I can recall a wee man who lived in the village of Derrytrask for quite a few years, but almost all his neighbours thought he was a bit of an ‘eejit’ (idiot). If asked, “what made them look upon the wee man as an eejit?”, they would look at the questioner in such a way as if he was not right in the head. Their proof that the wee man was ‘not the full shilling’ was the way that he was so demonstratively fond of music but had never been able to learn to play more than one tune on his ‘Uileann-pipes’. The sole tune that he did play was known as the “Munster Cloak”, which was his party piece in the various bars, and at the local festivities. People would make fun of him as he played his one tune over and over again, but he did earn a few shillings from his ‘recitals’. The money he received, however, helped both the wee man and his widowed mother to pay the rent on their small holding, and occasionally buy some luxuries for themselves, like snuff and a bottle or two of stout.
One warm Spring night the Piper was walking home from a local house, where there had been a bit of a dance. The ‘House Ceilidh’ had been a lively one and like several other attendees he found himself somewhat the worse for wear, because of the whisky and poteen he had taken. As he staggered along the narrow cart track of a road he managed to arrive safely at the little bridge spanning the small stream that flowed close by his mother’s cottage. He decided to stop there for a moment and sit down upon a large flat rock, then he breathed into his pipes’ bag and squeezing it he began to play the one tune that he knew so well, the “Munster Cloak.” As the first musical notes floated into the air he was suddenly grabbed from behind and flung on his back in the middle of the track. In the darkness of the night a ‘Pooka’ had come upon him by surprise. For those readers who may not know what a ‘Pooka’ is, the easiest explanation is that it is a spirit creature which takes on many forms and shapes. This spirit creature, however, possessed long horns and as the Piper regained his senses he took a good, strong grip of them. But, as he grabbed at the strange creature’s horns he cried out with a loud voice, “Damn you to hell, you evil creature. Just allow me to go on my way home for I have a shining silver sixpence in my pocket that is for my mother, and she wants some snuff brought to her!”
Using the horns, the ‘Pooka’ now threw the Piper onto his own back and spoke menacingly to him, “Pay no attention to yourmother, or even to what she wants, but concentrate your mind on keeping your hold on those horns. Remember that if you should fall from my back there is little doubt that you will surely break your neck and smash those pipes you are carrying.” Then, in a softer tone of voice, the ‘Pooka’ asked him, “You could play for me the ‘The Blackbird, for it is my favourite tune?‘”
“Sure, wouldn’t I be the greatest of all pipers if I could play ‘The Blackbird’, when I don’t know it,” replied the Piper with a snigger.
“Don’t you be concerning yourself about whether you know the tune, or you don’t know it!” the ‘Pooka’ snapped at him. “Just you begin playing those pipes of yours and I’ll make sure you play the right tune.”
Although he was deeply frightened, the Piper blew hard into his pipe bag and he began to play such fine music that he began to wonder how this could happen. “By the holy, but you’re a fine teacher,” said the Piper, “and now tell me where you are taking me in such a hurry?”
“There is to be a great feast being held tonight in the house of the Banshee, which stands at the top of Croagh Patrick,” said the Pooka. “I am bringing you to the feast, where you will play your music and be well rewarded for your trouble.”
“Sure, isn’t that a great bit of news, for you’ll save me a journey,” replied the Piper, “Father Tom has told me that I should make the pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick as a penance, because I was the one who stole the big white goose from the Martins’ farmhouse yard.”
But, the Pooka paid no attention to him, put down his head and rushed the piper across hills, the bogs and rough places, until he finally brought him to the top of Croagh Patrick. Then, as they came to a halt, the Pooka struck three blows on the ground with his foot, and a great door opened before them. Without a moment’s hesitation they both passed through the door and found themselves in a large, finely adorned room. There, in the middle of the room, the Piper saw a large golden table, around which sat hundreds of old women, all of whom were staring toward him. One of the old women stood up from her seat and greeted him, “A hundred thousand welcomes to you, Pooka of November. Who is this mortal being that you have brought with you?”
“This mortal is the best Piper in all of Ireland,” said the Pooka, proudly.
