The sound of the uilleann pipes is sometimes called the sound of Ireland. But when Na Píobairí Uilleann (The Uilleann Pipers) formed in Dublin in 1968 the art of playing them was dying out, says Gay Mc Keon, the CEO.
There were only around 100 uilleann pipers and only one full-time pipemaker, he says.
Today Na Píobairí Uilleann has 1,500 members in more than 40 countries, and thousands of people play the pipes. “It has really grown from something that was almost extinct,” says Mc Keon.
Since 1982, Na Píobairí Uilleann has been based in a council-owned building at 15 Henrietta Street. Now, they have big plans to expand.
By extending the building at the front and the back, they could add a small theatre and an instrument-making workshop, and create a visitor experience and cultural centre to celebrate the heritage of the uilleann pipes.
The planning permission is in place. But the group is yet to find the €8.4 million it estimates the project will require, McKeon told councillors on the Central Area Committee, at a meeting that took place in 15 Henrietta Street on 13 December.
Councillors said they supported the plans and would try to help the group to drum up the money.
“This has to happen, it’s vital,” said Sinn Féin Councillor Séamas McGrattan. “The cultural benefits of the centre are immeasurable.”
On 15 Henrietta Street
In 1982 Na Píobairí Uilleann secured a 99-year lease from Dublin City Council for a run-down Georgian building at 15 Henrietta Street, said Mc Keon.
“There was no front door. We had to climb in through the window,” he told councillors on Tuesday.
Through fundraising and the contributions of members and volunteers, the pipers completed the renovations in 2006, he says.
Dublin City Council has agreed that Na Píobairí Uilleann can extend 15 Henrietta Street, to create a new visitor centre at a vacant site at the front of the building and a theatre and workshop at the back.
The new theatre would host a range of traditional music events. “It would be great to have this facility on the northside of the city,” says Mc Keon.
The theatre space would be open to the local community for any other events too. “We would programme it so that people are using it every day,” says Mc Keon, so it would be a facility “for the people of Dublin”.
Na Píobairí Uilleann has a training centre for making instruments, including harps and pipes, in Clonshaugh in Dublin 17.
If the expansion goes ahead they would move that workshop into the city centre to make it part of the visitor experience.
The building is next door to the Tenement Museum at 14 Henrietta Street, so together the houses would draw tourists to Henrietta Street, Mc Keon says.
Finding the Money
The council has granted planning permission for the designs, which were drawn up by Ryan W. Kennihan Architects, under its internal planning process known as Part 8.
But the group hasn’t found the money yet. Councillors on the Central Area Committee said that they would try to help the pipers get it.
“It is part of our heritage and culture,” said independent Councillor Nial Ring, who asked for the presentation.
“Your passion poured through the camera as you were speaking Gay,” says Social Democrats Councillors Cat O’Driscoll, who chairs the council’s arts and culture committee and had Zoomed into the meeting. “I’m delighted that ye have such a prominent space on Henrietta Street.”
Not only is it located beside the Tenement Museum, she says, but it is also near Parnell Square, which the council plans to redevelop as a cultural quarter – starting with building a new library.
“I think we are getting a lovely pathway of culture up through the northside,” she says.
“Bualadh bos to you, I support you 110 percent,” says Fianna Fáil Councillor Eimer McCormack.
Labour Councillor Declan Meenagh suggested that the council’s European Projects Office could assist the pipers to apply for European funding.
His party colleague Councillor Joe Costello wondered if they could apply for Urban Regeneration Development Funding, a central government fund.
Mc Keon said that the group would welcome any assistance the council could offer with funding applications.
Fine Gael Councillor Ray McAdam, who is chair of the Central Area Committee, said the councillors would follow up to see what funding streams could work and what assistance the council could offer.
“We are all strongly of the view that we need to see this done,” he said.
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