The article below appeared in an April, 2010 edition
of Portland's "Neighbors" newspaper and features an
interview with Claddagh Mhor's Pipe Major, Tom Ryan. Posted
here with permission of the author.
Leader of The Clan
by David Moran
Neighbor Tom Ryan has had a lifelong love affair with the
bagpipes and Scottish music. That passion is shared by his
dad, his brothers, and his wife, Jodi. Tom says he wants to
share this joy of bagpipes with whomever is willing to
When you hear the sound of bagpipes, do you
automatically think of Scotland?
Most people do.
According to Tom Ryan, a North Deering resident and
bagpipe player, they were used in clan battles. The bagpipe
players went first, using their sound to scare the enemy
away. Unfortunately, the bagpipers were also the first ones
The venerable bagpipes might actually be decidedly older
than most people imagine, although there is some debate
about how long they have been in existence. Tom says there
are ancient drawings of Egyptians holding instruments that
appear to be, yes, bagpipes. But, no one knows for sure.
Tom started playing bagpipes at the age of seven,
inspired by his father who had launched a band in New York,
where Tom grew up. He and his brothers have played and
competed throughout their lives. In fact, one of them has
won the World Championship in Glasgow, Scotland.
A Major Part of Tom’s Life
Bagpipes have brought Tom other victories in life,
including meeting his wife, Jodi. She became interested in
his music, wanting just to understand it initially but
eventually took up drums. Tom proudly announces, “Jodi has
become a competitive musician in her own right on the tenor
These days, Tom is continuing to pursue his passion with
his Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band. The group has eleven active
players, four of whom are student-players (two on the
bagpipe and two drummers). They made their first public
appearance last year at the Portland Expo, playing for the
color guard at the beginning of the Red Claws/Celtic night.
Tom hopes to reach the point where they can compete in the
Northeast region but realizes it will take time, additional
membership, and sponsorships.
The Chanter: Like Training Wheels For The Beginner
As far as learning to play bagpipes, Tom emphasizes that
it will take one about a year to “get up and running.”
Students begin by playing a chanter, or melody pipe, then
advance. In fact, he points out, the chanter is something
that one will use throughout their career.
“It’s easier to learn new music on the chanter,” Tom
says. “And it’s definitely easier on the family to use it
It’s also an inexpensive way begin. “A chanter will run
you around $50,” Tom shared. “Bagpipes start at about
$1,000.” Given the number of years that bagpipes have graced
our civilization, I asked if they were something that people
collected. “Not really,” he replied. “You can find some
pre-World War II or even pre-World War I bagpipes in the
$10,000 to $20,000 range, but if you own a set, you should
play them. They are made of wood that require moisture. They
tend to rot just sitting on a shelf.”
By the way, Tom is open to sharing his enthusiasm for
bagpipes through group presentations, sharing the history
and magic of the instrument to students and adults alike.
And if you have an interest in playing in the Claddagh
Mhor Pipe Band as either a bagpipe player or drummer, Tom
encourages you to contact him.
He welcomes students of any age into his “clan.” Contact
Tom Ryan, The Claddagh Mhor Pipe Band,
Jim Duran, Publisher
105 Harris Ave.,
Portland, ME 04103