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Uilleann Pipes-
Eugene Lambe Tells His Story

One of Irelands' best-known uilleann pipers, Eugene Lambe shared with us his story of falling in love with the instrument.

No better way to start this page on Eugene Lambe's story of falling in love with the pipes by listening to the man himself playing the instrument he is best known for.

Watch Eugene playing the uilleann pipes here.

Watch a video here of Eugene playing the uillean pipes at a concert at the Crane Bar in Galway.

Eugene Lambe's Story

When Eugene was small, Irish pipes were almost extinct. He first heard them being played on the radio by a man called Leo Rowsome, who was to become one of his heroes and whom he befriended later on. Leo Rowsome was one of only a handful of pipe players in Ireland at the time. Eugene didn’t know at first what the instrument was that he heard and assumed it was a fiddle because he had seen his uncle John play the fiddle and he knew his mother owned one. Irish music wasn’t fashionable back then. There were very few players.

Irish piper and instrument maker Eugene Lambe switching off the light in his workshop after a days' work is done.

Eugene Lambe switching off the light in his workshop at Kinvara, County Galway, after a days' work.

Although there was no official support or backing for Irish music when Eugene was young, he was first exposed to it at school aged 8. Just for the love of the music, his teacher used to fit in a “begrudged 15 minutes” of tin whistle lessons at the end of the school day. Without moving a single facial muscle Eugene explains:

“At the time, you see, the school curriculum was exclusively about the four big R’s: Reading, Riting, Rithmetic, and Religion.”

Eugene loved the whistle. He would often walk home still playing the tunes he learned that day so that he wouldn’t forget them. On a windy day, this could only be done by turning the top piece of the whistle back to front.

One day, from his window in Malahide, County Dublin, he heard pipes being played in the distance. Eugene followed the sound. He found out that these were war pipes played by a piper who was in a band that met at the local band hall. He asked to join the band but was told it would cost a shilling to join. He could have come back next week, but he was not going to wait. He ran back home to fetch the money and his journey into the world of pipes began with these weekly meetings. While a member of the Laurence O'Toole Pipe Band he was introduced to the Irish pipes or uilleann pipes.

A set of Irish pipes made by Eugene Lambe.

A set of Eugene Lambe Irish Pipes.

He fell in love with the particular sound of these pipes and decided he wanted to play them. However, there weren’t any pipes available to buy in music shops. Eugene reckons there must have been a couple of hundred sets of antique Irish pipes in the country at the time, different types of pipes all in various states of disrepair. But there was no one there to fix them, and no one interested in playing them. Eventually, through word of mouth, he was able to track down Matt Kiernan, a retired guard, who had started making uilleann pipes working on a treadle lathe in his back kitchen. Matt made a practise set for Eugene and taught him how to make his own pipes.

Eugene started building pipes in 1967. This was the beginning of a lifelong fascination with uilleann pipes and started his career as a pipe maker. Together with another three or four makers of Irish pipes, he was at the crest of the Irish folk revival in the 1970ies giving Irish music the breath of life it so badly needed.

Read More About Irish Music

Says Eugene:

“Before the revival, everyone looked to Britain and America for music, and all the latest trends from there were copied over here, show bands, jazz, commercial pop. Irish music was seen as something boring and old-fashioned, something from the past. Nowadays, everyone wants their kids to learn to play Irish music.”

Kinvara village in the distance at the foot of the Burren, Ireland, home to Eugene Lambe, Irish piper and instrument maker.

This landscape sets the scene for Eugene Lambe's music and craft of making uilleann pipes- the picturesque village of Kinvara, County Galway nestled into the foot of the Burren hills.

Not a man to blow his own trumpet and prone to using understatement, Eugene will seek out new challenges all the time. Learning to play and build the uilleann pipes was only the start of a journey of self-discovery.

Check your own bucket list against some of Eugene’s achievements and see how you do. He has:

  • Fixed and renovated his own house doing the building work and carpentry himself
  • Picked up the Irish language to become fluent
  • Done a PhD in science and taught at university level
  • "Escaped" from the British civil service (his words)
  • Worked as a professional diver
  • Built a steel boat and sailed across the Atlantic and back and on the latest voyage of 13 months with his partner Caroline. They visited Spain, Portugal, Morocco, lots of the Canary Islands and then sailed a couple of thousand miles back home via the Azores.

There is enough in that for a couple of life times, but far from sitting back in contentment, Eugene is youthful and adventurous as ever. Having started a young family, he is now choosing an easier pace with the instrument making, saving his energy for his daughter, Roisin.  A big project to take on for anyone. Where his musical instrument making is concerned, Eugene wants to spend time experimenting and researching, looking for further improvements that he can make to the performance of his creations.

Hello there, nice to meet you! Hope you enjoyed this article on Eugene Lambe's love for the Irish pipes.

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Thank you so much and warmest regards from Ireland from Susanna and Colm.

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