Bagpipes and Celtic celebrations

The day had finally come! The three friends, Yannis, Sofia and Eleni, were going to start the Camino de Santiago, also known as the Way of St. James. According to the legend, it is the path that pilgrims followed to arrive at the city of Santiago, where the relics of  St James the Apostle are stored. The first stage started in Oviedo, a beautiful city in the region of Asturias, in the north of Spain.

It was a sunny day, the perfect weather to start the adventure of their lives. They woke up early and they prepared their rucksacks. Yannis was checking to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything and he asked his friends, “Are you ready? Don’t forget to pack your sunscreen and raincoat. The weather can change from one day to the other”.

Sofia was very stressed because she didn’t want to forget anything important. The night before, she had already checked all her belongings to be ready. She replied, “Yes, of course! I have two bottles of sunscreen, and I have my new raincoat. I’m ready to go!”

Eleni was more relaxed and she was packing everything carelessly. When she finished, she realised that she had forgotten her raincoat. She looked at her two friends and said, “There is one small inconvenience, I have forgotten my raincoat. I can’t start the route without it”.

Sofia quickly replied, “I’m not surprised, you always forget something important when we go on trips! We can go to a shop and buy one before leaving. Are you okay with that, Yannis?” Her friend, who was checking the map with all the information about the route, replied, “okay, but let’s do it quickly. I want to start walking as soon as possible. The rest of the pilgrims have already left. We are the last ones in the hostel”. 

The three friends left the hostel and went to the city centre to find a shop. While they were walking, they heard a kind of music. Sofia asked, “What is that music? It sounds familiar. Can you also hear it?” Yannis and Eleni nodded. “Let’s see where it is coming from”. 

The three friends decided to follow the music and they arrived at the San Salvador Cathedral Square. They saw a big band of music dressed up in what looked like the traditional gowns from Asturias. There were different instruments – drums, bass drums, tambourines – but the main ones were bagpipes. Their sound was very distinctive and they found it very beautiful.

Crowds of people gathered around the band and, among them, they saw three of the pilgrims that they had met when they arrived in Oviedo. Sofia said, “Look! Goran, Marina and Maxime are there.” The three friends joined them. 

Goran smiled at them and said, “you are here! We thought you were already walking.” Eleni replied, “yes, we wanted to leave earlier but I forgot my raincoat and I wanted to buy one. We were going to the shop, but we heard this beautiful music and decided to stop”. Maxime added, “It’s fantastic. I love bagpipes. They are also typical in Brittany, the region where I come from in France”.

Marina, who had been recording the performance with her phone, said, “yes, bagpipes are typical in places with Celtic origins. As you can see, they have a middle-sized bag and three pipes to produce the sound. In Spain, they can be found in the regions of Aragón, País Vasco, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia, the region where I come from. You have been lucky as this is a unique experience!”

Sofia said, “it makes me feel at home. In Crete, the island where I grew up, we have a similar instrument, called tsambouna. They are slightly different as they have a bigger bag and two pipes, which are very short. My grandfather plays it and I have good memories from my childhood. I used to dance to the melodies he played. I knew they were typical from Ireland or Scotland but I had no idea that they were popular in this part of Spain!”

Goran said “Me neither! I love bagpipes, in Serbia we also have them, they are called gajde. They have a big bag and three pipes, one to blow, called blowpipe, a long wane called drone and shorter one called chanter. We play them at traditional festivals”.  Marina was astonished listening to their friends because she had never imagined that such an instrument also existed in Balkan countries. She said, “really? I had never heard about Greek or Serbian bagpipes before; they must also have Celtic origins. Gadje sounds similar to the name in Spanish, gaita”. 

Maxime, as surprised as Marina, added, “Me neither. I only knew about Irish, Scottish, French and Spanish bagpipes. In Brittany, we called them Binioù in Breton language and cornemuse in French. They are similar to Spanish ones as they have three pipes and a middle-sized bag. We play them at traditional celebrations. There is also an annual  Celtic festival called ‘Festival Interceltique Lorient’, where bands of bagpipes come from Celtic regions. It is very famous”.

