Na Píobairí Uilleann (NPU, the Society of Irish Pipers) was founded by uilleann pipers in 1968 in order to promote the uilleann pipes and its music, both products of Irish tradition and inspiration. In 1968 there were only an estimated 100 players of the instrument, around half in Ireland and the remainder spread across the world. Today NPU is a thriving arts organisation dedicated to Sharing the Sound of Ireland through Access, Education, Performance and Preservation, delivered through the organisation’s commitment to excellence in values, governance and processes.

Since 1979 NPU has been based in Dublin’s Henrietta Street, establishing a centre for piping and the other traditional arts with a focus on the study and practice of uilleann piping. NPU’s pipemaking training centre, PipeCraft opened in 2011 providing courses in uilleann pipe making.

NPU provide a regular programme of piping tuition, pipemaking tuition, music performances and publications, with a dedicated website for uilleann  pipers and traditional music lovers in Ireland and worldwide.

Na Píobairí Uilleann’s primary funding agencies include the Arts Council/An Comhairle Ealaíon, The Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht


Na Píobairí Uilleann, 15 Henrietta Street, Dublin 1, D01 N504.

Phone: +353-1-8730093

Email: [email protected]



 UNESCO recognition for Irish uilleann pipes

Updated / Thursday, 7 Dec 2017 19:12

President Higgins said the recognition of uilleann piping in Irish culture is an honour

Irish uileann pipes have been recognised as an important and unique cultural heritage symbol by UNESCO.

The recognition follows an earlier decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation to inscribe the Irish Folklore Commission Collection into its 'Memory of the World' register.

President Michael D Higgins has welcomed the move.

In a statement, President Higgins said the recognition of uilleann piping in Irish culture is an honour and a "valuable recognition of the skills, imagination, creativity and importance of those who make, restore and play na píobaí uilleann".

He said the music and craftwork of Ireland "connect us in profound ways, weaving together cultural memory and contemporary vision".

The President congratulated those who made this international recognition possible and said the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage not only celebrates human diversity and ingenuity, but raises "awareness of the importance of protecting our shared cultural heritage".

Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Josepha Madigan also welcomed the decision saying: "Today's decision is testament to the community of uilleann pipers across the country who, since the 1960s, have succeeded in their mission to stop the decline in the playing and making of the uilleann pipes.

"The success today is a real community effort from Na Píobairí Uilleann, Scoil Samhraidh Willie Clancy, the Armagh Pipers Club, and other organisations and individuals who have contributed to the resurgence of interest in uilleann piping, in Ireland and around the world." 

History of the Uilleann Pipes

The first reference to the bagpipes in Ireland is found in a dinnseanchas or topographical poem, “Aonach Carman”, the fair of Carman, a composition of the eleventh century found in the Book of Leinster:

  • Pípaí, fidlí, fir cen gail,

  • Cnámfhir ocus cuslennaig,

  • Slúag étig engach egair,

  • Béccaig ocus búridaig.

  • (Pipes, fiddles, men without weapons,
    bone players and pipe blowers,
    a host of embroidered, ornamented dress,
    screamers and bellowers.)

It is obvious that the player of the pípaí here mentioned differed from the cuisleannaig or pipe blowers; and since pípaí, modern píopaí, was found some centuries later to designate the bagpipes, it is reasonable to assume that in its earliest recorded occurrence in Irish the term likewise related to this instrument.

Woodstock piperThe earliest representations of pipe-playing are to be seen on the High Crosses, and illustrations are next recorded in the 16th century. A rough wood carving of a piper formerly at Woodstock Castle, co. Kilkenny, and the picture of a youth playing the pipes drawn Rosgall piperon the margin of a missal which had belonged to the Abbey of Rosgall, co. Kildare, belong to this century. The two pipes depicted are obviously the prototype of the present day Píob Mhór or war pipes. In form they are one with the types depicted on the Continent about this time (e.g. Dürer’s piper, 1514).

There is no record of the pipes or any other musical instrument being played on the field of battle in pre-Norman Ireland. In later times the pipes were regarded by foreign commentators as being peculiarly the martial instrument of the Irish.

Dürer’s piper“To its sound this unconquered, fierce and warlike people march their armies and encourage each other to deeds of valour”.

The pipes had a more peaceful use. Writing in 1698, John Dunton, an English traveller, describes a wedding in Kildare:

“After the matrimonial ceremony was over we had a bagpiper and blind harper that dinned us with their music, to which there was perpetual dancing.”

The distinctively Irish type of pipe emerged about the beginning of the 18th century. Its distinguishing features are:

  • the bag filled by a bellows, not from a blow pipe;

  • a chanter or melody pipe with a range of two octaves as compared with a range of nine notes on the older pipes;

  • the addition of regulators or closed chanters which permit an accompaniment to the melody.

The modern full set of pipes comprises bag, bellows and chanter, drones and regulators. The tenor or small regulator was added to the set in the last quarter of the 18th century. It was spoken of as a recent addition, not yet in general use, in 1790 and it was the only one referred to by O’Farrell in his tutor for this instrument which was published about 1800. The middle and bass regulators were added in the first quarter of the 19th century.

These pipes are now most commonly known as Uilleann pipes (pronounced ill-yin, from Irish uille, elbow). This name was first applied to the instrument as last as the beginning of the 20th century when it was foisted on the public in 1903 by Grattan Flood who then proceeded to equate it with the ‘woollen’ pipes of Shakespeare, thus providing for the instrument a spurious origin in the 16th century.

Pipes are made in various pitches. In the older sets the pitch is usually a tone, sometimes more, below concert pitch. Among players such pipes are known as ‘flat sets’. The bottom or fundamental note of the chanter is called ‘D’, irrespective of the pitch. This custom of calling the bottom note of their instrument ‘D’, irrespective of the actual pitch, is also common among flute and whistle players.

Piping was at its zenith in pre-Famine Ireland. Thereafter the old dances began to give way to the various sets and half-sets based on the quadrilles and the pipes were superseded by the melodeon and concertina. Towards the end of the 19th century it seemed as if the Irish pipes were fated to follow the Irish harp into oblivion. Fortunately, when the national revival, initiated by the Gaelic League, got under way in 1893, all aspects of the native culture began once more to be cultivated. Pipers’ clubs were founded in Cork (1898) and in Dublin (1900).

Competitions for the instrument were organised by the newly founded Feis Ceoil and the Oireachtas and the old surviving pipers were assisted to attend and compete at these events. Genuine traditional players were engaged to teach beginners and in this way the art of piping was passed to a new generation without any break in tradition. While the succession was secured, the pipers’ clubs did not long survive the first flush of enthusiasm and once more the future of the instrument was in jeopardy. Occasional surges of interest occurred but public reaction to the music was one of disdain and the difficulty of obtaining pipes in tune and easily sounded disheartened youngsters attracted to the instrument.

The establishment in 1968 of Na Píobairí Uilleann, the Uilleann Pipers, may well prove to be the factor which will ensure the survival of the pipes in Ireland. Founded by musicians who had ties with the first pipers’ club in Dublin and restricted to practitioners, this society possesses firm links with the past, and these are further strengthened by the discovery of old cylinder recordings (made in the first decade of the 20th century) of pipers who were then old men. Live tuition and the study of those old recordings have resulted in a line of young players whose progress towards a master of the instrument continues to astound the older players. The rediscovery of the pipes, at an international level, is reflected in the number of aspiring pipers from America and Continental Europe who visit Ireland each year to learn the instrument. The progress made by some of these visitors is astounding.

The surge of interest in piping has generated other activities. Numerous records of piping have been issued by recording companies; specialist collections

From NPU Website