Edward Keating Hyland, the Tipperary Piper

A bit of a different article today, with a musical treat at the end. This article caught my attention as my paternal immigrant ancestors were a Keating married to a Hyland. (No known relation on either side to the subject of the article…) On top of that, I used to play the Great Highland Bagpipes. They are a bit different from the Union (or Uilleann) pipes Edward that was gifted, but possibly closer to what he started with. (Perhaps one day, when I have the time, I can add the Uilleann pipes to my collection of instruments that I play poorly…).

Edward Keating Hyland, the Tipperary Piper. — The death at Cahir, Co. Tipperary, in October, 1889, in poor circumstances, of Mary Hyland Lonergan, niece of Edward Keating Hyland, the prince of performers on the Irish Bagpipes, induced an anonymous correspondent to write the following interesting sketch of him, which is copied from a “Cork Examiner” cutting. — “Edward Hyland was born at Cahir, in 1780. His mother was one of the Keatings of Tubrid, that family which gave to Ireland the priest, poet, patriot, and historian, Geoffrey Keating. At an early age Hyland evinced considerable talent, but just as his friends had arranged that he should study for the Church he was attacked in that prevaccination period by small pox, trough which he lost his sight at the age of fifteen. In those penal days the bagpipe was one of the remaining joys of the Irish peasantry, and “the ring of the piper’s tune in the Glen of a summer’s night,” was the poor peasants’ almost only recreative solace. The piper was always sure of a living and a kind reception among all classes in town and country ; and when blindness deprived young Hyland of any other means of livelihood, he took to playing the bagpipes. The lessons locally received did not satisfy the young musician, and he therefore travelled through the country to improve himself, and finally took up his abode at Dublin. Sir John Stevenson heard him play, and greatly admired his performance, but noticed in it a want of technical and theoretical skill. There being then a great desire to transmit the melodies of the country in a pure form to posterity, Edward Hyland, was made the medium, and obtained distinguished patronage. He received lessons in melody and harmony from Sir John Stevenson, and was taught variation as a separate musical form. The result was that some years later, although capable of the highest execution upon his instrument, it was as if the art of singing had been applied to the bagpipes when Hyland played such airs as “The Coulin,” “Last Rose of Summer,” or “O Blame not the Bard.” When George IV. visited Dublin in 1821, this blind exponent of the Irish national instrument was presented to the King, who was so pleased with his performance that he ordered the minstrel to be supplied with a new instrument of the first quality. In this way he became the recipient of a set of Union pipes (one instrument) which cost fifty guineas, with a purse containing fifty guineas from his Dublin friends and admirers. The union of the drone and chanter, the chromatic scale, and other improvements in the new pipes, gave new powers to the performer, and opportunities of employing the various suspensions and chords of the dominant seventh and ninth. Personally he was considered a pious, gentlemanly, and patriotic man. His conceptions were very keen. When after twenty years’ absence he returned to his native town, to attend his mother’s funeral, it happened that considerable difference of opinion as to the site in the Square of a spring well, long since covered up, on which it was intended to erect a pump. The blind man marked the place with his stick, and it was found to be correct. He appeared to have no trouble in telling the time by his watch, and when any of his friends visited him in Dublin, he shewed them over all the objects of interest in the city. His descriptive scene “The Fox Chase,” was prompted by the verses of a contemporary — Darby Ryan — the imitative, but gifted poet of Bansha. This piece, with the hounds in full cry, and other sporting imitations accompanying the tune, would make a respectable adjunct to the programme music of the present day. It is said that Gandsey, Lord Headley’s piper, another “dark man,” was entranced when he heard “The Fox Chase.” He not only made the nearest approval to the composer’s performance, but added some interesting effects of his own. It is to be feared that the music of this characteristic piece is lost to the present generation. Hyland died at Dublin in 1845.” The writer of the above sketch states that whilst their grandfathers and grandmothers could all dance and sing, scarcely twenty per cent of the present or rising generation in our rural districts have any ear for music . . . The late Canon Goodman, Protestant Rector of Skibbereen, and professor of Irish in Trinity College, was an expert performer on the Irish bagpipes
James Coleman.

Coleman, James. “Edward Keating Hyland, the Tipperary Piper.” Journal of the Waterford & South-East of Ireland Archæological Society VII (1901): 54-55. http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/ejournals/100583/100583.pdf (accessed February 25, 2021).

Edward was also known as Edmund Keating Hyland, or in the Irish, Éamonn Céitinn Ó Haoláin. A statue of him and his pipes are erected in the town square within Cahir.

For your enjoyment, here is a version of the song that Hyland played with Gandsey. You may recognize some themes within it.

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