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Stormont set to echo to sound of traditional Uilleann pipers

By Sophie Inge

Published 15/10/2016

Leo Rowsome (far right) and his friends piping
Leo Rowsome (far right) and his friends piping

Pipers from all over Ireland will gather in Stormont's Great Hall today to play and exhibit their hand-crafted instruments as they mark International Uilleann Piping Day.

Now in its fifth year, the event is organised by Helena Rowsome Grimes, the daughter of Leo Rowsome - a world-renowned player and maker credited with helping the famous instrument to survive.

Rowsome, who taught at Dublin's Municipal School of Music (now the Dublin Institute of Technology) for 50 years, was the first Irish artist to appear on BBC television.

During his career, he taught some of today's best-known pipers including Liam O'Flynn, who played at the funeral of Seamus Heaney and the CEO of Na Piobairi Uilleann, the Dublin-based organisation for the promotion of the pipes, which has over 3,000 members worldwide.

Mrs Rowsome Grimes, from Co Down, whose family has played the instrument for six generations, said: "I'm so passionate about the family tradition and I would do anything for the pipes - that's the reason I got involved.

"It's an interesting event because all the pipers have different styles of playing and play instruments that were made by different people. And pipe makers are getting better and better.

"It's amazing how popular this instrument has become and for me it is a personal passion to hear the Uilleann pipes and to hear them played in the great hall in Stormont."

Mrs Rowsome Grimes still has fond childhood memories of her father making the pipes himself.

"My father was a very good reed maker," she added. "I used to stand at his workshop door and say: 'Daddy, what's the name of this and that?'

"He would have a cut-throat razor in one hand fashioning a piece of delicate cane to make the reed. I would be asking him the names of tunes I would play for him on my whistle at the workshop door."

Co-ordinated by the Na Piobairi Uilleann, International Uilleann Piping Day celebrations will take place at various locations worldwide.

Pipers attending today's event in Belfast have come from as far afield as Down, Antrim, Dublin, Cork, Kerry, Fermanagh and even Australia.

Several young pipers will also be in attendance.

Mrs Rowsome Grimes added: "Most of the pipers who go there have pupils and we have young people from about seven or eight years of age. And that's the important thing, as far as tradition goes."

She said she hoped the event will inspire the next generation of pipers: "It is very important to me to keep the piping tradition alive in whatever way I can.

"Having watched my father work incessantly teaching, making, performing and administration for and on behalf of Uilleann pipes, I feel I owe it to him to contribute, albeit in a small way, to the growing success of this fascinating instrument.

"In doing so, I feel that part of him is still with me."

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