Uilleann in Ireland

My dad calls it lizard brain, the way it stirs and pulls inside you.

It echoes a piece of your soul. A piece that lives just down the road, just beyond the bend, just out of view.

Some may call it nurture. Or maybe it’s nature.

Whatever it is, it is deep and familiar and foreign, all at once. It is a recognition at your very core of something so engrained, so alive, so pure, yet so unknown.

Lizard brain is something you know intimately but have never truly encountered. It’s understanding a pull, a draw, a connection without the experience to truly claim it.

And for me, like so many proud descendants of Irish ancestors who brought their trials, their tribulations, their traveling trunks, and their traditions, this lizard brain pulses wildly within.

It is the music.

It is the music that makes my heart beat fiercely and my chest swell with emotion without ever having heard it played live.

It grabs me from within and draws me into the life of my great grandmother, who left behind familiarity for the foreign streets of Brooklyn. It follows me and it frees me. To day dream, to imagine, to find connection with my grandmother who still imitates her mother’s comforting brogue.

It is in me, like I imagine it is in so many of you.

If it’s not Irish music for you, it’s something. It’s our ancestors and their lives, living through our lizard brain.

It’s tradition and pride. It’s hardship and elation. It’s adventure and freedom and oppression and pain.

Watching this music played for the first time in the home country, I finally understood this lizard brain.

In a little country pub on a little country road in a little country village I watched as my ancestors came to life before me. My foot tapped, my heart beat, and my hands clapped to the sounds of my past. To the sounds buried in the recesses of my very self.

It’s the fiddle.

It’s the harp.

It’s the bouzouki and the banjo and the mandolin.

It’s the guitar and the accordion.

It’s the tin whistle and the flute.

It’s the bodhrán.

And in the very end, and at the very core, underlying all else, it’s the Uilleann pipes.

Ireland’s bagpipes. A bellow played with a strong elbow and pipes twiddled with nimble fingers.

Strong and nimble. These pipes are their people. They speak beauty and truth and loss with a raw depth that parallels the rugged windswept landscape of Ireland’s west coast.

They convey simple heartbreak and in the same breath they awaken the light in their eyes and the dance in their soul.

They have seen a country tearing itself apart, moaning low with anguish. They have seen celebration and ecstasy. They have seen life. Intimate and real.

They are not played, they are sung. In every pipe, there is a voice. A voice that is brought to life with the fresh cool air of the countryside. A voice that sings her tale.

A voice of a crying babe, hungering from prolonged famine.

A voice of a local fisherman, calling out his fresh catch.

A voice of a mourning mother, watching her sons trudge off to war.

It is a voice. Just one voice. And then another. And then another.

And when united in unison they sing, clear and true, with every voice of Ireland. Every voice of history. Every voice of these great people, triumphing through their troubles.


11 thoughts on “Uilleann in Ireland

  1. Oh I love this! I love Ireland too, but don’t have the ancestral connection. We should find Irish music in Boston! The Druid in Inman has it I believe.


  2. Liz,
    A great piece of writing and a great take on the pipes. They are a wild and not-easily-tamed instrument (you don’t want to be sitting next to someone who is “learning”) that, in the right hands, can raise the dead. You nailed it.

    Liked by 1 person

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