Renowned bagpiper gives back to the community
Come one, come all to the Ancient Order of Hibernians Div. 9 hall at 172 North Country Road in Mount Sinai. People from around the area are being treated each Sunday to free lessons in the centuries-old art of playing the bagpipes by prominent local piper Michael Faughnan.
It all began in the Fall of 2021 when the famed New York Metro pipe band founding member and instructor for the Nassau County Police Emerald Society Pipe Band contacted Div. 9’s Dan Sharkey and Brian Nealis to gauge their interest in an instructional program.
“I wanted to give back, so I reached out to the Hibernians in Mount Sinai where I live and told them that with COVID and all the activities I’m involved in being on pause, if there’s any interest in learning to play, then to let me know,” Faughnan said. “Dan Sharkey and Brian Nealis have their finger on the pulse there and the organization wants to give back to the community. That’s why I wanted to help.”
For many, a check off their bucket list
Whether they were first-timers, second-timers, or old-timers, attendees at this Sunday’s lesson all came for a common reason: To learn a bit about the instrument that’s been calling to them for years. As they gathered around the table with practice pipes known as chanters in hand, Faughnan began to teach them. He showed them how to properly hold the instrument, where to place their fingers and how to blow. First in unison, then solo, then in pairs.
Long-time Hibernians, Mike Lane from Miller Place and Mike Drennan of Selden always had an interest in bagpipes. “We’d been involved in going to the parades for years,” said Lane, who had been taking the class since the beginning. “It was kind of a bucket list thing to try. And then Mike Faughnan got in touch with us.”
Drennan said this was his first time holding the chanter. He laughed when relaying what his daughter had said to him: “Dad, I love you, but I don’t think you can do it.” Drennan’s reply? “Challenge accepted.”
Charlie Buonasera, a jazz musician from Coram who teaches in the Bronx, had been given a chanter years earlier while bartending at an Irish pub during college but never actually attempted to play it until he saw the flyer. “I have this chanter sitting here so why not?” he said. “It’s been fun so far. It’s just something I wanted to pick up, to show off maybe.”
“It takes over a year working on the practice chanter to learn the finger work needed to play music before actually starting to work on the bagpipes,” said Tom Lamb, a piper who started coming to the meetings to strengthen his fundamentals. “It’s very encouraging to see the progress being made with people who are just starting to learn. We have a few people already starting on the bagpipe, which is not a cheap instrument to buy.”
Lamb said that bagpipes are an expensive hobby. Each instrument costs between $1,000 and $3,000. The rest of the uniform, including a kilt, can run up to $1,500.
The goal for many in the group is to get to a level where they can perform during next year’s St. Patrick’s Day season, but for others it’s a chance to experience something they’d always thought about.
Larry Fischer from Miller Place started a few weeks ago after noticing the ad at his firehouse. “I always thought I’d like to learn to play the bagpipes,” he said. “Everybody kind of laughed at me, but I saw the ad and I came down.”
“I love the bagpipes and always watched the parades,” said Toni Kaste, a fiddle player from Eastport. “It was on my bucket list of things to do.”
“I always wanted to play,” said Kerry Crovello, a librarian from Port Jefferson. “I’d been to Ireland — and can’t wait to go back. I had a friend from years ago who built his own bagpipes and it always stuck in my mind. And then I saw the flyer.”
Dan Cavanaugh from East Setauket came because of his grandson. “I wanted to keep up,” he said. “He decided to try and learn the bagpipes — something I’d thought about for years. So, it spurred me to go try and learn.”
Who are the AOH?
The Ancient Order of Hibernians is America’s oldest Irish Catholic fraternal organization. It was founded in 1836 to help Irish immigrants arriving in the U.S. It has divisions all over the country and continues to support and promote Irish culture through civic participation in charitable causes.
Ancient Order of Hibernians Division 9 Port Jefferson NY, its official name, is a smaller group than others by comparison, but according to Faughnan, their heart is just as big. He hopes that with programs like his and others, their outlet can grow and they can build on their mission to continue doing good while supporting Irish culture.
According to Faughnan, his Sunday sessions aren’t so much a class but more of a club. So, if you want to join the club, send an email to [email protected], or call Dan Sharkey at 631-922-0151.
Spotlight on Michael Faughnan
The 61-year-old father of 3 from Mount Sinai has spent his life playing the bagpipes — casually and competitively. He ran a program in Babylon at the Ancient Order of Hibernians for over 20 years with the Saffron Kilts Pipe Band, which had over 100 players in the organization and competed all over the world and performed at many high-profile events and venues, including at the White House.
Faughnan took a step back from performing after having his children. In 2010, his students started a band in New York City called New York Metro Pipe Band. He soon joined in as a founding member without the pressure of being the pipe major. They were joined by top tier bagpipers from all around the area and eventually traveled to Scotland where they won the world championship. They’ve been consistent winners at contests in the U.S., Canada and Scotland.
At 8 years old, Faughnan and his siblings were introduced to the bagpipes by world champion Scottish bagpiper Stewart Robertson, whom his parents knew, and their lives were changed forever.
“We were kids. We didn’t know any better,” he said in reference to playing the pipes during his childhood. “We went with the flow and enjoyed the journey and thought it was normal until you looked back and realized there weren’t a lot of other kids doing that. We traveled, competed, experienced success and got in front of people to entertain, building confidence at every step — all traits that help out in every aspect of life.”
“It’s gotten me everywhere — playing the bagpipe and being good at it,” said Faughnan. “It got me a scholarship to Iona College where I was pipe major from 1978-1982. I got my career as an investment banker through playing the bagpipes.”
It also gave him the chance to record music in the studio, both with his band on their own albums, and as a studio musician for such famed artists as Van Morrison, Sting, Clannad and The Chieftains. To challenge himself, Faughnan joined a high-end band in Ireland. Working remotely in investment banking allows him to travel back and forth regularly. “I’ve been practicing with the band 2 or 3 times a week every other month for the last year just to compete this summer in the tournaments in Ireland and Scotland.”
Faughnan is involved with many bands in the New York tri state area. “They’ll hire me as a coach to come in and work on different things to help them sound better, to play in unison and to grow as musicians,” he said. “While not every band has the same musical expertise, it’s great to see them out there. They’re doing it because of their passion.”
He’s also busy playing and rehearsing with New York Metro Pipe Band in preparation for competing in Montreal at the North American Championships; the World Championships in Glasgow, Scotland; and the All-Irelands in Dublin. They will be performing on the Fox & Friends morning program on Saint Patrick’s Day. Faughnan himself can be found playing solo on March 19 at Peconic County Brewing in Riverhead at 3 p.m. and Port Bistro & Pub in Port Jefferson at 5 p.m.