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Gender and Uilleann Piping

Janice L. Waldron

University of Windsor

“There was a lady piper on the concert last night. I’ve never seen a lady piper before; she had terrible posture.”

The above quote was made to me by well known British folklorist/historian Peter Kennedy, age 81 (he is now recently deceased), during the course of an interview with him. Unbeknown to Kennedy, I was the “lady piper” in question. He had attended a concert that I had performed on the previous night, and did not realize that I was the same person with the bad posture. Terribly embarrassed after I explained to him that I was the “lady piper” in question, Kennedy again reiterited his surprise at the idea of a female Uilleann piper (or UPs, which are Irish bagpipes and will be further explained below). His comment was additionally significant given that he comes from well known folk collecting stock. His father, Douglas Kennedy, was a director of the English Folk Song Society and his aunt, Maud Karpeles, was the long time secretary of song collector Cecil Sharpe (Vallely, 1999, 207). And, according to Kennedy, the family was also on friendly terms with composer/folk song collector Percy Grainger.

Kennedy, in 1947, joined the family “trade” when he began gathering tunes and, in 1950, partnered with folklorist Alan Lomax to collect traditional songs (Vallelly, 1999, 208). Together they persuaded the BBC sound archive in 1952 to create the Folk Music Custom and Dialect Survey, and it was through this project that thousands of songs and tunes were recorded in England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland (208).   For the project’s duration, Kennedy also travelled extensivelly throughout Ireland with renowned Uilleann piper Seamus Ennis to collect tunes (O hAllmhurain, 1998, 119).

During my interview with him, Kennedy also related several (of many) Uilleann pipe tune gathering anecdotes that occured between Ennis and himself over the course of their travels. Based on both his extensive experience and this anecdotal evidence, the statement that he had never seen a “lady piper” before was therefore surprising  to me. I started playing the Uilleann pipes in 1990 and was well aware of their reputation as a “man’s instrument,” but Kennedy’s interview was an illuminating moment for me that led to the focus of this paper. That is, why are there so few female Uilleann pipers?
In order to understand why the Uilleann pipes are still thought of as primarily a “male instrument” as opposed to other instruments in the Irish music tradition (the fiddle being one example), an examination of socially constructed ideas, those ideas’ historical roots and the implications that those roots convey is first necessary. This is because, according to Schiller (1996), understanding how beliefs have been culturally transmitted to the present allows for an understanding of how historic beliefs affect curent performance contexts and practices, and this includes how tacitly accepted ideas about gender continue to influence instrument choice. This is important for two reasons: 1) as knowledge gained for scholarly purposes it is significant in and of itself, and 2) it also serves as a useful case study of how unexamined but commonly accepted beliefs impact current practice from a gender perspective. In this paper, using historical evidence and oral histories, I will discuss why the Uilleann pipes have traditionally been, and continue to be, played primarily by male performers. In order to position my participants’ oral histories within a larger framework, however, it is first necessary to discuss the literature on Irish traditional music and gender,  Uilleann piping, and gender and music, and these will be discussed in the following sections.

Gender and Irish traditional music

A survey of literature about Irish traditional music reveals that, historically, it was perceived as a male dominated genre, both in music and instrument selection (Schiller, 1996), Evidence from 19th and early 20th century Ireland reveals a paucity of female performers (McCullough, 1978). For example, a photograph taken at a 1965 Chicago Irish traditional music concert of Irish-American musicians shows only three women present among a total of 34 performers (248). However, according to McCullough, who studied gender issues among Irish-American musicians in Chicago in 1977, this is gradually changing (250). He found that while males made up the majority of active performers, that, when the ratio of male to female performers was correlated by age, the highest number of female musicians occupied the lowest studied age bracket (under 25), and the lowest number of female musicians were in the highest age bracket (over 50). 

McCullough’s evidence is consistent with Schiller (1996), who examined gender issues within Irish traditional music practices in Northern Ireland. Research conducted there between 1992 and 1994 revealed that approximately one third of the performers sampled were female (200). No discernable differences in playing styles between genders were observed, but the material chosen for performance was, for the most part, determined by males (200). Behavior in an Irish music session - which is the site of most music transmission in Irish traditional music culture - was, until recently, also determined by gender. Session leaders were almost exclusively male and because material played at sessions was (and still is) determined by the session leader, control of what tunes were played and who was permitted to play them was therefore also largely controlled by men. It was a tacit expectation on the part of women session participants that they remain passive and deferential toward their male counterparts (Maloney, 1992). However, based on anecdotal evidence, this is perceived as no longer being the case (194).

