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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Chicago Uilleann Piper Charles Mack Performed "Come Back to Erin" at B.F. Keith's Theatre

The week of October 12, 1914 Chicago-born uilleann piper Charles Mack played at B.F. Keith’s Vaudeville Theatre in Boston with his musical revue, “Come Back to Erin.”  He was joined by his co-star and wife Etta Bastedo, who was from Worcester, Massachusetts.

Reviewing the show, The Boston Globe wrote that Etta “won favor in Celtic songs,” while Charles “contributed pleasing selections on a kind of bagpipe.”

In an earlier 1912 review, the Globe said that Mack and company “give a fresh and wholesome sketch that combines pathos and Celtic humor most appealingly.”

Mack was the son of Michael Charles McNurney, who emigrated from Ireland to Chicago in 1850.  McNurney and Sargeant James Early were pupils of uilleann piper James Quinn in Chicago.  Musicologist Francis O’Neill, in his book Irish Minstrels and Musicians, described McNurney as “a wealthy horseshoer and alderman, who was himself an enthusiastic dilettante on the pipes.”

McNurney's son Charles Mack, born around 1869, began performing as a teenager and was a star on the Albee and Keith vaudeville circuit, according to a 1957 story in the Miami Sunday News, which interviewed his son, Charles Jr, who had a successful career as a professional clown.  Mack was the stage name he and his father used throughout their careers. 

When Charlie Mack the piper visited Boston in 1914, he would have been familiar with the Boston Pipers Club, formed in 1910 by local musicians Michael and William Hanafin, along with PatsyTouhey, by then the leading piper of his generation.

In his book, The Companion to Irish Traditional Music, Fintan Vallely says that “vaudeville piper Charles McNurney advised Chicago piper Joe Shannon on Touhey’s technique."

For more about Boston’s Irish history and heritage, visit or