Musical Instruments / Bagpipes


A Brief History of Bagpipes in Scotland and Ireland

Bagpipes are an aerophone instrument, consisting of an air supply – the bag and at least one drone which can have more than one chanter. There are many types of bagpipes which have been played for centuries in many parts of Europe, Northern Africa, the Middle East and Caucasus. However, the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe and Irish uilleann pipes are best known both within the UK and around the world.

Origin of bagpipes isn’t exactly understood but there are some indications that they have been played in the Middle East as early as 1st millennium BCE. There are also records of the Roman Emperor Nero playing an instrument similar to modern bagpipes. In the Middle Ages, the instrument began to appear in art throughout Europe, while bagpipes in the British Isles were first documented in The Canterbury Tales in the late 14th century. There is, however, little doubt that they have been played on the Isles a lot earlier.

The first reference to the Scottish Highland bagpipes dates to the mid-16th century French record of the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh. According to Scottish historian George Buchanan, the bagpipes were used as an alternative to trumpet on the battlefield. The first clear evidence of the Irish uilleann pipes appears in John Derricke’s book The Image of Irelande, with a Discoverie of Woodkarne that was published in the early 1580s.

Decline and Revival

Bagpipes in Scotland and Ireland as well as most other parts of Europe gradually went ‘out of fashion’ after the development of Western classical music. This resulted in a decline of their popularity which lasted well into the 20th century. Highland regiments helped renew the interest in bagpipes during the expansion of the British Empire as well as during the First and Second World War. Revival of bagpipes, however, began only after they have been rediscovered by contemporary musicians who included them in a variety of music genres including pop, rock, metal and jazz.

Prominent Bagpipers