50 Years of The Armagh Pipers’ Club

uilleann pipes

No Catholic was employed above the level of junior clerk by Londonderry Corporation in 1966; no council  houses in the North and Waterside wards were allocated to Catholics, regardless of their circumstances;  Seamus Heaney ‘s first anthology of poems , ‘ Death of a Naturalist’ , was published by Faber; Gerry Fitt was elected as a Republican Socialist to represent West Belfast at Westminster; BBC Northern Ireland was a dour, Calvinist organisation  which  failed to report the faintest hint of  discrimination in its broadcast area; when asked by an old Derry republican,  I produced a pageant to celebrate the 50th anniversary  of the Easter Rising for a moribund Sinn Fein  ; Captain Terence O’Neill began to make positive noises   of sorts towards nationalists ; an 18 year old Catholic barman was murdered in Belfast by a UVF man, Hugh McClean,  who later said that his biggest regret in life was his involvement with the Rev Ian Paisley and his Gospel of hate.

Brian Vallely, a young artist who shared an interest in traditional music with his wife, Eithne ,  together  founded the Armagh Pipers’ Club in 1966 to encourage young children of all denominations to take an interest in learning an instrument, loosely associated with traditional,  Irish music.  Last night,  they celebrated 50 years of that hugely successful school in the Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, as part of  Celtic Connections. This was very much a family affair with Brian and Eithne joining the musicians onstage for a rollicking finale. Most of the particpants, close on 30 musicians, were  graduates of the Piping School or had close association to it. Included were sons  , Niall, Cillian and Caoimhín, who showed  their mastery respectively on concertina, pipes and keyboard. They were joined for the first half by the Anglo-Irish band, Flook, comprising  Sarah Allen on flute, Brian Finnegan, another Club alumnus,  on whistles  and the inexhaustible guitarist , Ed Boyd.  Folk aristocracy , Lunasa, led the second half  with their flautist, Kevin Crawford ,  demonstrating  considerable  skills as MC  with his dead pan humour – pipers fingering and warming their chanters   back stage provided   amusement for a very enthusiastic audience.This was a night to celebrate the achievements of Brian and Eithne and the musicians did that in superb  style and musicality with a succession of enchanting reels , jigs and the occasional vocal; for three hours, we were transported to an epic, sonic landscape of cultural sensuality. The concert was introduced by a Gaelic speaking native of Dungannon, Lynette Fay, who  works for  the BBC and is currently making a documentary on the Pipers’ Club.

The BBC is inching towards change.

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