Hello and welcome to the website. Originally set up to promote a CD Take me Tender which I launched in 2013, I have added a page advertising my availability to play for wedding ceremonies. Please click on that part of the menu if that is the section you are looking for.
My thanks to all those who went to the trouble of contacting me about the CDs. Making a recording can be quite an ordeal, both physically and emotionally, and this project has been a long time in the bag so to speak. My special thanks to wonderful piper Ronan Browne who did the recording and mastering and generally advised me on all the technical issues to bring it to fruition.
This next bit is a bit long but where else do you put stuff like this if not on your website!
The following is a rambling tale about how I took up the pipes. My interest in the uilleann pipes came from an encounter with the group Planxty. One of my school mates showed us the new record he got for Christmas. It was one of several that were doing the rounds. Slade, Horslips and Thin Lizzy were others that we were listening to but Planxty took my fancy to such an extent that I bought my own copy. I can remember the moment that I became aware of the individual sound of the pipes. I was listening to Planxty Irwin, the opening part was an unsteady sound that I later identified as a hurdy-gurdy, but when the pipes chanter broke free to play the second part, the tone, the control, the articulation all combined to create a magical sound, the power of which has never diminished for me. There followed a year spent at school in Limerick where I stayed with my cousins. During that year I managed to see Planxty three times, each concert with a different Planxty line-up. The original band played the first gig. Then Donal Lunny left and Johnny Moynihan joined up. For the final concert I saw that year, Paul Brady had joined the band and Christy Moore was going to leave. All of this cemented my fascination with the pipes although I had no idea how I would find a set.
I had been interested in the pipes for a few years but had no access to that hallowed circle. One day I confessed – ‘came out’ almost – to being a wannabe piper to my classmate with whom I shared the school desk, and his reply was “My uncle plays them”. I was stunned to learn that there was a piper even in Waterford, not to mind my hometown of Tramore (I would later discover that there were three pipers in Tramore and a few in Waterford too). I asked him to enquire if I could visit the man and the response was: ‘He couldn’t be more pleased’. This prompted my first visit to Donncha Ó Maidín who made a connection to Matt Kiernan for me. Matt was an elderly pipe-maker and one of the few around at the time. The others I later found out about were Dan O’Dowd, Eugene Lambe, and the Kennedy family of Cork. I now realise that Frank McFadden was probably still working at the time too.
I visited Matt (the kindest of men) with my father and so began the first of many pilgrimages to Matt’s house on Offaly Road. I used arrive up to Heuston Station and walk up Infirmary Road by the Phoenix Park, up along North Circular Road until I came to St Peter’s Church where it meets the Cabra Road. Looking at the map now, I realise that I could have gone a more direct route. Matt Kiernan’s house was like stepping into another world. The house was neat and tidy thanks, no doubt, to Matt’s sister who used to cycle there a couple of times a week and keep the place in order for him. The ground floor had a front room (living room, parlour), a kitchen and a room off the kitchen which was the pipes workshop (which was freezing in the winter). Memories of cups of tea and Goldgrain biscuits are coming back to me. Matt even allowed me to turn a mount from a billiard ball on his old treadle lathe. I remember Matt asking me what timber I would choose for my chanter. Such a choice may seem normal today but, back then as it turned out, it was a futile exercise. Matt had very little access to any of the exotic timbers he offered me. Eventually I had to ask a woodturner friend for a billet of suitable length and thickness and, although the timber was a bit soft, Matt agreed to make me a chanter: “He’s a good man that does as he’s told” he wrote to me. When eventually my chanter was ready I had to make a bag and bellows for it – perhaps the worst bag and bellows ever made – but it worked.
During that long wait (it seemed very long) I listened to my growing record collection almost daily. The Planxty sleeve notes mentioned pipers such as Séamus Ennis and Willie Clancy and my quest grew from there. Ennis made a radio broadcast on St Patrick’s Day, 1974, most of which I recorded.
This has been posted on Youtube in separate tracks under https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXFRorYMVOBbK3-Y6EbQfjA
This introduced me to the piping of Paddy Keenan, the fiddle playing of James Kelly and Paddy Glackin, and the flute playing of Peg McGrath. I picked up a copy of Ennis’ LP The Pure Drop which became my daily ritual. ‘The Drones and the Chanters’ added greatly to my listening library and Clancy’s piping made a deep impression.
Around this time I first came across Paddy Conneely in O’Neill’s Irish Minstrels and Musicians back in December 1974. It was a reissue of a book published in 1913 in Chicago. The title aroused my curiosity but I could hardly believe my eyes when I opened up the tome and beheld its contents – almost my ideal book. The pages were filled with photos of pipers long dead but many of them the carriers of the piping tradition into the 20th century. I remember checking myself to see if I was dreaming. I pored over the pages, learning the history of piping according to the author Francis O’Neill.
I attended the piping tionól in Kiltegan in 1975 and it was quite an eye-opening experience. Young Mick O’Brien was the wunderkind and I recorded a few tracks from him on both pipes and whistle. He was playing wonderfully well even then. It was there also that I met Seán Reid, appropriately enough at the reed-making table.
Anyway, a few weeks later, there was a small tionól held in Tramore and, over the weekend, on the 24th of May 1975, Brian Gallagher gave me a beautiful reed for my Matt Kiernan C chanter – and this life began!
I later taught the advanced uilleann pipes class at the Willie Clancy Summer School from 1977 to 1980 and sporadically after that for a few years. I began teaching there again about five years ago and enjoy it immensely. My ‘recording career’ began as one of seven contributors to an album of young pipers. This recording (The Pipers’ Rock) is now considered a bit of a classic.
As a member of the group Scullion I recorded on the first album and toured Ireland, Germany, Belgium and Holland. A number of years later I was invited to play with James Kelly on his album The Ring Sessions. In December 1996 I released a solo recording entitled Seán Reid’s Favourite. This recording features a selection of favourite tunes played on two very old sets of pipes; one pitched in D and the other in B. The title comes from a tune named (by Willie Clancy) after Seán Reid (1907-1978) who very kindly gave me the old B set of Colgan pipes on loan for life. A track from this CD (‘Dark Lochnagar’), was selected by the actor Ewen McGregor, as his all-time favourite, on an BBC radio program ‘Desert Island Discs’ a number of years ago.
I teach part-time at Waterford Institute of Technology where I got my primary degree, but have taught in several third level institutions around Ireland, including UCD and the University of Limerick where I did my Ph.D. on the music of Paddy Conneely, the blind piper of Galway (c.1800 – 1851). I spent five months at Boston College in 2008 as Fulbright Visiting Professor and made a close study of the Hudson music manuscripts there. On my return to Ireland I joined the board of the Irish Fulbright Alumni Association and served as President of the IFAA from 2015 to 2017.
As a performer I have played around Mainland Ireland, Europe (France, Italy, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Poland), Japan, as well as Australia and New Zealand and, of course, the USA and Canada. A few years ago I was invited to play for St. Patrick’s Day, in the Seychelles, in the Indian Ocean – piping in paradise! To enquire about concerts, skype lessons, and master classes please email me firstname.lastname@example.org
Jimmy O’Brien Moran