The earliest bagpipes in Ireland - testified to in the fifth century
Brehon Laws - were a mouth blown peasant instrument. During the seventeenth
century, the musette-type of bellows-blown pipes became increasingly
fashionable among upper and lower classes alike, notably in France
By the early eighteenth century the somewhat improved uilleann pipes
were replacing the harp as the preferred instrument for most kinds
of Irish music. During the latter half of the eighteenth century,
the introduction of the keyed chanter, the regulators, and other refinements
by such makers as Egan of Dublin led to the emergence of what is perhaps
the most sophisticated form of bagpipes in the world.
The history of piping in Ireland extends over a span of 13 centuries.
References occur in ancient Irish annals to the cuisleannach or
pipe blower. It is not certain exactly when bagpipes first appeared
in Ireland, but it seems certain that in their earliest form they
were similar to the Scottish bagpipes of today.
Deriving from this older form of pipes the distinctively Irish
uilleann pipes are undoubtedly the most sophisticated and complicated
form of bagpipes in existence. It is believed that the present form
emerged around the beginning of the 18th century. The full set of
uilleann pipes comprises a bag, bellows, chanter, 3 drones and 3
The bag is inflated by the bellows; in the Scottish
bagpipes it is mouth blown. The chanter on which the melody is played
has a range of two octaves as compared with the Scottish pipes which
have a range of nine notes. In the case of the pipes in concert pitch
the range extends upwards from the D above middle C of the piano.
It has seven finger holes on its face and one thumbhole at its back.
The drones, Bass, Baritone and Tenor, sound unchanging tones
in the course of the melody. The regulators, again three in number,
Bass, Baritone and Tenor, lie across the thigh of the player in
such a way that the keys can be depressed by the underneath edge
of the lower hand while it is engaged on the chanter. The arrangement
of the keys in rows permits a single form of harmonic accompaniment
to be made.
The pipes are played in the sitting position. The player straps
his bellows to his right elbow thus enabling him to pump air into
the bag. The air flow from the bag is controlled by the left elbow,
enabling the player to change octaves. The chanter is placed on
the right knee with the right hand playing the bottom notes of the
chanter. This enables the player to use the right wrist to operate
the drones and provide accompaniment on the regulators.
The uilleann pipes are regarded as outstanding among the pipes of
the world for their mellowness and sweetness of tone.