The Pipes of Peace
10 Feb 2010
Pipers, once rare, are today a commonplace feature in Ireland again. One devotee, Brian Vallely founded the Armagh Pipers Club –his aim to promote and teach Irish music in the Armagh area.
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Call into any traditional Irish music session from Donegal to Cork, or even in as far-flung places as Edinburgh and New York, and you are sure to come across an Uillean piper. Pipers, once a dying breed, are today a commonplace feature in Ireland again.
In the 1950s and 60s the pipes were close to dying out, with very few makers or tutors emerging to carry on the tradition. Thanks to the work of a handful of enthusiasts however, this is not the case.
Brian Vallely is one such devotee. In 1966 he founded the Armagh Pipers Club, with the aim of promoting and teaching Irish music in the Armagh area. Over the years it has become a major part of the developing tradition in Ireland, with many a world-class musician starting out in one of its groups.
An offshoot of the club is the William Kennedy Piping Festival. This annual event celebrates the life and work of William Kennedy, an 18th century piper from County Armagh, who was also a maker of the instrument, as well as an inventor. The Festival, originally conceived to bring together pipers from different countries and traditions, was the first of its kind anywhere in Northern Europe. To date the event has drawn performers from Spain, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belarus, Canada, USA, England, Scotland, and Wales, as well as the cream of Irish pipers.
Brian’s other passion is painting, where he is known as JB Vallely. With 40 years behind him, he is regarded as one of Ireland’s greatest living painters. In recent times, millions of pounds have been spent on development in Armagh City and Brian’s art was chosen, in the form of a major retrospective exhibition, to mark the first event at the long awaited and magnificent Market Place Theatre. Almost two hundred paintings were retrieved throughout and beyond Ireland, in order to document the extraordinary life of this painter and in particular to capture his wholehearted enthusiasm for traditional music, sport and mythology.
Despite all the setbacks and hardships in the country, especially during the dark days of the troubles, JB Vallely has stayed put, battled on and painted away in his native homeland. Whilst he may not see himself as a peacemaker, he is aware that his work, particularly with music, crosses many divides within the local community. International tourists are also frequenting the area more and more, partly due to the success of festivals such as the WKPF, and Brian, along with many others, is playing his part in changing the image from conflict to culture.
Brian’s passion for the pipes and Irish music could have been portrayed as a social initiative, but his relentless work in Armagh over the years as a traditional music enthusiast and painter came from the heart and is all the more effective because of it.
Image courtesy of Armagh Pipers — A piper in performance.
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