300 Years of Irish Uilleann Pipers

One chanter, three drones, three regulators, thirteen keys, too many near-extinctions to mention and 300 years of heroes:  that, with a frisson of fairies on moonlit knolls, is the Irish uilleann (‘ill-in’) pipes. The Wheels Of The World presents an epic tale of triumph and survival, where the soulful heart of a nation has been kept alive across ages by a slender thread of guardians – blind men, eccentrics, self-aggrandisers, noble heroes, bloody-minded revivalists and at least three people compared to Jimi Hendrix. 

Uilleann piping is Ireland’s equivalent to the story of the blues in America, save that here the trail of legends and lore is richer and deeper by far. It is the sound of eighteenth century blues – a micro-tonal virtuoso machine wielded by misfits and geniuses, often one and the same.

This is the story of a continuum, from John McSherry, a 21st century luminary, backwards in time through his three formative heroes – Paddy Keenan, Liam O’Flynn and Finbar Furey – and thence to Séamus Ennis, Willie Clancy, Johnny Doran, Leo Rowsome, Patsy Touhey and a litany of unrecorded legends before them. It is also a snapshot of professional Irish traditional musicians, after the goldrush of the late 20th century, keeping calm and carrying on.

  • About the Book
  • About The Authors
  • Extract One
  • Extract Two
  • Facebook
A history of an instrument and its players, from the present day back through the dawn of recorded sound into Irish musical history, lore and legend.

Interviewees include Finbar Furey, Eddie Furey, Paddy Keenan, Liam O’Flynn, Andy Irvine, Bob Davenport, Dónal Lunny, Peggy Seeger, Martin Carthy, Paddy Glackin, Reg Hall, Michael McGoldrick, Brian Vallely, Bill Leader, Kevin Burke, Helena Rowsome, Patrick Sky, Wilbert Garvin, Neil Martin and many more. Research was carried out at: BBC Written Records Archive, Caversham; British Library, London; and Irish Traditional Music Archive, Dublin. Nearly 60 images, many unpublished, are included.

Colin Harper wrote professionally on music for The Independent, Irish Times, Mojo and other titles during the 1990s. He is the author of Dazzling Stranger: Bert Jansch and the British folk and blues revival (Bloomsbury, 2000; revised 2006 and 2011) and Bathed In Lightning: John McLaughlin, the 60s and the Emerald Beyond (Jawbone, 2013).

John McSherry has been a leading professional piper for the past 20 years.  A founder member of Lúnasa and Coolfin, he continues to tour internationally with his bands At First Light and The Olllam.

To buy John McSherry's music, please follow the link below:

John's latest album, "Ulaid" is available from the link below:

Extract 1: Séamus Ennis

The Wheels Of The World contains over 50,000 words on Seamus Ennis (1919-82), a legendary piper and storyteller, an authority on Irish folklore and one of the greatest characters in the history of Irish traditional music and broadcasting. Séamus was a full-time collector of traditional music for three institutions in his early life: The Irish Folklore Commission (1942-47); Radio Éireann (1947-51); and the BBC (1952-57). After this, he was a freelance broadcaster and musician, not well-adapted to a conventional lifestyle but a larger than life figure who became increasingly iconic in the Irish cultural world. He died in 1982, having become, as Andy Irvine noted, ‘almost like a god’.

Extract 2: The Bothy Band

Note: The extract below derives from a 17,000 word chapter on Paddy Keenan, one of the most exciting living pipers, whose recording career began with a solo LP in 1974 followed by a period of notoriety in Britain and Europe with The Bothy Band over the next five years, where extensive media coverage ranged from The Val Doonican Music Show on the one hand to the John Peel Show on the other. The Bothy Band made four albums and very little money, but – building on the BBC broadcasts of Séamus Ennis in the 50s and the popular folk club touring of Finbar & Eddie Furey in the late 60s – they gave the uilleann pipes significant visibility as an instrument outside of Ireland. The chapter includes fresh interviews with all five surviving Bothy Band members (1976-79): Paddy Keenan, Matt Molloy, Dónal Lunny, Kevin Burke and Tríona Ní Dhomhnaill. This extract begins with Kevin replacing Tommy Peoples in 1976.

Follow The Wheels of The World on Facebook - Spread the good word!                                                                                                                            

To subscribe to our mailing list for notification of events related to the book,
as well as the book's publication, go HERE