Day 314: Pipe dreams

cat20bagpipes20tortureHeard the call of the bagpipes this afternoon – a haunting, mournful wail that transported me from the concrete jungle of downtown Toronto to the craggy heathered hills of Scotland.

Okay, not quite, but it sounded awful nice. The up-tempo reel was coming from a bagpiping busker standing on a nearby street corner. Sadly, he’d left his kilt and sporn at home and was wearing beige slacks … just not the same.

When I was about 10, my Irish grandfather handmade a kilt for me. Really. He was a tailor back in Belfast. I found out only recently that he also played the bagpipes*.

My mom let it slip in conversation but I was convinced she was mistaken because it was the first I’d heard of it. (And being Italian, I figured she might have confused bagpipes with some other wind instrument – like the Zamfir pan flute or something).

So I asked my dad about it and, sure enough, it was true. “Granpop played beautifully,” he said. “Had his own bagpipes,” he said.

I began to wonder what other family talents had been kept hidden from me.

Was my great aunt a weekend belly dancer? Did Uncle Frank juggle chainsaws on Sundays?

But I digress … it’s those bagpipes… do it to you every time…..

In case you were wondering, I did toss a contribution into the piper’s bag, which lay on the ground. I also tried to smile at him, but the sun was shining right in his eyes.

Poor guy needed some Ray-Bans. Now, that’s how I’d like to picture Granpop ….

No, this is not my grandfather, it's Tom Carthy, an old Irish Uilleann piper from Kerry 1799-1904.
No, this is not my grandfather. It's Tom Carthy, an old Irish Uilleann piper from Kerry 1799-1904.

Bagpipe bits and bobs:

  • Though the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe and Irish uilleann pipes are the best known, bagpipes have historically been found throughout Europe, and into Northern Africa, the Persian Gulf, and the Caucasus.
  • The most common method of supplying air to the bag is by blowing into a blowpipe or blowstick.
  • Reference to a bagpipe may be found as early as 425 BC, in the play The Acharnians by the Greek playwright Aristophanes.
  • Since the 1960s, bagpipes have appeared in rock music, jazz, hip-hop, punk, and classical music, for example with Paul McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre” and AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top.”

*Ongoing geneological research (i.e. grilling my father) will tell me whether my grandfather played the traditional Scottish bagpipes or the (more likely) Irish Uilleann pipes (pictured above).

P.S. This guy’s got great pipes 🙂 it’s Montreal’s Bernard Lachance. This spot landed him on Oprah today. Enjoy!


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