Irish Warpipe

Henry Starck Pipe Maker

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While this article is about Henry Stark as the maker of the Brian Boru pipes, Starck was also the major supplier of two droned warpipes.
By Phil Carter

Henry Starck and the Brian Boru Bagpipes


The story of Henry Stark, bagpipe maker,  and the invention of the Brian Boru bagpipes are both bound up in the renaissance of Irish nationalism and Gaelic culture in the second half of the nineteenth century. Within the British Army this  nationalism manifested itself in an attempt by the eight regular Irish line infantry regiments to distinguish themselves from their English counterparts by the adoption of Irish tunes by their military bands and the establishment, albeit unofficially, of pipers and pipe and drum bands on their establishment.

By 1864  the 87th., The Royal Irish Fusiliers, had a piper within the regiment[i]. In 1891  Colonel George Cox, commanding the 2nd Battalion, Princess Victoria's   (Royal Irish Fusiliers) presented his battalion with eight sets of "Irish pipes" [ii] as the nucleus of a pipe and drum band. The trend had been set and by 1900 the 3rd Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers had a piper dressed in an "Irish Fashion" and during the next decade most of the Irish infantry regiments followed this lead.

This revival of Gaelic culture  seemed to have stimulated Irish pipers to produce a distinctly Irish instrument. The existence of various illustrations in ancient manuscripts, including that of an Irish piper in John Derricke's "Images of Irelande"[iii] of 1581 and of a Irish boy piper by Lucas DeHeere[iv] in   1575, seemed to suggest that the ancient Irish Warpipes, the piob mohr, was mouth blown, had a simple open ended keyless chanter and two drones.

  Under the Statute of Kilkenny of 1366

"It was forbidden to receive or entertain Irish bards, pipers, story-tellers, or mowers, because these and such like often came as spies on the English."

As a consequence the tradition of Irish piping  gradually died out and  by the middle of the 18th century the  piob mor had been lost. During the Gaelic cultural revival in the middle of the 19th. century the absence of an authentic Irish instrument had to be  remedied. This was achieved by the simple expedient  of removing one of the two tenor drones from the great Highland warpipes then being used by the Scottish regiments. Thus the three droned Scottish pipes became the two droned Irish warpipes, a mouth blown set of pipes with two drones, one bass, the other tenor,  in the tradition of the piob mor.

 It was this form of instrument that Colonel Cox presented to his battalion and  which is shown by Richard Simkin in his 1900 illustration of a piper of the 3rd. Battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.[v]  Later the Irish Guards  (1915) and the Royal Ulster Rifles (1948)  both took them  into use and employed them in their pipe bands until 1968.

The  continued evolution of distinctly Irish bagpipes now turns to the history of the London Irish Rifles, a volunteer unit of the British Army. In 1906 Lt. Col. Hercules Pakenham, an Irishman and a descendent of the 1st. Lord Longford, an Irish peer,  was given the command of the regiment[vi]. Pakenham set about enhancing the Irishness of his regiment by appointing a Mr. Albert Starck  both as the CO's piper and to train volunteer pipers to form a pipe band. Albert Starck realised that the simple chanter of the Irish warpipes with its lack of a chromatic range caused difficulties when the pipes were called on to play together with the military band. Albert's father, Henry Starck, was a pipe maker and took on the challenge of producing an instrument that could accompany the military band on parade.

Henry Starck was a German by birth and had trained as a flute and oboe maker.  In 1876 he set up business in London as a maker of musical instruments[vii]. He went into partnership with a Mr William Ross who had been  piper to Queen Victoria until he retired in 1891 and together they began to make bagpipes.  Ross's name appears on early sets of Starck pipes. In 1906 Henry Starck, working with a Mr William O'Duane, patented ( patent number 23839) a new chromatic chanter for the Irish pipes. This new chanter had 3 keys, high B, at the top of the chanter and low G. and low F at the bottom end  which extended the range of the instrument. Later models  normally had four keys and some sets were made with as many as thirteen keys to extend both the upper and lower ends of the range.

Between 1906 and  1910  Starck  took out a series of patents  for Irish system and Scottish system war pipes. The result of his experimentation was to combined his innovative keyed chanter with a new drone  assembly to produce the Brian Boru pipes  which he named after a legendary 10th. century High King of Ireland. The Brian Boru set had three drones, a tenor drone pitched one octave below the chanter, a baritone pitched one fifth below the tenor and a bass drone  pitched two octaves below the chanter. The three drones arose from a common stock following the drone set up of the Northumbrian half long pipes. A photograph of the Pipes and Drums of the 1st. London Irish Rifles taken in 1915 shows several pipers holding bagpipes with this distinctive "half long" drone arrangement[viii].

Henry Starck was obviously proud of his new bagpipe and  wanted to exploit its financial possibilities. In 1910 he wrote the following in praise of the new instrument

In this little booklet I beg to bring to the notice of Bagpipe players, and all who are interested in music, the advantages which my patented Brian Boru Bagpipes possesses over all other bagpipes.

