The story of Carnlough’s Lady Piper

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The life story of the remarkable Netta Johnson, told alongside a celebration of piping music, took place in Carnlough’s Heritage Hub on October 12.

The sold-out event was attended by guest of honour Rev Violet Johnston (Netta’s niece), The National Lottery Heritage Fund Committee Member Jim McGreevy, local heritage enthusiasts and piping music lovers from across the province.

The remarkable story of her life, which spanned 74 years, was narrated by Mary Watson from the Carnlough Community Association - and what a story! Born on July 11, 1878 in Belfast, Miss Johnston, as she was known to all but close family, was a successful businesswoman, running her own shop, an accomplished musician, a much sought after music tutor and church organist for Ardclinis Church of Ireland Carnlough.

Netta was described by those who knew her as having considerable strength of character, yet refined, cultured and dignified; but she was also somewhat of an eccentric. Her interest in music was wide and varied and her love of the pipe organ led her down the path of uilleann pipe playing. She had her own specially designed

pipes made by O’Mealy in Belfast and the original pipes were on open display at the event, by way of loan from Museums NI. She was also known to carry a sword, concealed in a walking stick.

On the night, her life was celebrated in music with performances by several female pipers, including Jane Walls, Marie Kinney, Maeve McCann and Louise Mulcahy. The evening finished with a wonderful legacy to the cultural heritage of Netta and her unique human story with the announcement of a piping tuition scholarship available to a young person from The Glens through the Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership. This was presented by Jim McGreevy from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

He said: “Netta was an incredible character and it is fabulous to celebrate her story and the associated musical heritage of The Glens. Women’s heritage and stories are often overlooked so we were delighted to see this project that highlights not only Netta’s love of culture but also the inspiration she provided to others. It is thanks to National Lottery players that we can support the Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership project. ”

Teresa O’Hare Manager of the Heart of the Glens Landscape Partnership 2 said: “It has been a pleasure to help the Carnlough Community shine a light on their Netta and assist them to further develop the rich story of Carnlough’s heritage. The Glens and Causeway Coast has a remarkable built, natural and cultural story to tell.

Tonight’s celebration event and scholarship legacy demonstrates clearly how a partnership approach can bring sustainable heritage tourism to an area.

“By attracting the culturally curious visitor to spend time being immersed in rich local heritage stories (such as Netta), we have the potential to grow economically whilst safeguarding our heritage for future generations.”

Gifts and acknowledgements were presented to the guest of honour Rev Johnston, Mary Watson, Helen Mc Alister and Wilbert Garvin. The evening adjourned to the Londonderry Arms Hotel for an open music session.

For more information about the piping music scholarship please go to www.heartoftheglens.org or contact jamie@ccght.org