Armagh Pipers Club is an independent traditional music teaching organisation based in Armagh City, which has developed into a centre of excellence. Its music classes are attended by children and adults from Armagh and seven neighbouring counties, while its annual international event, the William Kennedy Piping Festival, has attracted piping enthusiasts from all over the world. A registered charity, it operates from Áras na bPíobairí, its premises in Scotch Street, in the centre of Armagh.
Since the Club was founded in 1966, thousands of young musicians have started their musical journey in the Armagh Pipers Club. Many still play today, some have pursued musical careers as performers, teachers and academics. We have now on our rolls children and grandchildren of our original members.
Among APC’s ‘graduates’ who feature prominently on the professional touring scene are Tiarnán Ó Duinnchinn, Brian Finnegan, Barry Kerr, Niall Murphy, Niall Hanna, Cillian, Caoimhín and Niall Vallely, Leo McCann, Jarlath and Alana Henderson, Ríoghnach Connolly, Emma Robinson, Emer and Conor Mallon, Eilís Lavelle, and Méabh and Tiarnán Smyth. Bands that have included APC musicians include Lúnasa, Flook, Buille, Dorsa, Ioscaid, Nomos, North Cregg, Malinky, Cara Dillon Band, Afro-Celt Sound System, Bow Brothers, Braking Trad, Cúig, Karan Casey Band, Síoda, Reel to Reel, The APC Big Band, Réalta, Macha, Niall Hanna Band and many more.
Armagh Pipers Club and its founders Brian and Eithne Vallely have received numerous awards for their contribution to traditional music education since 1982. These include the Seán Ó Boyle Award, Bass Charrington Award, Irish Music Magazine Best Festival Award, Celtic Fusion Award (Castlewellan), Fiddlers’ Green Award (Rostrevor), Gradam Ceoil TG4 Gradam Aitheantais, and in 2018, the BBC Folk Awards Good Tradition Award.
Most of our teachers began their musical education in the Club and now share a wealth of experience and expertise to new generations. They nurture the pupils, develop their confidence and social skills and open their minds to new experiences as performers and listeners. The Club has produced 15 tutor books, which are used in the classes, along with other books and a number of CDs and DVDs. Traditional music is cross-generational and we encourage parents to play music with their children.
The Club provides classes for adults and children at a variety of levels in a wide range of traditional instruments – currently tin whistle, flute, fiddle, banjo, accordion, concertina, harp, uilleann pipes – and in singing. In normal times these are held on Monday nights in a school in Armagh, with upwards of 30 separate classes every week. During the lockdown, we had to move all our classes online, and delivered hundreds of lessons in this new way.
For 2020-21, we are starting off with all of our teaching online, but we aim to move to traditional face-to-face teaching as soon as it is safe to do so. Our first priority is to keep everyone safe, and we are not willing to risk bringing large numbers of students together, from our very wide catchment area, until we can do so with confidence. We will seek out opportunities for smaller properly distanced events – for example, bringing one or two class groups at a time into the Áras. More details of our education programme will be found in the Student Area.
In normal times the Club’s students and their families come together once a month for a session in the Áras. We hope to resume this in the coming year, though numbers may have to be restricted at first.
The Club provides opportunities for its students to hear and learn from some of the leading names in traditional music. It has run “Fonn Friday” concerts four times a year, each featuring a top singer and instrumentalist, followed by workshops on the Saturday morning. We are looking at ways of keeping up this expert input in the coming year.
Every November from 1994 to 2019, the Club has promoted the William Kennedy Piping Festival, which had to take a break this year but will return in 2021. This is the most prestigious piping festival in the world when musicians and supporters travel to Armagh from every continent. Other performance opportunities for our musicians, not all of which we may be able to run in 2020-21, are a Carols Concert in December, Burns Night in January, National Uilleann Piping Day in November, National Harp Day in October and the Mark Donnelly Piping Academy in the springtime.
STRUCTURE AND GOVERNANCE
The Club is a democratically run Company Limited by Guarantee, with a board of directors (who are also its charity trustees) elected directly by and from the membership. You can become a member for just £5 per year. The current board members are Brian Vallely (Armagh), Director of the Club; Eithne Vallely (Armagh), Director of Music; David Flanagan (Dungannon); Caitlín Ní Chearrulláin (Kilcoo, Co. Down); Judith McClenahan (Portadown); Gerry Quigg (Newry) and Siobhan Scowcroft (Armagh). The company secretary is Ciarán Ó Maoláin (Armagh). Safeguarding Officers are Siobhan Scowcroft and Mary McCabe (Monaghan).
The Club is registered with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland (NIC101109) and at Companies House (NI620647). It is funded by the tuition fees paid by its students, income from the sale of its books and CDs, box office, and grant aid, principally from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland and from Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council. Other recent donors have included the Department of Foreign Affairs and the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund. The Club’s accounts are available to anyone on request.