One of the old women now struck a blow on the ground and a door opened in the side wall of the fine room. Then much to the Piper’s surprise, he noticed the big white goose, which he had stolen from Martins’ farmyard coming out of the door. “Now this is a miracle,” said the Piper, “for myself and my mother ate every bit of that goose, except for one wing. Sure, it was that one wing that I gave to old ‘Red Mary’, and it was her that told the priest I had stolen the goose.”
The goose now marched over to clean the table before carrying it away, and the Pooka now turned to the piper and urged him, “Play your music for these ladies to enjoy.”
The Piper filled the bag with air and he began to play. He played so well that all the old women took to the floor and began to dance, and they danced so lively until they could dance no more. It was then that the Pooka came forward and demanded that they pay the Piper for his music. Without any complaint each of the old women took a gold piece from their pockets and gave it to him. “By the staff of Saint Patrick,” says the Piper, “sure I’m as rich as the son of any great lord.”
“Now come with me,” asked the Pooka, “and I will bring you back to your home.”
Together they went out of the room and, just as the Piper was about to mount the back of the Pooka, the goose waddled over to him and presented him with a new set of pipes. With the same speed as before the Pooka set off and it did not take him long until he brought the Piper back to Derrytrask. They came at last to the little bridge once again and the Piper dismounted the Pooka, who quietly told him that he should go home. But, before the Piper left, the Pooka told him, “You now have two things that you have never had before. You now have sense and music.”
Hurrying home the Piper was feeling on top of the world, and he knocked loudly at his mother’s door. He called out to her, “Mother, let me in. Your son is as rich now as any lord, and I have become the very best Piper in the whole of Ireland.”
“Ah, you’re drunk again,” replied his mother in disgust.
“No, Mother, indeed I’m not,” insisted the Piper, “Not a single drop of liquor has passed my lips.”
His mother opened the door to him, and he gave her the gold pieces he had received from the old women. “Wait, now,” says he, “until you hear the wonderful music that I can play now.” He quickly buckled on the pipes and began to play them, but instead of sweet music of before there now came a sound as if all the geese and ganders in Ireland were screeching together. The terrible noise that he made wakened all the neighbours, and they all began to make fun of him. Their mocking continued for a while until the Piper put on his old pipes and, from that moment, he played the most melodious music for them. Now that they had heard his music the Piper told them all the great adventure that he had gone through that night and they listened to his story in disbelief.
The next morning, when the Piper’s mother went to look at the gold pieces her son had given her, there was nothing there but the leaves of a plant. Shocked by this news, the Piper went to see the priest and began to relate to him the adventure he had undertaken. But, the priest would not believe a word that he told him, and the Piper decided to give proof by playing the pipes for him. As he did so the screeching of the ganders and the geese began once again. “Get out of my sight, you thief,” the angry priest roared at him. But the Piper would not move an inch until he put the old pipes on him to demonstrate to the priest that his story was indeed true. He buckled on his old pipes, and he began to play the most wonderful and melodious music. From that day until the day of his death the piper’s fame grew and it is still said that there was never his equal as a Piper in all the western part of Ireland.
If ever you were expecting to visit the county of Armagh in the early decades of the nineteenth century, you may have been advised, beforehand, to keep watch for a tall, stout, lazy-looking man, with sleepy eyes and a huge cocked nose. He dragged his feet along as if they were heavy wooden clogs that had been forced upon him by nature. They deliberately restrained his movement rather than helping him move forward as he dawdled along the highways and byways of the county. More often than not, however, he could be caught lounging about a public-house, with a green bag under his arm. That man was Tim Callaghan and you would have been advised to be wary of him and his ways. The following account by a fellow traveller who met with Callaghan will, perhaps, shed more light on the subject –
“When first I met Tim Callaghan, he assured me that he had served seven long years with, as he said himself, ‘as fine a piper as ever put chanter under an arm.’ He said that at the end of that well-spent period he began to enchant the gentry of the county on his own account, being the owner of a splendid set of pipes, and three whole tunes that earned him a good living. This puzzled me for a time and as we chatted quietly I asked him, quite innocently – ‘Isn’t it a pity Tim, that with your fine taste in music and possession of top-class set of pipes you didn’t try to learn a half dozen tunes at least?’
