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