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Attleboro teen wins Irish music contest in Ireland

August 25, 2013

ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) — A city teenager who plays uilleann pipes, a traditional Irish wind instrument, beat out others from Ireland and around the world to take first place in a music competition in Derry, Northern Ireland, over a recent weekend.

Torrin Ryan, 18, of West Street finished first in the competition held during the All-Ireland Fleadh, an eight-day festival of Irish culture that attracted as many as 20,000 musicians, singers, dancers and other artists for numerous contests and concerts.

In its Aug. 19 edition, The Belfast Telegraph estimated the event drew as many as 300,000 spectators during the week and described it as the “world’s biggest celebration of Irish culture.”

The Irish Times put the number at 430,000, but whatever the figure, the crowds were big.

The Fleadh ended Aug.18.

Torrin couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, but his mom and dad, Matt and Cathy Ryan, are ecstatic and a little stunned by their son’s accomplishment on a stage holding the best uilleann players in the world.

“We are very happy,” Matt Ryan said. “When we heard, we couldn’t believe he had taken the competition.”

Cathy Ryan said it’s amazing that an American won the contest on an instrument that very few in the U.S. take up, or have even heard of.

Torrin, who competed in the 18 and up division, had to beat some very talented Irish players who are exposed to the instrument from an early age, she said.

“I’m just really proud of him,” said his mom. “He’s put in a lot of time and practice to achieve this.”

Torrin, who’s home schooled, had to earn the opportunity to compete in the Fleadh by besting others in preliminary rounds in the United States first, his dad said.

He was one of two selected from the United States for the competition, which included musicians from a number of other nations, Matt Ryan said.

Torrin was expected to return to Attleboro last Wednesday.

Matt Ryan said his son has worked at mastering the uilleann since he was 7 and now plays regularly at area venues.

In a recent Sun Chronicle story, Torrin said he was enchanted by the sound of the instrument the first time he heard it.

“It just clicked that that’s what I wanted to play myself,” he said. “It has such a sound that when the entire instrument is going, you can’t not like it.”

While often compared to the more familiar Scottish bagpipes, the uilleann is played by pumping air through a bellows attached to the musician’s elbow.

Traditional Scottish bagpipes create their own haunting sound when the musician blows into the instrument.

Torrin played the uilleann at the Fleadh when he was about 15, and at the time traveled with his mom, his dad said.

He’s on his own on this time, and Matt Ryan couldn’t be prouder.

“This year, he’s by himself and he’s doing a pretty good job,” he said.

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