i had the pleasure this evening of paying a visit to uilleann piping
elder ken mcleod. i am about to restore an old set of pipes and i
needed some assistance to identify the set. ken lives within 10 miles
of my own home and it is a visit i now feel that i should have paid
him some time ago.
i have known of ken for a long time now. to me he had been a senior
figure in npu who has love for old sets, a deep admiration for the
old makers but somebody who also has a distinct dislike of modern day
pipes , especially concert pitch and somebody who was none too shy to
make scathing remarks about modern day makers and their shortcomings.
perhaps on reflection it is not suprising that i had not made the
trip to kens before.
that, hitherto, had been my opinion of ken mcleod, no more and no
less. however, witihin 5 minutes of talking to ken in person it was
obvious that i had to radically rethink any ideas i may have had
about this man.
ken led me to a room at the back of his home and showed me a table
on which i began to lay out the various pieces of this old set. i
could not mistake the obvious delight in his eyes as he immdeiately
began to examine the pipes. as there were no obvious stamps or
markings to idicate the identity of the maker ken opened up a
cupboard that contained an overwhelming treasure trove of pipes and
began to bring out pipes by various makers such as kenna, egan and
coyne so that they could be compared to my own set.
as ken brought each of the sets out of his cupboard he talked quite
matter-of-fact about each of the makers when and where they worked,
who they were apprenticed to or who worked under them, their style of
pipemaking and their individual characteristics in their sets. as
ken compared his sets to mine it would continually trigger ideas and
he would produce more sets for comparison highlighting the
phenomenonal feats of engineering of past masters, or indeed
their very simple yet very effective ideas.
ken went to a four drawer filing cabinet that was packed with
detailed engineering drawings of pipes, measurements of cutting
tools, historical information and continued to produce information on
piping artefacts so that we could establish the name of this maker
all the time talking quite candidly of old makers.
needless to say i found myself in awe of this man. the enormity
and importance of the work that he has undertaken cannot be
underestimated. it is in no small way that the enthusiasim of ken
and his diligience and that of others like him, have enabled the
survival of the uilleann pipes.
during our search ken talked about the pursuit of excellence that was
obvious in the old makers sets, and at times i felt myself quite
battered and bruised. this, however, was not kens intention, as he
talked to me in a very friendly way without preaching or lecturing.
i could not begin to estimate the many ways i found this visit
invaulable. simply by chatting, he helped reaffirm my own thoughts
on tuning and indeed on the very fundamentals of pipemaking, why
wood and cane works and why plastic does not, for example.
anybody who is fortuneate enough to find themselves in ken mcleods
company should be ware of their good fortune as he and his kind for
me is the very embodiment of irelands oral traditions.
by the way, the set i had sought kens advice on is a willie rowsome c