PORTLAND -The long, low drone of bagpipes has enchanted many people for centuries.

“There’s always something moving about the bagpipes,” Thomas O’Mara said.

Just a few years ago, he watched from a distance as a man went out on a beach at sunset and played taps on his bagpipe. The Scarborough resident has always enjoyed the tunes of bagpipers, and said when he learned about the recently formed Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band it seemed like the perfect opportunity to pick up the instrument he has always wanted to play.

Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band is a local, nonprofit bagpipe and drummer group, just reaching its one-year anniversary. Tom Ryan, who has been playing the bagpipe for 35 years, is the founder and instructor for the group.

“I grew up with bagpipe bands,” he said. “And we didn’t have one around here. I thought it would be a great spot for it, to form a band focused on competitions.”

While still in its infancy with five bagpipers, five drummers and four students, the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band doesn’t have its name in for many competitions just yet, but they are practicing hard on a weekly basis.

The group meets on Mondays at the Maine Irish Heritage Center. New students come in at 6:30 p.m. to start from the ground level, Ryan said.

He teaches his new players on a chanter, a flute like instrument, that allows students to learn scales, embellishments and how to play different notes without the challenge of filling the bagpipe with constant steady air.

O’Mara, who started in October, just started trying his hand on the bagpipe.

“It’s a slow process ” of learning, he said. “You have to get some of the basics down before you can do the pipes. It’s kind of a physically hard instrument to play, just getting the wind going.”

Paul Halvorsen, who has been playing bagpipes for nearly five years, agreed that the instrument is difficult to play.

He remembers making a transition from the chanter to the bagpipes for the first time, and said the switch was almost like “relearning” everything again.

“It just takes time and practice. You have to stick with it,” he said.

Ryan recognizes the commitment the players need to learn, as well as the financial investment. Starting people off on the chanter helps them decide if it’s something they would want to continue before “sinking a lot of dough” into bagpipes.

“It’s not easy, but I say once you learn it, and you practice, you’ll become proficient,” Ryan said.

“He’s a great instructor and very good at the pipes, so it’s a good learning opportunity as well,” Halvorsen said.

Ryan hopes to double the number of bagpipe players in the group before getting into competitions.

“The field is usually eight or nine (bagpipes). Eight or nine automatically adds more volume,” he said, which adds to the overall effect.

In the meantime, the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band has done local performances. They played for a Maine Red Claws basketball game and walked around the Old Port on St. Patrick’s Day, filling the streets with their Celtic tunes.

The Maine Red Claws game “was a big event for a lot of folks because it was packed,” Ryan said, with a crowd of 3,000. “That was our inaugural event.”

The group is also going to play for the 100th anniversary of Reilly’s Bakery in Biddeford on July 10. These performances that the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band picks up will help the group be self-sustaining, Ryan said, along with some grants they have applied for.

“We want to get to the point to do jobs to keep ourselves in business,” he said, which means buying music, equipment and performance attire, such as kilts.

Of course, the ultimate goal for the Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band is to compete in area games, but for now, they are entertaining the community and working on their technical skills. Throughout it all, O’Mara hopes that some day he can be like the man on the beach filling the sea breeze with the bellow of a bagpipe.


Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]