“Immediately, I knew that had annoyed the man by the sulky expression that crossed his face. ‘Oh now, friend,’ he answered me, ‘that very same question has been put to me by dozens of people, before you and I hate to hear it! It was only yesterday that a lady asked me that same question.‘Dear madam,’ said I, ‘did you ever play a tune on the pipes in your life?’ ‘Never, indeed,’ said she, looking a bit ashamed by her ignorance, as she should have been. ‘Because if you did,’ said I again to her, ‘you would soon say, “great job, Tim Callaghan, to get over the three tunes so well, without asking people to do what’s impossible.” And now I appeal to you, Sir, what use is there in complicating people’s brains with six or seven tunes when three does my business just as well?’ After I told him that I could not fault his argument we became very good friends. Being grateful for my patience and forbearance, he eternally murders those three unfortunate tunes for my pleasure. In all honesty I doubt now if I could truly enjoy those tunes being played well, because I have grown so accustomed to Tim’s efforts.
“Tim Callaghan, it must be said, was a politically astute character, and his three tunes were expressly chosen and learnt so as to win over the ears and the acclamation of all denominations of Christian men. Thus, the “Boyne water” is the tune played to please the Protestant audience, while “Patrick’s Day” was just the tune to satisfy an audience of Roman Catholics, and when Tim’s not sure of the creed of the audience he wishes to please, to suit Quakers, Methodists, and other non-conformists, “God save the Queen” is the third tune. For many years he was perfectly content to give these favourite tunes in their original musical purity, but some wicked gobshite, probably another piper, persuaded him that his melodies would be totally irresistible to the audience if he would add some ornamental variations to them of his own choosing. Tim was a man who was unaccustomed to flattery, and so naïve that he would never suspect someone having a joke at his expense. Not surprisingly, then, he jumped at this bright idea, overcame his natural and acquired laziness, and made an effort to add variety in his tunes. When Callaghan thought he had mastered the difficulties of the task, he decided to do me the honour of appointing me as the person to pronounce judgement on his melodious additions. All I shall say about those variations is, let the dumbest eejit that ever looked dreamily down an empty well, listen to Tim Callaghan’s variations, and watch his face while he performs those variations. I promise you the man will require heavy drugs if he would ever get time to sleep for laughing!
“When Tim arrives at the door to a gentleman’s residence, he usually begins to entertain with a suitable serenade, and he will drone away at that until the few pence he receives for piping permits him to leave contented. But if he is kept waiting too long, and he sees that there is no real chance of a reward he becomes furious, and in his anger he will begin to play that one of the three tunes which he believes is the most disagreeable and opposite to the politics of the offender. If the party is a Roman Catholic, he will be unpleasantly shocked, and all his prejudices aroused, by “the Boyne water,” performed with unusual vigour. If the offender is a church-goer, he will never recover from the trauma of “Patrick’s Day,” that is given with an energy that would shatter any goodwill between the parties. Should Tim be asked to play a person’s favourite, or a popular tune, it would be like asking him to stand up and repeat a passage from Homer in the original Greek. If you are lucky he might even give you a civil reply along the lines of, ‘I haven’t got that, but I’ll play one that is as good,’ and one of his trio of tunes would follow. If the customer is keen on something new being played he could find himself cut short with, ‘Who do you think you are to telling me what to play. Anyone else, better even than you, would be content with what I gave you and reward me handsomely’.
“The first occasion that I had the pleasure to see and hear Tim Callaghan, was in the middle of the dark and dreary winter, and in a quiet country home of a local minister. It was so quiet, in fact, that even the vile screeching of a tin whistle would have been welcomed until we had something better. You can imagine the joy we felt when the inspiring drone of the bagpipe caused our ears to prick to attention and expectation! The Minister’s servants were excited, noisily expressing their absolute delight, and in asking the minister to permit the piper be brought into the house and play the pipes. Their request was granted, the minstrel was allowed in, and seated in the hall. Well, Tim’s first tune in the minister’s house was, of course, ‘the Boyne’, which he played with a great spirit. Moreover, he played very accurately on the whole, with the exception of a few rather essential notes that he omitted as being unnecessary and troublesome, or, some servants believed, because his fingers were so cold. Finally, Tim was led into the kitchen, where they seated him opposite a blazing fire. ‘Now he’ll play in earnest!’ they cried out with one voice, and they all gathered around him in expectation of more music.