Current Irish musical instrument selection research shows that while none of the instruments in the tradition are played exclusivally by one gender, some instruments appear to “receive gender related preferences” (Schiller, 1996, 200). For example, flute and fiddle, the most commonly played instruments, are played by both genders. Females, however, constitute the overwhelming majority of flutists, while most fiddlers are male. Other instruments (accordion, concertina, banjo, guitar, tin whistle, and bodhran - which is a type of Irish drum) are performed equally by both sexes. The most striking exception that remains are the Uilleann pipes, which were, and continue to be, played almost exclusively by male performers (200). McCullough explains that the Uilleann pipes have “traditionally been thought of as a male instrument,” particularly in terms of public and professional performance (McCullough, 1978, 250).

Considering the myriad changes that have occured within the Irish music tradition, why does playing the Uilleann pipes continue to be a male dominated activity? Examining historical themes surrounding the UPs is the first step towards revealing an answer to this question. Further exploration of these issues reveals how those historical views continue to influence current practice and thought.

A Short History and Survey of Literature Regarding the Uilleann Pipes

Based on recorded evidence, the Uilleann pipes - and the act of playing them - was perceived to embody a concept of maleness for several reasons. Because playing the pipes so strongly represented what was perceived as “male,” the assumption was made that playing the UPs required male qualities on the part of the performer. Further, by learning the UPs, any male atrributes that were perceived as “lacking” on the part of the player could also be acquired.

A survey of literature tracing the development of the Uilleann pipes from the warpipe reveals historical evidence of covert gendering as feminist musicologist Diamond (2000) defines it, and this will be explained in more detail at a later point in this paper. The Uilleann pipes are a fairly recent development in Irish history, having evolved from the warpipe or Piob Mar in the early 1700’s. The history of that instrument is therefore relevant to any discussion of the UPs (Vallely, 1999).

 O’Canainn (1978) contends that the Irish mouth blown pipes, an antecedent to the Uilleann pipes, resembled the present warpipes of Scotland in appearance and in the “unusual tuning of the chanter” (81).  The warpipe has a long history in Ireland and has strong associations with the military, and there is evidence that it was used for military purposes prior to the 14th century. For example, among the deeds of the Priory of the Holy Trinity, Dublin, are mentioned “Geoffrey the Piper,” and “William the Piper,” respectively (O’Neill, 1973, 36).

The following two quotes are both examples of what Diamond refers to as an “aggressive male aesthetic” (2000, 108)  because both allude to the “male” attribute of courage in battle. Writing in 1584, Richard Stanyhurst stated the following:

It is evident that this instrument [the warpipes] must be a very good incentive to their     courage at the time of battle, for by its tones the Irish are stirred up to fight in the same   manner as the soldiers of other nations by the trumpet (O’Neill, 1973, 41).

An example of the “very good incentive to courage” that pipers provided during war time was also described by Standish O’Grady in his account of the 1598 battle of Bel-an-atha-buidhe. He notes: 

They were brave men, those pipers. The modern military band retires as its regiment       goes into action. But the piper went on before his men and piped them into the thick of   battle. He advanced sounding his battle-pibroch, and stood in the ranks of war, while men fell all around him (O’Neill, 1913, 36).   
Further historical evidence of the prominence of place that the warpipes and warpipers held in Irish society is implied by O’Neill in his seminal book, “Irish Minstrels and Musicians” because he devotes a complete chapter to “pipers penalized in the 16th and 17th centuries” alone (O’Neill, 1913, 56). He explains that warpipers were considered a dangerous element in Irish society by the occupying English because almost all of the incursions into the Pale - the area surrounding Dublin - were headed by pipers. Piping was consequently outlawed by the English, with violaters either subject to “twenty lashes on the bare back” or transportation to the Barbadoes (57). Some pipers were granted clemency, and  O’Neill lists 41 pipers who received state pardons between 1550 and 1603, all of whom were men involved in battle excursions. A conclusion could be drawn that warpiping was considered a strictly male activity because of its close association with the perceived “male” qualities of bravery, courage and “male” tendencies towards warmongering.     

