Patrick Cahill, 17, always wanted to do something Irish.
“It’s in my blood,” he said.
When step dancing didn’t work out for him, he decided to play bagpipes. On Aug. 11, he will travel to Scotland to take part in the World Pipe Band Championships in Glasgow.
Patrick is well-known around town, partly because he can often be found practicing in local parks in his kilt. Most often he practices near the natural walk at the north end of Stephen R. Gregg Park, where people frequently stop to listen.
“Only one person ever asked me to stop,” he said. “Most people seem to like what I do. Some people are even impressed.”
Around him on a mid-May afternoon, joggers pause to listen, as do dog walkers, picnickers, even some of the sports teams, some with baseball bats and mitts heading to the nearby field, others kicking around a soccer ball.
Patrick talks about the years of practice, first using only the mouthpiece to learn how to blow and later adding pieces until he had the full complement. Eventually he learned how to squeeze the bag and manage his breath in order to fill the air with tunes.
Many of them are traditional Irish songs, drawing up visions of green, craggy hills and the life of a struggling people in that distant native land from which Patrick’s family once emigrated.
Born and raised in Bayonne, Patrick attended P.S. No.14 School, now Nicholas Oresko, before going to the Hudson County School of Technology.
He said he started at age seven after trying step dancing.
“I wanted to do something Irish,” he said, and though he took up violin in the 4th grade, the bagpipes attracted him because of their ties to his family’s roots.
“Some people like the music, some don’t,” he said, noting that he plays a variety of tunes, mostly Irish ballads, but a few modern tunes such as Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
“I wanted to do something Irish.” – Patrick Cahill
Patrick said he started out learning on the mouthpiece, and eventually graduated to the complete set of bagpipes. For a while, he played with St. Columcille United Gaelic Pipe Band, based in Kearny, which marches in Bayonne’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade every year. Then he took up solo competitions, finishing tied for fifth place in his age category for the northeast part of the United States last year.
In early June, Patrick competed with the Scotia-Glenville Pipe Band from Albany, N.Y., in the Bonnie Brae Championship at Liberty Corner, N.J., and came in first – a good omen since it will be with this band that Patrick plays in the competitions in Scotland in August. In solo competitions at Liberty Corner, Patrick came in third place in piping, as well as finishing fourth for performance of a classical tune on the bagpipes.
Patrick said his solo career takes him from Maine to Florida. Most of Patrick’s competitions take place during the summer.
While you’re likely to find Patrick practicing in a number of parks, including Dennis Collins Park near the Bayonne Bridge, some evenings after school Patrick practices in Steven Gregg Park near the nature walk besides the bathrooms, often hiding behind the bushes and looking out toward the water in an attempt to keep his concentration.
Regardless, the sound carries and people gather. Some even take his photograph or want to be in photographs with him.
“I practice about one or two hours a day,” he said.
But he’s also been asked to play at various events, he said, such as funerals and military events, even some family affairs.
“It feels good doing this,” he said, during a break. “It has a special flavor.”
Travels to study
Patrick travels for weekly lessons plus one Saturday per month to Albany, a six-hour round trip. He also takes private lessons from James Stack, a New Jersey resident and world gold medalist for solo lesson competitions. Stack is also is a piping judge.
It’s something of a challenge for Patrick to keep up with school, while studying also for the SATs and training for the competition. Next year, Patrick will be a senior at the Hudson County School of Technology, and says he has an eye on attending a military school with a good pipe band, and a possible stint in the U.S. Navy, living up to yet another family tradition.
Patrick will be one of two youth pipers and one tenor drummer presented from New Jersey in the Scotland competition.
“We already have our airline tickets and the band will be staying at Stirling University, Stirling, Scotland,” Patrick’s mother, Elizabeth Cahill said. “It is rumored that Queen of England is expected to attend this year’s championship. “At the same time, England will be sponsoring the Olympics. After Scotland, we may see the tail end of the Olympics since we are traveling to England for five days.”
Patrick, who along with other band members is trying to raise money to cover the costs (one kilt cost about $300), is excited about the competition. And even though he sees another possible career ahead of him (he studies TV production at school), the music is in his blood.
“I love doing this,” Patrick said. “I’ll be doing this the rest of my life”