By Caoimhín Mires
The All-Ireland traditional music competitions were cast into further disrepute last week after the first All-Ireland Flute Measuring Contest to take place ended in a bitter controversy at the All-Ireland Fleadh in Sligo.
In advance of the new competition, CCÉ had circulated a colour- illustrated pamphlet to adjudicators which sought to alert them to regional perceptions on what constitutes a truly big flute. The big flute-obsessed organisation hoped thereby to be able to set a national standard in what makes one flute bigger than the other, but the awarding of the trophy to Sligo-based big flute owner Mike ‘The Pipe’ Grundy (pictured above) did not sit well with contestants from neighbouring County Leitrim.
Packie O’Toole, a noted exponent of the Leitrim style of big flute playing, explained that it is not just simply a matter of length, and that a more nuanced approach is required to evaluate the size of a man’s big flute: “Them Sligo boys are just all hollow length. You know, they started playing them quare Fred Finn tunes that go down to the extra foot-joint keys, low C natural and even low B, so they go in for big, skinny flutes with fancy yokes at the end."
"Up our country it’s more girth: We want the wider bore for the breathier, rhythmic sound, you know – a shorter flute that you can just about get your fingers round and pump away at all night. As far as we’re concerned, going at a big lanky Sligo flute with a limp piper’s grip is just all wrong. Something has to be done about it. Our flutes are just as big but in a different way. Sure it’s horses for courses.”
CCÉ head office would not comment on the result of the competition but admitted that the event is only just getting off the ground. A spokesman said that, while they are very sensitive to regional variations in what constitutes a truly big flute, the whole nature of the Fleadh competitions is to give young people something to shoot for, and so a clear outcome is necessary. He said CCÉ would do its upmost to accommodate all categories of big flute in future.