The Uilleann pipes evolved to their present form in the early 1700’s from the mouth blown warpipe when a method of holding the bag with a strap that passed over the player’s shoulders was invented (Vallely, 1996). This playing method led to a later development in which a (now) much smaller bag could be placed under the elbow and which could administer the necessary pressure, also allowing the performer to sit while playing (O’Neill, 1913). By the middle of the 18th century, the Uilleann pipes came to consist of a bellows blown chanter and two drones tuned a fifth apart (O’Canainn, 1978). They finally achieved their present construction of chanter, three drones and regulators at the beginning of the 19th century (Vallely, 1996).

A tacit assumption that Uilleann pipers were male is further revealed when examining historical accounts of rural Irish life. Commenting on the significant role played by pipers in Irish society in the 18th and 19th centuries, O’Neill writes that, “from its earliest development, men of wealth and title took to playing the pipes, and it was not considered beneath the dignity of the clergy [to become] performers on the instrument” (1913, 151). A player of pipes was held in high esteem because they were a “combination of mail service, news agency, amd general entertain [ment]” (152). Neither were pipers “illiterate as a class, for among them, then as now, were men of uncommon attainments” (152). Indeed, O’Neill devotes a chapter to 13 “gentlemen pipers,” so defined by their “title, wealth, profession and land” (Vallely, 1986, 151), beginning with Lord Edward Fitzgerald, born in 1763, and ending with the Honourable William Phair, who died in 1912.

Further historical documentation of the male gendering of the Uilleann pipes is evident in three additional chapters of O’Neill’s book “Irish Minstrels and Musicians.”  He compiled 200 biographical sketches of famous pipers in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries (the book was written in 1913), and he comments that, “no source of possible information has been overlooked, and all data has been interwoven, regardless of the source” (155). Of the 201 Uilleann pipers O’Neill documented, only four were female, and of those, one became a piper through “dire necessity” after the death of her piping husband. Seventy seven drawings and photographs are included among the biographies and, of these, 73 are men and four are women.

Currently, because the overwhelming majority of Uilleann pipers are male, modern literature continues to presume a male performer in discussions of the UPs and UP players. A chapter in O’Canainn’s 1978 book describes in detail how the pipes are played and consistently refers to pipers in the third person as “he.” As an example, O’Canainn states that, “Is it any wonder that the poor Uilleann piper may sometimes ponder whether he is actually playing the instrument or is himself being played by it (O’Canainn, 1978, 89)?” Also included in the book is a chapter devoted to reknowned (male) Uilleann piper, Paddy Keenan. Paddy and his brothers are the third generation of male Keenans to play the pipes, and he is considered by many to be one of the finest living Uilleann pipers (120). Robbie Hannon, himself a distinguished Uilleann piper, wrote an article in 1996 regarding the “success and popularity of the leading players” (1996, 88). All of the leading nine players discussed in Hannon’s article are male. In his dissertation entitled “Irish Music in Chicago: An Ethnographical Study,” Larry McCullough documented the lives of seven Chicago area Irish Uilleann pipers, all of them men (1978, 135-145).

There is one final element present in the literature that reinforces the idea that playing the Uilleann pipes is a musical activity restricted by gender, and this is attributable to a factor that Diamond identifies as an “institutional commitment” (2000, p. 113); the term defines the manner in which an activity becomes delineated and codified by the use that that activity both serves and occupies within its associated sanctioning organization (s). In the case of the Uilleann pipes, the influence of this “institutional commitment” remains because of the UPs historic connection to the military via the warpipes, discussed earlier.

Evidence from past and present literature suggests that covert gendering, as defined by Diamond (2000) and explained in the next section, existed and is still evident in current Uilleann piping practice. In the following section, I will discuss Diamond’s ideas on covert and overt gendering and McClary’s (1991) seminal work regarding gender and music. I will draw on this related literature to examine the parallels between the gendering that occurs in other musical practices and Uilleann piping.

Music and Gender

As societies enter the Postmodern era, they experience vast social, political, and technological change (Diamond & Moisala, 2000, 1). How societies perceive and place their music occupies a significant role in this transformation and also serves as an insightful example as to how practices are informed by gender and the implications that these hold for each cultural group. Until recently, music scholars had accomplished little in the way of exploring gender issues in music, particularly with regard to feminist discourse, but this has begun to change in the last decade. Scholars are now beginning to address “culturally related perspectives in the context of vastly different music[al] cultures” (1).

