Irish Tunes for the Warpipes, 1911

The mouth-blown bagpipes, commonly called the ‘warpipes’ in Ireland, have been played here since medieval times, and were then the instrument which often led Irish forces into battle.

With the introduction of more modern methods of warfare in the 17th century, they lost their military function, and were played only to accompany such recreational activities as dancing, parading, and leading sports teams onto the field of play. By the 18th century, their position had largely been usurped by the quieter bellows-blown uilleann pipes, which were usually played indoors. But there was still a social need for a loud outdoor bagpipe for certain public occasions, and the Irish warpipes never quite disappeared. They enjoyed a revival in Ireland in the later 19th century, under the influence of the bands of Scottish regiments of the British Army stationed in Ireland. The warpipes continue to be played in Ireland as a solo and as a band instrument, and most commonly in the context of competitions.

Nationally minded Irish warpipers incorporated native tunes in their repertories from the time of the revival, often adapting them from other instruments and existing publications. After 1900, as the revival progressed, printed collections of these warpipe melodies began to be published. Among the earliest and most influential was the 1911 collection Irish Tunes for the Scottish and Irish War-Pipes, compiled by William Walsh and arranged and published in Edinburgh by David Glen, the original printing of which is presented below from the collections of the Irish Traditional Music Archive.

William Walsh, a flute player and dancer as well as a warpiper, and an Irish speaker, was born in 1859 in Oughterard, Co Galway, and was brought to America as a child. Settled in Chicago, he was attracted to the sound of the warpipes, and sought out the company of Scottish players there. He joined the police force in the city in 1891, and was a friend of the music collector Francis O’Neill who was prominent in the force. Walsh was self-taught in music and learned from notation in preference to ear, and his collection of Irish and Scottish tunes for the instrument was in manuscript by 1909. David Glen (b. 1850), one of a prominent family of musical instrument makers and music publishers which had been in business in Edinburgh since the 1820s, added characteristic grace notes to Walsh’s notations. The collection was later reprinted by Glen in a 2/6 edition, and reprinted by Mozart Allan in Glasgow in 1951.

NC & MG, 1 February 2014