Meet the Irish man who plays the bagpipes in Haggerston Park
- Credit: Emma Bartholomew
If you ever hear the haunting sound of bagpipes coming from Haggerston Park, chances are it’s Connor Sandford playing. He tells Emma Bartholomew about his roots – which surprisingly aren’t Scottish
Growing up in the Irish countryside, Connor Sandford didn’t have to worry about annoying his neighbours when he played the bagpipes.
But since he moved to a tower block in Haggerston two years ago he’s a lot more conscious of the extremely loud noise his instrument emits.
That’s why he goes to a secluded corner of Haggerston Park every month or two “just to keep the pipes going”.
“The moisture from the breath keeps moisture in the sheepskin bag,” said Connor, 27. “If you don’t use them the joints dry out and they sound rubbish. Also if you don’t keep practising you lose the muscles. It takes a bit of effort to work the pipes.”
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He’s conscious not to annoy anyone, and has only ever had one person tell him they didn’t like it.
“They said they were going to call the police,” he said.
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But he generally gets a warmer reception.
“My brother texted me one day when I was there, and asked me: ‘Connor where are you?’ One of his friends was walking through the park with their granny down from Scotland who loves bagpipes, and she’d taken a video of me and put it on Instagram. It’s such a small world. My brother saw bagpipes and thought: ‘That’s east London, that’s Connor’.”
Where he comes from in County Armagh there is a lot of Scottish influence, largely due to the controversial organised colonisation of the 1600s dubbed the Ulster Plantation.
Connor was 12 when he took up the bagpipes, after a man down the road offered to teach him.
“When you live in out the countryside there’s not an awful lot to do and it keeps you off the streets,” he said. “It’s quite useful for family weddings, funerals and New Year’s Eve, and the pipes are quite evocative instruments. There’s quite a thrill to them. It is a haunting sound and it’s hard to ignore them.”
Connor works in the heritage sector after finding a ring in a field aged 16 – which turned out to be treasure from 1117.
“I thought: ‘That probably belonged to someone who grew up near to where I grew up’, and was interested in the connection with someone from the past and the narrative around that. That’s cultural heritage and bagpipes are included in that. I’m a bit eccentric I suppose, to play the bagpipes. People come up to me and say: ‘You’re so brave to do that there’, but to be fair I don’t have anywhere else to do it.”