One framework of how to examine these different perspectives comes from feminist musicologist Susan McClary, who identified five groups of of questions in order to provide a “provisional methodology” to examine issues of music gender, and to which one, that of “musical constructions of gender and sexuality,” applies directly to this study (1991, 7). While some of the most obvious earlier examples of these musical constructions come from sevententh century opera, in which composers worked to “develop [a] musical semiotics of gender” (7). McClary surmises that those same musical codes - which were devised to represent the “masculine” and the “feminine” in music - also influenced social formation, because, through the cultural discourse of music, “individuals learn how to be gendered beings” (8). She further contends that “music also serves as a public forum in which various models of gender organization (along with many other aspects of social life) are asserted, adopted, contested, and negotiated” (8).  It is obvious that the types of gender organization that McClary describes are embedded in several of the social aspects associated with playing Irish traditional music, including what determines “acceptable” session behavior – discussed earlier - and the “male” gendering of the Uileann pipes, which is the focus of this paper.

Also discussed and identified by McClary are what she describes as “the discursive strategies of women musicians” (1991, 18). Historically women have been barred from either participating or participating fully in musical production, and McClary uses examples from the formal Western music world as illustrations. She explains that compositions by female composers were typically described as “petty or trivial,” or worse, as “aggressive or as unbefitting a woman” (19). While McClary was discussing a different musical genre and musical activity – Western art music and composition – the latter of the two quotes also accurately paraphrases one historical rationale used to explain why playing the Uilleann pipes was an activity that should be denied to women (Schiller, 1996).

Diamond (2000), in her discussion of belief systems associated with gender and music maintains that, like McClary, the assumed truth contained within those ideas can be engaged in different ways. Diamond further delineates by explaining that gendering in music can be labeled as either covert or overt. In the latter case, a genre could be overlaid with overtly gendered concepts, like those reflected in “the song lyrics, performance style, or the discourse about the genre or style” (5).  In other instances, a genre might be covertly gendered by practices of “appropriate” behavior, in other words, who is assigned what role and how that role is performed. Because covert gendering practices are often labeled as “natural,” they are therefore reflective of shared and widely held beliefs within a culture regarding its own music and associated practices (5). Several examples of this covert gendering are evident in the literature on Uilleann piping, discussed earlier, and is probably best exemplified by attitudes regarding the UPs that are closely associated with military traditions and organizations.

Diamond identified examples of this “constructed” covert and overt gendering during her study of the fiddle traditions of Prince Edward Island, Canada. To do so, she employed a research model that uses a combination of historical evidence and oral histories. She also describes her work as “feminist,” because it “acknowledges a political commitment important in the North American academy” (2000, 6). Because Diamond’s research in this area had strong parallels to my research in gender and Uilleann piping, I based my approach for the present study on her model.

Diamond first gathered historical evidence and narrative histories regarding Prince Edward Island fiddling culture with a particular focus on feminist issues, and this allowed her to address music and gender issues within the juncture of that specific location. Further explaining that she did so because this is one way in which oral histories can be read, Diamond also suggested that a closer inspection of these narratives, with a particular focus on music and gender, would reveal the “complex web” that “impinges on the invention of selves in culturally plural social locations” (2000, 100). Because members of socially constructed groups share the same values and belief systems, looking for sameness and pattern within each specific group enables researchers to understand how those groups are constructed.

After gathering the narratives, Diamond categorized them by three levels of acquaintance.  The first category, according to Diamond, represented a more emic viewpoint, because those interviews were arranged and conducted through a local fiddler known to Diamond. Because the second and third interview categories were conducted by Diamond without the negotiating presence of the “insider” fiddler, she determined that both represented a more etic perspective and therefore classified them as such. The second category was comprised of individuals with whom she was already acquainted, while the third category was composed of participants previously unknown to Diamond.

Within the scope of her interviews, Diamond noted that gender issues could be reflected in one of three ways. First, they could actually be articulated by the interviewee. For example, if the participant noted that her father played the fiddle, and further, that “she did not know why women did not play that much,”  Diamond felt that the gender issue was articulated by the interviewee (2000, 107). The second category, that of enactment of gender, was primarily represented by parents’ musical participation. For example, children of both sexes were more likely to learn the instrument played by the parent of the same sex as themselves, or they were more likely to pursue a specific type of musical activity - such as playing at dances - if the parent of the same sex also participated in that activity. Diamond stated that the third category, which she identified as “symbolically projected gender assumptions,” was the most difficult to determine because this category was defined by the “implicit values, styles, or genres of discourse [that were] unconscious in most cases” (108). These were reflected by gender stereotyping assumed as “true” by the participants. “Male” attributes such as “commitment to hard work, aggressive aesthetics, and rejection of rules,” were contrasted with perceived feminine traits of “commitment to tradition, gentler aesthetics and social groundedness” (108). Diamond concluded that, based on these perceptions, it was evident that these dichotomies continue to be  “perpetuated in many ways via [the] musical choices” made by members of a culture, in this case, that of Prince Edward Island fiddling (108).

