidence that mouth-blown bagpipes were played indoors in Ireland as they were in Scotland. The first word is now spelled with a double l and a double n, following the long-term practice of the organisation Na Píobairí Uilleann.

The term is of course a twentieth-century one, introduced in 1903, and one which did not gain universal currency until about the 1950s, so it is a back-projection.

But a short-hand term is needed so as not to have to go into endless refinements every time about the terms actually used before and after 1903: ‘Irish (bag)pipes’, ‘Irish organ (bag)pipes’, ‘Irish union (bag)pipes’ and so on. The need for short-hand is especially felt in article titles. I’m currently up to 15,000 words in an article on the terminology used for Irish bellows pipes, over four centuries and four continents, so the full story is a tan- gled one.

Best wishes, Nicholas Carolan Director, Irish Traditional Music Archive 73 Merrion Square. Dublin 2



I have been giving some thought as to how the proposed International Bagpipe Day might becelebrated in this country.

When I started playing in Ely, I decided that I would be accompanied by collec- tors for a local charity. My daughter, an accountant, advised me not to set this up myself but to have people from an existing charity with me, so that I never actually handled the money. This is to avoid all sorts of problems with tax and not being a registered charity etc.

I was surprised at first to discover that local charities were very loathe to take part in this, they were not interested in collecting. However, whilst on the point of abandon- ing the enterprise, I discovered my local group of Community First Responders. For those who are not familiar with these groups, They are first on the scene, before the Am- bulance, at Road Traffic Accidents and Heart Attacks. These folk, although being now operated by our local Ambulance Trust, which is part of the NHS. However, despite this, they are not fully funded and are required to raise their own money for the life-saving kit they require. These folk are very keen on collecting and during my last financial year, both on my own and with my ‘waits’ type band, ELY PIPER’S NOYZE , just over £1600 was collected - this being the amount required to buy a Defribrillator, which is the most expensive item of equipment that they


What I am proposing for next March is this:

Contact your local Ambulance Sta- tion or Doctor’s Surgery and ask to be put in touch with your local group of Commu- nity First Responders. Tell them that on March 10th. you are going to be playing somewhere with a heavy foot-fall (you choose) so that there are plenty of potential donors. Invite them to join you with their jolly ‘high-viz’ jackets and collecting buck- ets. When this is an unqualified success, tell them that you will do it on a regular basis!

This would be a wonderful way to celebrate the instrument we all love to play and would also raise money for a very worthy cause.

I shall be out doing this on that day and I commend it to all other members. I at- tach a picture including collectors and Ely’s Town Crier.

Dear John,

Outside bagpiping, one of my interests is seeking

out folk tales and curiosities in my local area. Recently I came across a, frankly poorly told, story of a ghost bag- piper that is supposedly seen by drivers on the M6 as they pass by Sandbach. A local tale tells how a group of Scot- tish soldiers were massacred as they passed through that town on their return from the Batttle of Worcester. Of course being Scottish there has to be a bagpiping ghost to mark the event…

This got me thinking about just how common bag-

piping spectres are. There are plenty of tales of pipers

meeting with the supernatural, usually fairies, but I hadn’t

realised how often the bagpipers are ghosts themselves.

When you start looking there are loads. I readily found

some examples amongst my folk tale collections and the

briefest of searches on the internet threw up plenty more. In popular culture phantom pipers have cropped up in The Avengers, the Haunted Mansion at Disneyworld, Scooby Doo (of course), several children’s mystery books and an episode of the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes series was called ‘The Haunted Bagpipes’!

It would seem no self-respecting Scottish castle is without a bagpiping ghost and even Osborne House on the Isle of Wight claims to have a phantom Highland piper which we are assured is the ghost of Queen Victoria’s companion John Brown. Up in Durham we’re told the prison cell below Elvet Bridge where Jimmy Allen breathed his last still echoes to the sound of his Northumbrian pipes, despite now being a nightclub which is, at least, named after the notorious piper and rogue.

So, what is it about bagpipes that make them such a popular instrument amongst phantoms? Perhaps it’s something in the wailing of a chanter over a drone that evokes the supernatural, or maybe it’s just too established a cliché. I wonder if any other Bag- Soc members have tales of ghost pipers?

Best wishes,

Tony Pearson

All the best, Tom Hughes