The William Kennedy Piping Festival returns to Armagh City in November with a full programme of concerts, sessions, workshops, and lectures. Hosted by the Armagh Pipers’ Club, the twenty-eighth edition of the festival will take place over the weekend of November 17-20.
Among the highlights of a packed programme is ‘inB’ – an exciting new collaboration which brings together Scottish pipers, Brìghde Chaimbeul (pictured above) and Fin Moore, with uilleann pipers Louise Mulcahy and Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn.
A celebrated piper-maker with his father, Hamish, Fin Moore plays the Highland pipes, Border pipes and Scottish Small Pipes. He is also a piping teacher. One of his most acclaimed students is Brìghde Chaimbeul, whose first set of small pipes was made by Hamish Moore. She won the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Award in 2016, and the Horizon Award in the 2019 BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards. Limerick woman, Louise Mulcahy is enjoying a burgeoning reputation as an uilleann piper – in addition to being a highly accomplished flute player. Among the many accolades, she has received recently are the stewardship of the late Liam O’Flynn’s pipes at the behest of Na Píobairí Uilleann, and appropriately, the Liam O’Flynn Award, the bursary and performance opportunity jointly by the National Concert Hall and Arts Council in the Republic. Tiarnán Ó Duinnchin from Monaghan is an alumnus of the Armagh Pipers’ Club (APC). With multiple All-Ireland and Oireachtas titles as well as the Seán O Riada Bonn Oir to his name, he has played as a soloist and in a variety of collaborations – most notable in duos with harpist, Laoise Kelly, and with vocalist, Máire Ní Bhraonáin. His latest collaboration in this new quartet of pipers promises to be the highlight of this edition of the William Kennedy.
Two more APC alumni will return for the festival: Jarlath Henderson and Cillian Vallely. Jarlath who has been based in Scotland working as a hospital doctor in the National Health Service throughout the pandemic has been performing recently as a member of Dónal Lunny’s Atlantic Arc project. Cillian Vallely spends a good deal of his time performing with Lúnasa in the US. The son of the Club’s co-founders Brian and Eithne Vallely, Cillian will perform a specially commissioned new work with the internationally acclaimed Fidelio Trio.
The William Kennedy Festival has developed a reputation for showcasing piping traditions from many parts of the world. This year the festival will welcome the twelve-piece Portuguese band Orquestra de Foles, a gaita-de-foles and percussion ensemble created by the Bagpipe Society of Portugal; and the Trio Lampetròn from Italy, consisting of müsa (Italian pipes), accordion and piffero (shawm). The international visitors will also include uilleann piper, Joey Abarta from the USA, and Scottish pipers, Rory Campbell from Galashiels and Alana MacInnes from South Uist.
Surpisingly perhaps, piper Declan Masterson will make his first appearance at the festival. One half of Moving Hearts’ two-piper arrangement for The Storm – in tandem with Davy Spillane – Declan also featured in Andy Irvine’s band, Mosaic, Patrick Street and the Riverdance Orchestra, where he also undertook guitar and bouzouki duties in addition to uilleann pipes and whistles. Declan has collaborated with an array of other artists on record, including Clannad, Zoë Conway, Anúna, Brian Kennedy, Townes Van Zandt, Ronnie Drew, Van Morrison and the Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipeband.
The Dunne family from Limerick will make a relatively rare public appearance together. Fiddler and voalist, Niamh, tends to divide her time between the band, Beóga, and playing with the Karan Casey Band with Niall Vallely and Niamh’s partner, Seán Óg Graham from Belfast. For the festival Niamh and Seán will be joined by Niamh’s sister, Bríd on fiddle, and her father, Mickey, a celebrated uilleann piper.
Among the other acts confirmed for the festival are Paddi Benson, Grace Lemon and James Patrick Gavin from London; Aaron O’Hagan and Luke Ward from Belfast; and local highland piper Brendan Murphy.
The musicians will play at six major recitals over the four days of the festival. Admission to each concert is a modest £10. However, the APC also offers a festival pass offering sccess to all six concerts for £40. Tickets for these events are available from https://armaghpipers.com/wkpf/programme/.
Another feature of the festival is the intensive Piping Academy – named in honour of the late Mark Donnelly, former piper with Craobh Rua – which takes place over two mornings with many of the pipers performing at the festival offering expert tuition to students.
The festival was originally established as a one-off event in 1994 in memory of the blind piper and pipe-maker, William Kennedy, who was originally from Banbridge but lived for many years in Tandragee in the early years of the nineteenth century. The festival proved to be so popular that it quickly became an annual event – with an emphasis on pipes of various kinds but also including virtuoso performers on a range of other traditional instruments.