Music Makers tour at NMI for Dublin Festival of History

With the music scene in Ireland ever evolving, the National Museum of Ireland aims to preserve the history of music culture in Ireland and remind us of where it all began.  

During the Dublin Festival of History, which started in September and runs until October 25, the ‘Music Makers’ tour held at the National Museum of Ireland, Collins Barracks, takes you on their music trail featuring instruments from throughout Irish history. 

Uilleann Pipes displayed in NMI. Photo: National Museum of Ireland

The first display, protected by a glass casing on the first floor of the museum, is a set of uilleann pipes, handcrafted by Leo Rowsome in 1922.

Rowsome was born in Harold’s Cross, Dublin in 1903, and became the first Irish artist and uilleann piper to perform on BBC television, in 1933.

Seeing him through his entire traditional Irish music career, these uilleann pipes saw the creation of the Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann in 1951, to a performance in Carnegie Hall in New York to an audience of 6,000 people, bringing the Irish music culture overseas.  

Píobí uilleann (the Irish word for this instrument), is a traditional Irish wind instrument played by using one’s elbow to pump air from the bellows into the bag.

Variations of this instrument are seen throughout history, and shares traits with the Scottish bagpipes, with both instruments being invented in the early 18th century.  

It’s been proven that an ancient instrument such as the uilleann pipes can exist in the world of modern contemporary music, with Liam O’Flynn of ‘Planxty’ having great influence with his music and being recognised as the best uilleann piper of our time.  

The Hurdy-Gurdy. Photo: Katie Shadlow

The hurdy-gurdy is thought to have been inspired by the fiddle in Europe, with this particular one being produced by music maker J. Quig in Coleraine, Derry.  

The hurdy-gurdy started out its life in the Catholic Church in the medieval period and was later popularised as a folk instrument in the 16th century. It is played by turning the crank at the head of the instrument while simultaneously manipulating the keys on the neck.  

Photo: Katie Shadlow

This guitar donated to the NMI was handcrafted in 1778 by W. Gibson, a music maker based in College Green and Grafton Street. It differs from the modern-day guitar that we now know, with a much smaller face and room for ten strings instead of only six.  

This early adaptation of a guitar gives us a glimpse into how far music culture has advanced, both in Ireland and around the world.  

With several other displays to be seen in Collins Barracks on the music trail, such as the furnished music room containing a 19th century piano, and two early adaptations of what we know as the record player, learning about the history of Irish music is one of many ways to take advantage of Dublin’s Festival of History, this year.

A full list of tours at the NMI during Dublin’s Festival of History can be found here:

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