“Tim was now in the house of someone he considered to be in the lower levels of the gentry, but he was willing to please all requests and conditions. Hesistation came when he began to wonder whether he shall repeat the ‘Boyne,’ or begin to play all-enlivening ‘Patrick’s Day.’ In an attempt to gain an answer he turned to a little boy who was gaping with wonder at the grand pipes that Tim was holding. ‘What religion are the servants?’ he asked the boy
‘They are of all sorts, sir,’ whispered the little boy, Tommy in reply, blushing all over because the piper had taken notice of him.
‘Of all sorts!’ muttered Tim and instantly decided, with much solemnity of face to play ‘God save the King.’
“The butler listened awhile with his expert’s ear. ‘You’re a great performer on the pipes!’ he told Tim at length, and with a hand on each hip. ‘and that’s a fine piece of Hannibal’s composition! But it’s not suitable for all occasions, and a livelier air would agree with our temperament much better. Change it to something new.’ Then, tucking his apron aside, the butler gallantly took the rosy tips of the housemaid’s fingers and led her out, while the gardener politely did likewise with the cook. The piper looked a little sullen, and he still continued the national anthem as if he knew what he was doing, and was determined to play out his tune. But, the butler did not like being ignored and his temper began to bristle.
“‘Really,’ he observed with a snobbish smile, ‘we are very loyal people around here, but at this particular moment we don’t want to join in a prayer for our sovereign’s welfare! Stop that melancholic thing, man! give us one of Jackson’s jigs.’
“’Out of fashion?’ asked Tim sullenly, ‘but I’ll give you all one as good,’ and ‘Patrick’s Day’ set them all in motion for a quarter of an hour.
“’Oh, we’re all quite tired of that!’ the housemaid said at length, ‘do, piper, give us a waltz or quadrillel. Do you play ‘The Haymaker’s Jig?’ for Jem Sidebottom and I used to dance it beautifully when I lived at Mr Andrew’ s!’
“’What do you call it?’ asked Tim rather sneeringly.
“’The Haymaker’s Jig,’ replied the young lady, drawing herself up with an air enough to kill a piper.
“’Phew!’ replied Tim contemptuously, ‘that’s out of fashion too. But, I’ll give you one as good.” and the “Boyne” followed, played neither faster nor slower than he had been taught it, which was in right time, and nowhere near dancing time, much to the annoyance of the dancers. Another and another jig and reel was demanded, and to all and each Tim Callaghan replied, ‘I haven’t got that, but I’ll give you one as good,” and the “King,” the “Boyne,” and the “Day,” followed each other in due succession.
“Was there anything more provoking! There stood four active, zealous dancers, with toes pointed and heads erect, anxiously awaiting a further top class exhibition of Tim Callaghan’s powers! There stood the dancers, looking beseechingly at the piper. There sat the piper staring at the dancers, wondering what in the name of God they were waiting for, quite satisfied that they had got all that could be reasonably expected from him. ‘And have you nothing else in your chanter?’ the butler angrily demanded at last.
“’E— ah,’ Stammered Tim Callaghan, as if he did not understand the question. But, the question was put to him again, slower and a little louder. ‘Jaysus, you are powerful for asking questions of a man!’ Callaghan retorted impatiently, ‘your master would be content with what I played for you, and he would be grateful for it!’
“’By all that’s holy!’ exclaimed the butler, ‘this beats everything I ever heard of about entertaining! Tell me, did you ever attend a concert for the nobility? — Ha! ha! ha!’
“‘As sure as God,’ laughed the housemaid, ‘I am certain that this boy is going to get a great many more kicks than pennies! — Ha! ha! Ha!’
“’And that’s good enough for him!” added the gardener, ‘for a man that has only three half tunes in the world, and none of them right! Jaysus, what is your name, friend?’
“’What’s that to you?’ growled the Callaghan.
“’Absolutely nothing, friend! Only I thought that you might be the piper that played before Moses — Ha! ha! ha!’
“’Oh! This eejit wouldn’t even know who Moses was,’ said the cook, as she returned to her kitchen. The butler, meanwhile, had had enough and showed his disappointment and displeasure in Callaghan by taking hold of the piper and throwing him out from the comforts of the fire and the house.