Eleni said, “That sounds great. I would love to go. The sound of these instruments is very beautiful”. Sofia added, “yes, me too. I have already been to the Athens Irish Festival with Yannis, where we could also see bagpipe bands. Do you remember Yannis?” He replied, “yes, we had lots of fun! I would love to repeat the experience”.

Marina said, “I didn’t know that there were Celtic festivals in Greece, but I have heard about the ‘Festival Interceltique Lorient’. It is very renowned. I haven’t been yet, but I have gone to the one that is celebrated in Asturias, in a small village on the coast, Tapia de Casariego. It is called ‘Festival Intercéltico del Occidente’. This year, It will take place in two weeks. Would you like to go? It could be fun!”

Goran said, “I would love to! We will have enough time to arrive in Santiago following the path known as ‘el camino Primitivo’ – the primitive way – that takes 12 days to complete. From there, we can take a bus and go to Tapia de Casariego.” Sofia added enthusiastically, “yes, let’s go! I can’t imagine a better way to celebrate the end of the Camino de Santiago!”

Maxime, Marina, Yannis and Eleni screamed “yes!” At the same time, the six friends started laughing. They continued talking and sharing their experiences with Celtic traditions and music while they danced to the sound of drums and bagpipes. 

When the band finished, Yannis said, “I know we are having fun, but I think we should start walking if we want to complete the first route of the way.” Sofia added, “I had almost forgotten that we were going to start it today! You are right, Yannis. We should go if we want to arrive in Santiago on time and then go to the festival after”. Eleni said, “Yes, but first, let’s go to the shop so I can buy my raincoat”.

The six friends started walking and left Oviedo feeling as if they had known each other for a long time. They came from different countries but they shared some traditions that they hadn’t imagined. They realised that ‘el Camino’ was going to be an unforgettable experience.

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EXTRA INFORMATION ON THE TOPIC:

Bagpipes are always linked with the Celts, who spread right across Europe. Their existence dates before the fall of the Roman empire. Their tribes often migrated and ventured to other areas. It is most likely that the bagpipes first originated among Celtic tribes, before being spread by them to other regions. This theory helps to explain the existence of different styles of bagpipes that have been found all over Europe, as well as in Arabian regions, Rome, Greece, and even in India.

The most known bagpipes are Irish and Scottish. Scots tend to feature Highland bagpipes, while the Irish use the Uilleann pipes. For both areas, these bagpipes are their national instruments. They are played by everyone from street performers to pub bands, pipe and drum groups, and so on.

In Spain, they can be found in many northern regions, but they are mostly associated with Asturias and Galicia as they also celebrate their Celtic origins and they are part of the folklore. Spanish bagpipes are similar to Irish and Scottish ones as they have a big bag and three pipes, one to blow, called blowpipe, a long wane called drone and a shorter one called chanter. 

In France, they are the same as the Scottish Great Highland Bagpipe and have a one octave scale, it is very high-pitched with a soprano sound. In Greece, there are different variations of bagpipes, but in Crete and other Aegean islands, they play tsabouna. The tsabouna has two short cane chanters of equal length, placed in parallel position so they can be played as one, and tuned in unison. It has been used for centuries in the traditional music of the Aegean islands. In the 21st century, it also started appearing in new contexts, outside that of rural traditions or of folkloric representations.

In other Balkan regions, bagpipes are also used in folklore, those are known as ‘gaida’ include: Bulgarian and Macedonian гайда/гајда (gayda), the Greek γκάιντα, Aromanian ‘gaidã’, Albanian ‘gajde’, Croatian and Serbian ‘gajde/гајдe’, Turkish ‘tulum’ or ‘gayda’, and Slovak ‘gajdy’. They have a similar shape; the bag is bigger and the canes shorter in comparison to Scottish and Spanish bagpipes.

Celtic festivals have become very popular all around the world as they invite folklore bands and dancing groups that honour and celebrate Celtic culture. There are many festivals that take place in an extensive list of countries: Australia, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Germany, Poland, Portugal,  Switzerland, Czechia, Brazil, Canada, Barbados, United States, South Africa and Cuba.

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