Passionate Uilleann Piper

By Aideen O'Flaherty

A young uilleann piper from Palmerstown – who was a regular performer as part of the Ballyer Trad Hub and in trad sessions in Áras Chrónáin in Clondalkin before the pandemic – has shared what it was like to learn the instrument, and why he’s so passionate about trad music.

Seamus Ong, 18, who is studying Irish Traditional Music Performance in Ballyfermot College, got his first taste of trad music when he started learning the tin whistle at age 11 and his interest in the genre snowballed from there.

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Musicians Seamus Ong and Ian Laffan

“I started playing the tin whistle when I was 11,” he told The Echo. “When I was in my early teens I heard that trad music was great for socialising.

“So I went to the beginners’ music sessions in Áras Chrónáin in Clondalkin, and when I started listening to trad music, I noticed the uilleann pipes and loved the sound of it.”

Seamus then found out about the Society of Irish Pipers, Na Píobairí Uilleann, and he started attending their classes at age 14 and shortly afterwards got a loan of a practice set of pipes from the society.

“I remember the first time I brought home a practice set of pipes,” he reflected. “I remember, for that first week, I was just trying to play a continuous note.

“It was really difficult at the start, but then it clicked after a week and I was able to play a full note without stopping.”

After three months, Seamus was able to play in slow sessions, and after six months he could play faster sessions – and he’s now a proficient player who has built a strong repertoire.

“It feels great to play the uilleann pipes,” he explained. “The fact that I have a set of pipes, drones and a bag, it’s almost like I’m playing an orchestra – there's so many different parts.”

In 2019, Seamus was introduced to another young trad musician, Ian Laffan, by Gerry McCarthy from the Ballyfermot Youth Service, and they’ve formed a formidable duo as Ian’s bodhrán playing complements Seamus’s uilleann piping.

The two musicians performed online at the Ballyfermot Arts Festival last January, but they are hoping to expand their music offering and form a band.

“The plan for us is to get a guitar player and a singer, and have a full band,” added Seamus.

As opportunities to play at events have largely ground to a halt as a result of the pandemic, Seamus has been posting performances online, which can be found by searching for Seamus Ong on YouTube.

As for his ambitions going forward, Seamus is itching to get back on stage and grow his profile as an uilleann piper.

“It would be great to get more performance opportunities,” he said. “I’d like to expand what Ian and myself do into a band and maybe tour.

“I’d also like to get the chance to play on TV and build up my profile as a musician.”

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