“It was after this that I once again had the delight of hearing Tim Callaghan play. It was in another part of the county, where he was not so well known. A lady had gathered a number of young people to a sea-side dance one evening. But, just before the dance was to begin, she had heard that the fiddler she had employed had become ill, and could not possibly play that night. There was, as far as she could see, nothing that could be done. So, when the guests arrived, and the terrible news communicated to them, the gentlemen in spite of themselves looked very disappointed, as if they anticipated a dull evening ahead. The lovely bright faces of the ladies were overcast, though as usual, they tried to hide their disappointment and continued to act as if nothing was wrong. In this middle of this dilemma one of the young men suddenly remembered that he had seen a piper coming into the village that evening. He told the organisers that he thought it was probable the piper would stop for the night at one of the public-houses nearby. There was now a fresh sense of hope that instantly illuminated all faces, and a messenger was immediately sent for the piper. For my part, whenever I heard mention of a piper, I knew who was going to appear before me.
“’What sort of person is your piper?’ I asked the gentleman that had introduced the subject.
“‘A tall, stout, rather drowsy-looking fellow,’ he told me.
“’Oh!’ cried I, ‘it is the unique Mr. Tim Callaghan!’
“I was eagerly asked if Callaghan was a good piper. But, as I was reluctant to give an answer, another person, who knew honest Tim and his ways, answered, ‘Now, anyone in their right mind will not attempt to trumpet the praises of any other person, because one person’s opinion may not match another’s opinion. For this reason, then, we leave Tim Callaghan’s musical merit to speak for itself.’
“At this time I can relate another anecdote that occurred while the messenger had gone to retrieve Callaghan. Another servant, called John, was once sent on a similar errand. John’s master had friends spending the evening with him, and he wanted his servant to procure a musician for the young folks for whatever price he could get. After half an hour John returned home to report that his search had proved fruitless. But, instead of simply saying that ‘he could not find one,’ he flung open the main living-room door, and announced his failure in the following way —
“’I searched the city’s cir-cum-fe-rence round,
And not a musician is there to be
I fear for music you’ll be at a loss,
For the fiddler has taken the road
John then made his bow and retired.
“Tim now made his appearance, and was seated in place at the top of the room, with the attention and respect that was due to his abilities. For my part, the very sight of Tim, and the thought of his consummate assurance, or stupidity, in attempting to play for dancing, amused me beyond any expectations. But, I suppressed all urges to laugh, and kept my eyes and ears on the alert, wondering what was going to come next.
“A bowl of his favourite punch was prepared for him, and while he was sipping it, I thought he cast a scrutinizing and anxious glance at the company that was assembled. I am quite certain that Tim was probably thinking how he should adjust his politics to suit those ready to listen to him. But, poor Tim had little time to settle, for a quadrille set was immediately formed, and he was called on to play! The eager ladies and their young men never once thought that a modern piper might not play quadrilles. In truth, I found it extremely difficult to stop myself from bursting into laughter! There stood the eight elegantly dressed and refined dancers ready to begin, and there sat Tim Callaghan in all his surly stupidity, with a dreadfully puzzled look on his face. He hummed and hawed, tuned and droned much longer than was really necessary, completely unaware of the demand that was about to be made on him and his pipes. He was much more interested in wracking his brains as to which of his three tunes he should play first.
“’A quadrille, piper, when you are ready!’ one of the gentlemen called out.
“’E— ah!’ stammered Tim Callaghan as he opened his sleepy eyes wide with surprise and began to fiddle some more with the pipes.
“’ A quadrille!’ repeated the young gentleman.
“Ogh, sure all of that is out of fashion, but I’ll give you one just as good,” and because the company was a mixed one, of whose political opinions he could not be sure, the dancers were suddenly astounded with the most unpleasant rendition of “God save the King” that they had ever heard!