Guided by Diamond’s examples and models, I interviewed three Uilleann pipers and focused the interviews on gender and piping issues. Two of the pipers I knew previously and the third was a new acquaintance, and this will be discussed in the next section.

Musical Life Histories, Three Uilleann Pipers

Undertaking a gender study using Diamond’s model of historical evidence combined with oral histories required that I gather the narrative stories of several Uilleann pipers. For this purpose,  I traveled to Elkins, West Virginia in July 2003 to participate in the Augusta Heritage Center’s annual Irish Week. Held at Davis and Elkins College, the Center was founded in 1972 and its original mission was to preserve traditional Appalachian crafts by offering week-long courses to adults during the summer. Within a few years of its founding, courses were added to teach what are now Augusta’s four main thrusts: music, dance, folk art and folklore, all taught by master musicians, artists and other experts (Blevin, 2002). Irish Week theme week was added in 1982 and because the mission of the week is to provide a “comprehensive cultural experience,” instruction is offered in all aspects of Irish culture, including Irish traditional music, Irish crafts, Irish dance and Gaelic Language. This includes Uilleann pipe instruction (22).

I registered for the UP class, the two teachers of which, Jerry O’Sullivan and Elliott Grasso, are acknowledged “living authority figures” and “master musicians.” The tin whistle instructor for Irish week, whom I also wished to interview, was Louise Mulcahy. Besides being a fine tin whistle player, she is a reknowned Irish flutist and champion Uilleann piper and was the first woman to win the Senior All-Ireland Uilleann Piping Championship.

Prior to attending Irish Week, I contacted all three pipers, asking if I could interview them, further explaining that interview questions would involve various aspects of Irish music in addition to focussing on gender and Uilleann piping. All three pipers graciously consented to be interviewed. That first, Jerry O’Sullivan, I had met on three earlier occasions when I was a member of his Uilleann pipe class during previous Irish Weeks. Elliott Grasso was the second participant and he had been a student at one of the Irish Weeks  that I had also attended; he remembered being in class with me. Third participant Louise Mulcahy and I had never met prior to the study. She was known to me only by her reputation as an outstanding Irish traditional musician.

In order to focus one section of the interviews on gender and Uilleann piping, I asked the participants the following questions:

  1. Do you associate the act of playing Uilleann pipes with qualities of maleness or femaleness?
  2. Have you seen any difference in the number of women Uilleann pipers in the last 10/20 years?
  3. Why, in your opinion, were there, and continue to be, so few female pipers?
  4. What is your perception of the number of women Uilleann pipers compared to the number of women playing other Irish traditional instruments?
  5. Do you believe that cultural factors influence what Irish traditional instruments women do or do not play?

In the following section, using Diamond’s model, I relate common themes from the participant’s interviews with recorded scholarly evidence in order to triangulate their accounts. Diamond believes that musical life stories can be read for “pattern and conjuncture” and explains that, although all accounts are constructions, they do, however, “reflect socially shared bases for living,” and are therefore “partial truths, politically positioned” (118). After finding “gendered patterns and structures in the interview accounts,” one can then “implicitly or explicitly relat[e] them to other sources,” thus triangulating the participants’ accounts (118). In the case of this study, this included cross-checking themes found in the participants’ accounts with historical sources. To ensure trustworthiness, interview accounts were also member checked.

Covert Gendering as it Relates to Uilleann Piping

Several themes emerged after participants’ interviews were transcribed and coded and these were consistent with Diamond’s categories of articulated, enacted, and symbolically projected covert gender assumptions which she identified in her PEI fiddling study. For example, all three participants articulated that they associated Uilleann piping as being an activity with qualities of “maleness,” because most of the UP players that they knew were men. Jerry O’ Sullivan made the following comment:

. . . probably not so much esoterically or anything aesthetically on the instrument, but I think of what I’ve seen, I would expect most Uilleann pipers to be males.

