TV documentary hails Ireland's trail-blazing female uilleann pipers

A feature-length documentary film, Mná na bPíob, airs on TG4 on Sunday, December 19
TV documentary hails Ireland's trail-blazing female uilleann pipers

Louise Mulcahy appears in Mná na bPíob on TG4. Picture: Victor Tzelepis

A TRAWL through the annals of Irish traditional music soon demonstrates that the Uilleann Pipes, one of our two national instruments, was almost completely dominated by men throughout the 19th and 20th centuries.

In a feature-length documentary film, Mná na bPíob, on TG4 at 9.30pm tomorrow (Sunday December 19), we follow the renowned musician Louise Mulcahy on an exciting journey to uncover the neglected stories of a group of incredible female pipers that were airbrushed out of our cultural history.

She meets fellow musicians and scholars who give her a greater insight into these women and the challenges they faced during the testing times they lived in, from the middle of the 19th century, right up to the 1950s and beyond.

Reconstructed scenes depicting the era and lives of some of the key characters add visual interest to the documentary, while brilliant performances pay homage to their music and lives.

Meeting family members and historical experts, as well as well-known performers and researchers, Louise unearths the stories of these remarkable women who were never celebrated within the tradition, and seeks to give them the recognition they deserve.

The programme is decorated by musical performances from Louise, Michelle and Mick Mulcahy, Máire Ní Ghráda, Molly Ní Ghrada, Mary Mitchell-Ingoldsby, Rosaleen O’Leary, Heather Clarke, Marion McCarthy, Síle Friel, and many more.

Director of the Irish Traditional Music Archive, Liam O’Connor paints a picture of what life was like for some of the earliest referenced female pipers – Kitty Hanley and Nance the Piper who lived in the mid-1800s and played the pipes in an effort to earn a living.

Na Píobairí Uilleann archivist Emmet Gill tells Louise about the life of Anna Barry, the first ever female to win a piping competition in 1901. Her brilliance inspired other females in her native Cork to take up the instrument.

Mary Mitchell-Ingoldsby at UCC tells Louise about another amazing Cork piper, May McCarthy, who, in addition to her talents as a musician, was an active republican who used her opportunities for travel and performance as a way to spread the republican movement.

Daithí Ó Murchú talks about his Limerick grandmother, Margaret Murphy, who learnt the pipes at the turn of the 20th century from the blind piper Reilly, who would stay with the family and pass on the tradition to her – leading her to win the prestigious Oireachtas competition in 1914.

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