“All stared at him in disbelief, and most laughed heartily, but what was more hurtful to poor Tim was that his arm was grabbed roughly, and he was forced to stop in the middle of his tune. Then there was an angry demand that if he could not play any quadrilles he could play such and such a waltz, and the names of a dozen popular waltzes were called out to him. Unfortunately, Tim had never heard of any of them in his life! In his confusion and panic Tim began to play “the Boyne,” and some person angrily called the lady of the house. The name called seemed to Tim to be a Catholic one, and a sudden ray of joy shot through his body to his ends of his fingers, and from there to his pipes, and “Patrick’s Day” was the result. A kind of jigging quadrille was then danced by those people who were not so fussy and wanted just to have fun. But, one fussy couple, which included a finely dressed and perfume soaked lady and an aristocratic looking man with his nose permanently stuck in the air, returned to their seats with looks and gestures of horror and disgust. Tim was too busy to notice any of this as he threw himself wholeheartedly into his piping, excited that the ‘quality’ was actually dancing to his music!
“Well! As there seemed nothing better to be had, “Patrick’s Day” was played continuously, as a quadrille, then as a country-dance, much enjoyed by all who preferred dancing to sitting. He played it before and after supper until, at last, everyone was weary of it, and the general view was that Tim should drop the “Day” and take up the “Boyne,” and try to make it move as best he could. By that time, too, Tim had become very tired of the patron saint’s tune, and now that he had drunk his fourth full-flowing tankard of punch he was more inclined to have a sleep rather than play more tunes. But he was soon roused by our worthy host, who was a man who enjoyed fun and was the very soul of the party. ‘For pity’s sake, piper,’ he said, ‘try to give us something that we can put bit of a step to! I wasn’t in the right mood for dancing to-night until now. If you are an Irishman at all, just take a look at the pretty girl that is to be my partner for the next dance, and perhaps those lovely eyes might inspire even you, you sleepy sot, with a bit of movement to perform some sort of a miracle on those pipes!’
“Short as this address was, and lightly as it was uttered, it had no effect on Tim other than making him even more ready to sleep. While the elderly host was speaking, the drowsiness was descending upon Tim faster and faster. He dozed and was shaken awake again. ‘What do you want?’ he growled loudly. ‘What the devil do you all want?’ Looking down at the assembled crowd as he was, I expected him to say, poetically, ‘Now my weary lips I close; Leave me, leave me to repose.”
“‘Play more music! More music!’ said our host, laughing loudly. ‘Any sort of music, any sort of noise,’ and he left the piper and took his place amongst the dancers. Tim mechanically fumbled at his pipes, while the gentlemen busied themselves in procuring partners. There was silence for some seconds until our host called out to him. ‘Begin, piper.’
“‘Out of fashion,’ muttered Tim in broken half-finished sentences, ‘but— I’ll— give— you one— as— good,’ and a long, a loud reverberating snore at that instant almost made good his promise of music as harmonious as the sounds obtained from his pipes!
“You can just imagine the scene that followed. The smelling salts and perfumed handkerchief of the ladies were immediately required as they began to feel that they were about to faint! Those who were nervous jumped at the sound, as if a gun had been fired, while others simply joined in a chorus of laughter. This laughter quickly changed to a degree of regret when it was realised that the Inimitable, and undisturbed, continued to sleep prolonged his sleep, and his nasal performance was his grand finale to the evening. ‘Now’, said the friend who had quietened my attempt to praise the piper, ‘hasn’t Tim Callaghan made his own speech of praise? Hasn’t his talent spoken for itself? What a figure our famous piper would have cut, had we ushered him in here with great words of praise!’
When the storm of laughter had subsided, and when all considered that their unrivalled musician had had enough sleep, he was once more aroused, to receive his well-earned reward, when the following discussion began:
“’Tell me, piper, what is your name?’ asked our host with all the gravity of a judge, as he took out a notebook and pen
“’E— ah? Why, Tim Callaghan.’
“’Ha! Tim Callaghan,’ said the host as he wrote down the answer, ‘I shall certainly remember Tim Callaghan! I suppose, Tim, you are quite famous?’
“’I suppose you are very well known?’
“Why, those that know me the once, will know me again’ said Tim Callaghan.
“’I do believe so! I think I shall know you at all events. Who taught you to play the pipes?’
“’A man called Tom Harte, of the county Derry.’
“’Had he much trouble in teaching you?’
“’Him! Trouble! I know nothing about his trouble, but I can well remember my own trouble! There are lumps on my head to this very day, from the unmerciful cracks he used to give it when I went astray.’