Elliott Grasso’s response to this question was consistent with O’Sullivan’s. Grasso stated that:

. . . it’s not a man’s instrument because it’s like, heavy, loud or in your face or something, it’s just something I’ve always seen men doing.

Their answers are consistent with the historical evidence because the overwhelming majority of Uilleann pipers discussed in the literature are male. Uilleann pipes are thus consequently perceived as being a “male instrument” because of their strong traditional asociation with male performers.

One example of enacted gendering that Diamond identified was “the representation of parents’ musical participation” (Diamond, 2000, 108), and Louise Mulcahy raised this issue. She stated how Uilleann piping has traditionally been passed on paternally in Irish families:

Another reason why I think that there are so few female Uilleann pipers, is that it was always the men in the family that played the pipes in the tradition. . . I believe that if they had sons and daughters, the pipes were generally passed on to the sons and not the daughters. . . but there was always the odd exception. . . You know, in the family, it was passed on through the sons.       

Louise’s statements are consistent with the related literature. O’ Neill (1913) speaks of several Uilleann piping families in which the all the men, fathers, sons and uncles, are well known Uilleann pipers. One example is the Rowsome family, whose male members are still known as expert Uilleann pipers and pipemakers. O’Neill gives biographies of Samuel Rowsome, John, Thomas and William (his sons), and Samuel Rowsome Jr. (William’s son) (1913).  As mentioned earlier, O’Canainn (1978), describes well known Uilleann piper Paddy Keenan as  representing the third generation of Keenan pipers. His father, John, was a master piper and Paddy’s brothers also played the Uilleann pipes.

The third category of covert gendering, that of  “symbolically projected gender assumptions,” is examplified by the Uilleann pipe’s traditional association with mechanical and technical ability. The Uilleann pipes are perceived to be a male instrument because they themselves are widely believed to possess innate mechanical qualities, despite the fact that they are an inanimate object. Because “mechanical ability” is widely presumed to be a male attribute, it is generally assumed that one has to be male in order to be able to play the UPs.

One category of “symbolically projected gender assumption” raised earlier by Diamond is that of “aggressive (male) aesthetics.” It is an important issue, to some pipers, as to who owns “the most,” both in terms of expense and “bells and whistles.” This issue was perceived as being akin to owning an expensive automobile with a V8 engine. Jerry O’Sullivan stated the following:

For a lot of guys, the bells and whistles, who has the most expensive pipes, who has the   most number of regulators, who has the shiniest set, you know, this type of thing. And I  think a lot of guys are into the technical thing. . . like [pipes] are a motorcyle.

Louis Mulcahy was even more specific:

When I started playing the pipes [ten years ago], it would have been associated with being male. A male instrument. People believed that it was really a mechanical thing and all those things that go with driving a car, you need to be mechanically minded, and you know, because we don’t have all that many automatic cars in Ireland, we have gears, we need to be mechanically minded to drive them. It’s the same with the pipes, I think that people believed it was a male instrument, women couldn’t handle them, there was too much to them. They had to be tuned, they had to be maintained. . . The situations where you played them were more suited to males than females and the whole position of playing pipes was more suited to males than the females.

Her comments are almost identical to those reported by Schiller, who stated that “the Uilleann pipes gained a reputation [early on] of being extremely demanding as regards playing technique and maintenance, and [therefore], it was culturally regarded as unsuitable for female performers” (Schiller, 1996, 201). 

All three participants reported that, based on their own experiences, more women were now beginning to play the Uilleann pipes. Although learning the UPs is becoming a more accepted activity for women in the Irish music tradition, overcoming assumptions and attitudes associated with 1000 years of male piping tradition remains difficult, and Louise Mulcahy shared a personal narrative with me that illuminated this. At the age of 16, she was invited to teach tin whistle and flute, but not the Uilleann pipes, at the Willie Clancy Summer School (WCSS) in Milton Malbay, Ireland. Founded in 1972 and named in honor of one of Ireland’s most famous Uilleann pipers, Willie Clancy, the WCSS has a fine reputation and attracts adult students from around the world, a large proportion of whom are Uilleann pipers. Louise Mulcahy described the following experience that occurred during the week she taught there which encapsulates issues of gender associated with Uilleann piping examined in this paper. She stated that:

“Five years ago, when I was 16, I was asked to play in the Piper’s Concert at Miltown Milbay, Willie Clancy Summer School. There had never been a woman piper on the stage there before.”


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Vallely, F. (1999). The companion to Irish traditional music. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press.

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