The Brian Boru is the only  marching Bagpipe in existence which has a chanter possessing a complete chromatic scale ranging from E natural to C sharp or a third above and below the Scotch chanter. It is, therefore, able to play almost any music, as most music can be arranged for the compass in which the Brian Boru is set.

 It has three drones, Bass A, Tenor A and Baritone E which harmonise perfectly with each other and with the chanter. The drones being in fifths, the tone produced is equal in depth and mellowness to the tone of an organ.

The players on these pipes will have, in addition to their beautiful ringing silver tone, another great advantage over the performers on the Scotch Pipes, in being able to play duets, trios and quartets. They can also play in combination with other instruments.

The Bagpipe should appeal to all Irishmen, as the tone, though very powerful is equal in sweetness to that of the Union Pipes; and on it they will be able to play most of the exquisite music of their native land, and be able to render it with a depth of feeling not possible on any other Bagpipe of the same kind.

The user of this instrument will be able to give much pleasure to himself and to his friends, for on it he can play music to suit every taste. He can play selections from the operas, waltzes, sentimental or comic songs, rousing marches, or jigs, reels and hornpipes.

Since its inception it has met with nothing but the highest praise from all the leading musicians. Doctor Grattan Flood M.R.I.A., one of the foremost authorities on Irish music, warmly advocates its adoption by the Irish people, in preference to the Scotch Pipes, as a great number of the musical compositions of Ireland and Scotland, being in the minor key, it is impossible to play them correctly on the Scotch Pipes, but the Brian Boru Bagpipe, being fully chromatic is capable of playing all these melodies correctly.

HENRY STARCK                                                                                                 February 1910                                                                                                 Patentee, London, England[ix]

Despite this glowing praise of his own invention Henry Starck was prepared to make further innovations to his pipes.   In some subsequent sets he reverted to the Scottish drone arrangement with a bass and two tenor drones, and many sets were made in which  the three drones arose separately from the pipe bag in the Scottish fashion.  Pipes with bass, baritone and tenor drones and with the  drones inserted individually into the bag were adopted by the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and the London Irish Rifles  and were played by pipers of Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers until 1968.  There is, in the Museum of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, a manikin dressed in the piper's full dress uniform of 1968 and holding a set of Brian Boru pipes with the drones set into separate stocks. This can be viewed on the internet by googling;

and clicking on  the  "museum albums" menu.

In 1968  all pipe bands in the British service were ordered to use the great Highland warpipe  under instruction from the Board of Ordnance which was not prepared to meet the  additional cost involved by providing Irish warpipes, Brian Boru pipes and great Highland warpipes to the different regimental pipe bands. Consequently the two remaining Irish infantry regiments, the Irish Guards and the Royal Irish Rangers,  gave up their Irish warpipes and their Brian Boru sets and equipped their pipe bands with government issue Highland warpipes.

Henry Starck died in the 1920s and his sons took over the firm and continued to make bagpipes until the 1940s when the company was absorbed by Boosey and Hawkes and pipe making was discontinued.

"Starck" style keyed chanters are still made in small numbers in the United Kingdom and in Pakistan. Their limited availability, however, has contributed to a steady decrease in the number of bands using the Brian Boru pipes. The Ballymartin Pipe Band in Northern Ireland is one of the few remaining pipe and drum bands which still uses the instrument and  photographs of  both the pipes and  the band can be viewed by googling "Ballymartin Pipe Band" to reach their website and picture gallery.

[i] Irish Pipers in the British Army by M. Doyle The website of he Royal Irish Rangers  http;//

[ii] Irish Pipers in the British Army by M. Doyle The website of he Royal Irish Rangers  http;//

[iii] John Derricke, The Image of Irelande, 1581 Wikipedia/John Derricke

[iv] Lucas DeHeere 1575 " Irish Folk as they were attired in the reign of  the late King Henry"  Library of University of Ghent

[v] W. Y Carmen 1985, Richard Simkin's Uniforms of the British Army, The Infantry Regiments, plate 66b page 107. ISBN 0-86350-031-5.( Webb and Bower( Publishers)Ltd, Exeter, England)

[vi] G. Willis and G. P. Willis. 2005, The Pipes and Drums of the London Irish Rifles, 1906-2006, page 14  ISBN 0-9541275-2-8  (The Basingstoke Press, Basingstoke, England)

[vii] National Museum of Scotland; http/

[viii]  G. Willis and G. P. Willis. 2005, The Pipes and Drums of the London Irish Rifles, 1906-2006, page 17  ISBN 0-9541275-2-8  (The Basingstoke Press, Basingstoke, England)

[ix] To The Bagpipe Player,




The two pictures above show a basic warpipe setup but with a keyed Boru chanter in place of the standard pipe chanter.