‘“Ha! Ha! Ha! Oh, poor fellow! Well, farewell, Tim Callaghan! I hope your path through life will be pleasant, and may your fame spread through the thirty-two counties of green Erin, until you’re rewarded by playing the pipes in heaven!’
‘”Sure, I’d rather be rewarded with a good dinner!’ said Tim Callaghan, and made his exit.
“For a couple of years afterward I quite lost contact with Tim, and I began to fear that he had vanished from the earth altogether, without leaving a trace. But, this very summer, that particular bright star appeared again, with a strapping big wife, and a young boy called Timothy at his heels. The child being a perfect copy of his father, his nose, sleepy eyes, shovel feet and all, and all the family apparently surviving very well on Tim’s repertoire of three basic tunes, and their variations.”
This is a genuine portrait of an Irish piper, for the face of the man, and the instrument on which he is playing, are both characteristic of our Nation, genuine Irish. In the well-proportioned oval face you can recognise his years of wisdom, good sense, and gentleness, which is a common trait found among the ordinary people of Ireland, in town or countryside. As for the bagpipes, they are of the most approved Irish kind, beautifully finished, and from which we hear the delicious, relaxing strains traditional Irish music in these modern times of electric guitars and computerised tunes. Pipes such as these have been handed down from generation to generation unto the present time. As a family heirloom they are treated well, taken good care of, and used in a manner that does justice to their powers.
The cause of this apparent deficiency of feeling or talent, many believe, is due to the fact that Paddy, a genuine musical genius, never had the opportunity of hearing any of the great performers of the past and, therefore, had not the chance of improving his considerable talents further. Those whom he did hear he can imitate and outplay very successfully, but in every Irish County there is always one musician of one instrument or another more eminent than the rest, who is recognised as the best in his locality.
In this work we only wish to present a few traits in the character of an individual Irish Piper, which after all relate more to the man than the musician. At the same time, we want let our foreign readers and lovers of Ireland to realise that the true Irish Pipers are not at all like the story of the piper who made his living with only three tunes that he played for the farmers in the land for Paddy could play not three tunes, but three thousand. When he played, they say that your feet could not keep still and your spirit would rise in great joy as the strains of the Irish jig, the reel, and the country dance. This was the way it was in days past, and is slowly becoming so once again, and thank God for it.
But Paddy was more than just an exceptional piper, for he was also a very exceptional man, made even more exceptional when we are told that he had been deprived of his eyesight. He was still a kind and caring person whose path through life was marked by the regard that others felt for him, for he was respected. We had heard enough of the qualities that he had and which had gained him this respect, independently of his musical renown, before we had met with him, to make us want to get to know him better. It was while we were on a visit to Galway with some friends last summer that we tried for two or three days to get him to our hotel for an evening, but in vain. He was away from his playing his music in various locations and could not be found until, on making our way towards Connemara, we met a blind man coming along the road, whom we immediately thought was the ‘Galway Piper’, and discovered we were correct. It was Paddy Connolly himself, who had returned home for a change of clothes, and was on his way back to Galway to spend the evening with a party of gentlemen by whom he had been employed to play during the Regatta. It was not convenient for us to return to the city with him, and so we very wisely decided to carry him off with us. After we seized his pipes from him the rest was easy to do by first taking his pipes, after which we soon had him, a quiet though for a while an upset captive. “Oh! in the name of God, what will Mr Kennedy and the gentlemen think of me at all at all?” exclaimed Paddy.
“Never mind, Paddy,” we told him, “they can hear you often, but we may never have another opportunity of doing so again. So, come along with us, and rest assured that you will be as happy with us as you would have been with those gentlemen at the Regatta.” Only a few minutes later, we had Paddy crooning old Irish songs for us, and pointing out all the objects of any interest or beauty on either side of the road, and this with a correctness and accuracy which perfectly astounded us.
We kept Paddy with us for two weeks before we brought him back safely to Galway. But, during that time, as well as since, we had many opportunities to. But of all his talents, Paddy’s greatest asset was his constant benevolence toward others. There are many examples of this characteristic, which his friends and neighbours will eagerly tell you about his efforts to assist those who are poorer than himself. In his home village, about two miles from Galway, we asked him about the poverty in which his neighbours lived. “Poor? Indeed they are, Sir, very,” he replied, “they have been very badly off this year because of the wet weather, the want of heat, and the high price of potatoes.”
