The importance of piping during the years of the Irish chieftains is evident in the 9th century representation of a piper on the great stone High Cross of Clanmacnoise in Co Offaly. This seat of Irish culture in Clanmacnoise fostered the great ancient school there which at its height involved six to seven thousand students. The Book of Leinster and the Book of Ballymote, written after Brian Boru’s great victory over the Vikings in 1014, spoke of pipes and pipers. There is also a drawing of the Irish War Pipes in the famous Dinnseanchus, the Irish topographical history dated 1300 A.D. There are pictures and carvings of Irish pipers throughout history in libraries and collections all over the world.
The earliest bagpipes in Ireland – testified to in the fifth century Brehon Laws – were a mouth blown peasant instrument. During the seventeenth century, the musette-type of bellows-blown pipes became increasingly fashionable among upper and lower classes alike, notably in France and Ireland.
By the early eighteenth century the somewhat improved uilleann pipes were replacing the harp as the preferred instrument for most kinds of Irish music. During the latter half of the eighteenth century, the introduction of the keyed chanter, the regulators, and other refinements by such makers as Egan of Dublin led to the emergence of what is perhaps the most sophisticated form of bagpipes in the world.
The history of piping in Ireland extends over a span of 13 centuries. References occur in ancient Irish annals to the cuisleannach or pipe blower. It is not certain exactly when bagpipes first appeared in Ireland, but it seems certain that in their earliest form they were similar to the Scottish bagpipes of today.
Deriving from this older form of pipes the distinctively Irish uilleann pipes are undoubtedly the most sophisticated and complicated form of bagpipes in existence. It is believed that the present form emerged around the beginning of the 18th century.