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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Galway Immigrant Edward White, noted Uilleann Pipe Maker in 19th Century Boston

  Ad in 1853


by Michael Quinlin

Edward White (1807-1877), who emigrated from Loughrea, Galway to Roxbury, Massachusetts in 1848, was a notable figure in Boston’s Irish music community, and a successful businessman as well.  

Based at Dallas Place (off of Ruggles Street) in Roxbury, White was a musical instrument repairman, whose specialty was the uilleann pipes, then referred to commonly as the union pipes or Irish bagpipes.   During this time, Roxbury was a separate city next to Boston, and would later be annexed to Boston as a neighborhood in 1868.

Throughout the 1850s, White ran a regular advertisement in the Boston Pilot, the nation’s leading weekly newspaper.  The Pilot catered to the city’s growing Irish population, but also had a national following of readers.  White’s ads ran over 225 times between 1853 and 1860.


Ad in 1859

"Edward White, manufacturer of the union Irish and Scotch bag pipes…. can furnish the purchaser with (bag pipes) superior to anything of the kind to be found in this country.  All kinds of Musical Instruments repaired on the shortest notice.  He (is) also prepared to be present at all parties (where) his services are required to play upon the union pipes."

In the 1850 US Census, White is described as a music instructor, and in the 1860 and 1870s census,  he updated it to read musical instrument maker. 

During this period, a number of well-known uilleann pipers came through Boston.  James Gansey, a 70-year-old blind piper, who arrived in December 1847 and played for the Charitable Irish Society in March 1848. Charlie Ferguson performed at Tremont Temple in Boston on December 21, 1855

According to Francis O’Neill, in his book, Irish Minstrels and Musicians (Chicago:1913), White  was a well-regarded pipe-maker, whose "tone of his drones, if equaled, were never surpassed by those of any piper known to Americans."  O’Neill also adds that when famed pipe maker Michel Egan died in New York City around 1860-61, it was White who stepped in to meet the demand, specializing in drones as well as reeds.  

O’Neill writes that White owned and operated a popular dance hall in Roxbury during the 1860s, and that he often appeared in public “with a tall silk hat.  Hence his nickname, The Dandy Piper. 

Born in Galway in 1807, White emigrated to the United States in February 1848, and took up residence in Roxbury, which had a fast-growing Irish population due to an influx of Irish escaping from the Irish Famine.   He was naturalized an American citizen in 1853.   When he married Bridget Gaughin in 1860, it was his third marriage and her second, and that year they had a daughter named Catherine.   White died on April 23, 1877.

An influential generation of Irish pipers began to emerge in Massachusetts in the 1870s that included Patsy Touhey, Bartley Murphy and his son Johnny Murphy,  James Joyce and his son Edward "Kid" Joyce, William and John Connolly, William Madden, Owen Cunningham, John Coughlan and Mici Cumbaw O'Sullivan.


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