The William Kennedy Piping Festival celebrates the life and work of William Kennedy, the 18th century piper, pipe maker and inventor who was born in 1768 near Banbridge and died in 1834 in Tandragee, County Armagh. 2003 we celebrated the 10th Anniversary of the Festival and invited a representative selection of some of the best pipers and groups in the world to mark the occasion. This 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 brought pipers from Spain, France, Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Belarus, Canada, USA, England, Scotland, and Wales as well as the cream of Irish pipers to Armagh.
The festival is organised by Armagh Pipers Club which was founded in 1966 and has been to the forefront of traditional music not just on a local scale but worldwide through our publications and teaching programme over all those years. In 2003 alone, pipers from Armagh have taken classes at Piping Festivals as far apart as the United States and New Zealand. The 8th Festival saw a major exhibition entitled "Pipes, Pipers and Paintings" - an exploration of a musical tradition, take place in Armagh County Museum. This exhibition featured pipes and paintings from major museum and private collections throughout Ireland and the UK. We were delighted to hear that it has recently won a Diversity 21 exhibition award.
Triple PipesThe William Kennedy Piping Festival has been a voyage of discovery that began with the inaugural festival in 1994. This voyage began in a most unexpected way when Hamish Moore produced 3 pipes of varying lengths out of his pipe case during an illustrated talk in the auditorium at St Patrick's Trian.
As he began to explain these strange pipes I suddenly made an intuitive connection and looked at the Armagh Pipers Club badge which I had designed almost 25 years previously. Hamish was telling us that these pipes were inspired by a carved panel on the 8th Century High Cross (Cross of St Martin) on the Isle of Iona situated just off the Isle of Mull on the West coast of Scotland. He further explained that a similar Triple Pipe instrument called the Launeddas was played to this day in Sardinia.
The Armagh Pipers Club badge was based on a carved panel on the 9th Century High Cross at Clonmacnoise which Brendan Breathnach had drawn my attention to sometime in the late 1960's at one of the early Na Piobairi Uilleann gatherings. It immediately became clear to me at this stage that our Festival (founded on the well documented shared cultural inheritance of Ireland and Scotland reflected in gaelic song, scots ballads, instrumental music particularly piping and fiddling and the various dance traditions of both countries) was never going to be the same again.
The immediate link between the High Crosses was easy enough to explain - the link was St Colmcille known in Scotland by his latin name St Columba. What was not so easy or comfortable but exciting was the Sardinian link. What was this all about?
After a lot of research we finally tracked down a Sardinian Launeddas player by the name of Luigi Lai. We invited him to Armagh not really knowing what his music was about. However Luigi's arrival was a milestone occasion in the history of the William Kennedy Piping Festival. This unassuming man produced a series of canes from his box and proceeded to play for 14 minutes non stop. When he finished there was a standing ovation that equalled the length of the piece he played. Luigi has returned on several further occasions and stole the show each and every time.
Director, 19th WKFP