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Media « The Festival of Ireland

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Ancient sound to new ears
By Kim Smith Dedam
Staff Writer

LAKE PLACID — He tilted the pipe on a scrap of soft leather laid across one knee and pressed the holes with his fingertips.

Then JohnJoe Reilly squeezed the bellows strapped under one elbow.

Long strains of blending notes rose soft and slow from the ancient Irish pipes and filled the room with a lilting and tonic melody bound together by winding chords.

The uilleann, or “union” pipe, in his lap is the traditional pipe of Ireland.

JohnJoe’s fingers slid up the slender pipe called a chanter as the velvet bag under the other arm breathed with the bellows.

The smaller, more gentle-toned bagpipe dates back to the end of the 17th century, he explained in words thick with an Irish brogue.

“It was created after the Irish war pipes were banished by the English for raising too much Gaelic. They called the uprisin’ a ’skirl of the pipes,’” he said. “Punishment for playing them could be hanging or a beatin’.”

The sound of the pipes, he said, has always gathered people together.


Uillean means “elbow” in Irish, JohnJoe explained as he pressed the bellows under his right elbow.The pipe whined harmoniously in a slow air.

“It’s more mellow. When the music was driven inside, that’s what we had to do or the music would be lost forever.”

And lucky it wasn’t, said fellow musician Shane O’Neil, who tuned a bodhran, a round Irish drum.

Bodhran is the old word for “death person,” reflecting an age when the drum marked a funeral procession or other parades.

It is played with a tipper, or kippean, a two-sided drumstick about six inches long, Shane said.

The two musicians are the core players in an Irish music revival and formed Aiseiri Productions, bringing these ancient sounds to the hills of Lake Placid.

Creating a new music scene, Shane and JohnJoe organized the Festival of Ireland or “An Fleadh Na Eire 2008″ that will be staged by the Olympic Regional Development Authority under the ski jumps at McKenzie Intervale on Saturday and Sunday.


The pair aren’t newcomers to the region, but blend their time living here with travels to Ireland for summer music school.

JohnJoe came to the Adirondacks about 10 years ago on a visit with some uncles from the Bronx and never went back.

Shane was born and grew up here; his family ran Art Devlin’s restaurant in Lake Placid.

He remembers his mother’s cultural attention to the ways of the Irish.

“There’s a deep connection with Ireland here,” he said of his friends and family.

Bringing the old sounds forward, Aiseiri connected with another Irish piper, Mike Cooney, originally from County Tipperary.

“Throw a stone and you could hit his house,” JohnJoe quipped from an office on Saranac Avenue.

“Mike moved to the Adirondacks five years ago, and somebody called us and said, Hey, have you met that piper from Tipperary called the Piper Cooney?’”


For the two musicians, finding other Irish musicians was as easy as sending the strains of a pipe through the air.

But creating a festival to deliver ancient songs to new ears is a very exciting thing for them.

Most of Aiseiri’s music is traditional material: reels, jigs, hornpipes, marches and slow airs, JohnJoe said.

“But you don’t have to be Irish to love the culture,” Shane said.

“We think people should come out and enjoy community, put your laptop down, put your cell phones away.”

“Them songs and that music has a lot of meaning; it’s coming from the soul,” JohnJoe said. “It’s a great accomplishment to play an instrument like this.”

Last year the winner of the Festival Of Ireland 50/50 Raffle was Linda Kane from Plattsburgh, NY
Thanks so very much to all who took part in the raffle.

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