“And how,” I asked, “have they managed to keep body and soul together?”
“Ah, sure, just with the help of those who are a little better off than themselves.”
Paddy never said that he was the person who helped them willingly, but when he was asked was he able to give them any help he confessed that he had, saying he had lent thirty shillings to one family so they could buy seed for their bit of ground, ten shillings to another to buy meal, and so on. “And will they ever pay you back, Paddy?” he was asked.
“Och! they will, to be sure, Sir,” Paddy replied in an unconvincing manner, adding, “if they can, and if they can’t, Sir, why, please God, I’ll get over it. Sure, one couldn’t see the creatures starve!”
Then, we heard that Paddy’s turf had been stolen from him, perhaps by some of the very people whom he had helped and we were curious to ascertain how he took his loss. So, he was asked, “How were you off for turf last winter, Paddy?”
“And how did it happen that you had no turf of your own?”
“Because, Sir, it was all stolen from me, after I had paid two pounds for cutting and drying it.”
“Did you ever,” he was asked, “discover who were the robbers?”
“Oh, yes,” he replied.
“And could you prove the theft against them?”
“I could, to be sure.”
“Did you prosecute them?”
“Sure, what good would that do me?” and Paddy added, in a tone of pity, “the creatures! Sure, they were poor rogues, or they would not have taken every bit away.”
“Well, then, Paddy, did you ever speak to them about it?”
“I did, indeed.”
“And what was their answer?”
“They said, that they wouldn’t have touched it if they had known it was mine.”
“Did they ever return any of it?”
Paddy replied with a laugh, “Oh, no!”
Another story tells that one day, while Paddy was stopping at Mr O’Flaherty’s, who was blind in one eye, was walking two horses, one of which was also similarly disabled, and the other completely blind. A man who was present remarked that here were four animals, two men and two horses, that had but two eyes among them, and he proposed a race, to which Paddy and O’Flaherty agreed. Paddy was placed upon the horse which could see a little, and O’Flaherty got up on the blind one. Off they started with whip and spur, and to his great delight, Paddy won, and he was delighted at having achieved this feat.
Another day, we were standing in the kitchen, listening to Paddy telling his stories to a happy group of young people, when he was spoken to by a middle-aged woman, who, from her lack of English, misunderstood what he was saying, and imagined that he was making a pass at a lovely young girl, representing himself as an unmarried man. Paddy, therefore, was very surprised to hear himself attacked viciously in Irish and broken English, about his terrible conduct. Before the woman had stopped her tirade, Paddy’s face showed that the man would now carry on this joke. So, when he was allowed to reply, he in turn scolded her for being stupid in supposing that she knew him, denied having ever seen her before, and declared that he was not Paddy Connolly at all, and never had heard of or seen such a person. He further added, that “it was a shame for a woman with her two eyes to be so foolish.” The woman could only look at him in mute bewilderment, and actually seemed to doubt her own senses. But she gradually became satisfied as to his identity, and, excited into a virtuous rage, she rushed out of the house, declaring that she would never stop until she told his wife of his misconduct, and she kept her word.
Yes, Paddy was like many others in the county, an ardent lover of field sports. Sitting at breakfast in the local hotel our peace and quiet was suddenly disturbed by a loud din of barking dogs and shouting men. From the main window we could see the road beyond the bridge fore a mile or more and you can imagine our astonishment at seeing Paddy Connolly and Paddy McKee hand in hand and running at top speed, both shouting joyfully and accompanied by a host of greyhounds and terriers barking in chorus, and quickly racing out of sight. Looking at the hotel manager we asked, ” What in the world is the meaning of that?“
“It’s Paddy and McKee going off to course, after borrowing my dogs.”
When all is said and done we must state Paddy was both a temperate and prudent man. He was asked once, “You don’t drink hard, Paddy?”
In conclusion we will admit that Paddy appears to be in comfortable circumstances, farming a bit of ground. His cottage is neat and tidy, and he has a high opinion and decent pride in his own undoubted musical talents. He only plays for the gentry or for the more comfortable farmers. He will not lower his professional standards to play in the pubs for the ordinary folks, except on rare occasions, when he does it for free and for the sole pleasure of making them happy.