Northern Ireland news

'Lady piper of Carnlough' honoured with blue plaque

Uilleann pipers Marie Kinney and Louise Mulcahy help unveil a blue plaque to commemorate Netta Jane Nicholl Johnston 'lady piper of Carnlough'. Netta's neice, Rev Violet Johnston (94) unveiled the plaque. Picture by Mal McCann

AN UILLEANN piper known as the 'lady piper of Carnlough' has been honoured with a blue plaque.

Netta Johnston, who ran the family grocery and hardware store on Marine Road in Carnlough, Co Antrim, learnt the pipes at a time when they were considered a male pursuit.

Miss Johnston's niece, Rev Violet Johnston (94), unveiled the plaque in the village yesterday.

Born in 1878, Netta Johnston became passionate about music as a child and later learned the piano, violin, flute, pipe organ and uilleann pipes.

She also taught music and was particularly popular as classical violin teacher. For 15 years, she played the organ at St Mary's parish church at Ardclinis.

She travelled to Belfast every Wednesday afternoon, when the shop was shut, to learn the pipes from renowned Co Westmeath-born musician Richard Lewis O'Mealy.

Mr O'Mealy, who lived in Belfast, was a high-profile piper, broadcaster, piping teacher and pipe-maker.

He later made Miss Johnston her own set of pipes. The pipes are now in the Ulster Folk Museum.

In 1904, Miss Johnston was asked to join the committee of the first Feis na nGleann. She continued to promote the playing of the pipes by hosting concerts in villages on the Antrim coast.

In the 1930s, she set up the Carnlough Non-Sectarian Flute Band and held concerts in nearby halls.

Miss Johnston died in 1953.

Chris Spurr, chairman of the Ulster History Circle, said: "Netta Johnston was a musician who chose the uilleann pipes as an instrument of the day when it was exceptional to be a woman player.

"The Ulster History Circle is delighted to commemorate the lady piper of Carnlough with a blue plaque at the place where she lived and kept her general store over a century ago."

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