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The 14th William Kennedy Piping Festival was officially launched on Thursday last at the Market Place Theatre, Armagh by the Mayor Cllr Charles Roleston, with the accompaniment of music from both the Highland Pipes and the Uilleann Pipes. Playing the Highland Pipes was former World Champion Drum Major Laura Jane Lawson while playing Uilleann Pipes was Barry Kerr. The playing of these two different pipes symbolised all that the William Kennedy Piping Festival has stood for since its inauguration away back in 1994 when the Armagh Pipers Club in response to an initiative from Armagh City & District Council aimed at created community events that would reflect the rich and diverse cultural traditions of the area.

The first festival, named after a famous son of Armagh William Kennedy, piper, pipe maker, clock maker, inventor and a man of diverse talents, was such a resounding success that it was decided to hold it again the following year 1995. Each year since it has had the same effect - with people asking “when are you going to organise the next one?”  In 2004 the Armagh Pipers Club released a CD of live recordings from the first 10 years and it is hoped to commemorate 15 years in 2008 with another CD.

The Mayor speaking at the launch congratulated the Armagh Pipers Club for organising such an all embracing festival covering the two main traditions of the area represented by the Scottish and Irish pipes. He also noted the International appeal of the Festival drawing pipers from all over Europe and even from Africa, Asia, North America and Australia over the years.

Brian Vallely speaking on behalf of the Festival outlined a few of the main events making particular mention of this year’s invitation to the Ulster Youth Ensemble with whom Laura Jane Lawson plays. ” In previous years” he said ” we invited the Scottish National Youth Band made up of young pipers and drummers from all over Scotland and we thought it was about time we supported our own musicians and recognised the wonderful work being done by the Ulster Youth Ensemble. The Youth Ensemble brings together young pipers, drummers, drum majors and dancers from all over Ulster from Donegal to Antrim. Despite their wide geographical spread they have worked to put together an exciting and innovative programme representing the best in Scottish piping and dancing. Their first appearance at the William Kennedy Piping Festival is eagerly awaited” he concluded.


This year’s Festival includes many firsts starting with the first appearance of the Ulster Youth Ensemble playing in Armagh on Thursday 15th at 7.30pm in the Market Place Theatre. The 1st William Kennedy Piping Conference starts on Wednesday evening at St Patrick’s Trian when two unique exhibitions of paintings will be opened. On display will be a rare selection of historic paintings on the theme of piping ranging from the 17th Century through to the early 20th Century. Also on display will be a selection of paintings created by artist John B Vallely over a period of two years during which he had two residencies on the island of South Uist in the Outer Hebrides. The first in 2006 entailed one week at the Ceolas Festival and then in the summer of 2007 he spent a further 5 weeks there. During this time and in between he painted a unique series of paintings including oils, watercolours and drawings based on the Gaelic music, song and dance of South Uist and Cape Breton.


As in previous years there will be a big emphasis on Irish and Scottish music with some of the most exciting talent ever brought together in one festival. The Scottish end of things will be show cased by the band Capercaillie, perhaps the most successful band ever to come out of the Scottish traditional scene. Scottish pipe soloists including the brothers Allan and Iain MacDonald, Mike Katz, Hamish Moore will perform alongside the Ulster Youth Ensemble for a great night of Scottish music.

The Irish dimension will be represented by some of the best uilleann pipers including Ronan Browne of the Afro-Celt Sound System, the McKeown family of father Gabriel and sons Conor and Sean both former winners of the TG4 Young Musician of the Year award, Francis McElduff a great grandson of the famous
Belfast piper Francis McPeake the 1st, Darragh Murphy, Denis Brooks and Michael O’Connell. The Armagh contribution will include a return to his birth place of Jarlath Henderson first Irish winner of the Radio 4 Young Musician of the Year Award, the first appearance in Armagh of a new group including the Vallely
brothers Niall, Cillian and Caoimhin with vocalist Karan Casey, Brian Finnegan, Paul Meehan, Tiarnan O’Duinnchinn, Trevor Hutchinson and Brian Morrissey.


Other initiatives this year will include two performances in the Primate’s Chapel in the Demesne on Saturday & Sunday 17th/18th of a group called “Pipes of 4 Nations” featuring piping from Scotland, France, Ireland, Northumberland, Spain with some Sardinian piping thrown in for good measure. The ” Pipes and Songs” concert focuses on the relationship between traditional song in both Irish & English and its interpretation by uilleann pipers and will feature the music and song of some of our greatest living exponents including singers Roisin Elsafty from Connemara, Ciaran O Gealbhain from Waterford - formerly singer with the group DANU and Rita Gallagher from Donegal along with pipers Ronan Browne, Mick O’Brien and Peter Browne.


Both RTE and BBC will broadcast live programmes from the festival on Thursday and Friday evening while BBC will televise the Saturday night concert in the Market Place for future screening.


There will be a big programme of organised sessions in the Market Place Theatre and at venues all around the City. In addition to this there will be lunchtime concerts in the Stage Bar & Restaurant where you can enjoy your lunch and hear some great music.


The organising committee recognises the great support it has received locally from Armagh City & District Council, Armagh City Hotel, Gael Linn and the Stage Bar & Restaurant. The main sponsor of the event is the Arts Council of Northern Ireland who also supports the work of the Armagh Pipers Club through its annual revenue funding scheme. Thanks is also due to the staff at the Market Place, St Patrick’s Trian and the Palace Stables. St Patrick’s Grammar School has once again agreed to host the workshops on Saturday & Sunday and this is most appreciated. Finally the committee is appreciative of the support given by the local press not just at this Festival but throughout the year.

Permalink - Posted: November 6, 2007 at 6:14 pm