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John Sullivan piping the haggis in Burritts Rapids, Ontario
John Sullivan piping the haggis in Burritts Rapids, Ontario

Heard Up North: John Sullivan, piper

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Not all pipers start young - and they aren't all Scottish either.

John Sullivan came to Canada from England back in 1952. Today he lives in Ottawa and pipes in neighboring Kemptville. Sullivan took up bagpipes later in life, almost on a whim. This past Wednesday, he helped pipe in the haggis for a Robbie Burns luncheon held in Burritts Rapids, Ontario.

Prior to reciting the traditional "Address to a Haggis", Sullivan told Lucy Martin how he reached this point. Sullivan is today's Heard Up North.

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“I've been learning for a long time, 'bout twelve years. But I started very late in life, and everything's against you. You breathing is slower than the youngsters, your memory is slower than the youngsters, your motor control is slower than the youngsters. So, it's a challenge. And if everything is working alright, you're just slower, but you do get there – eventually."

"The youngsters, when they take it up – God bless 'em! – they just absorb all of the things that are required to play the pipes. Whereas the older you get – you really have to work for it! And many's the time I've said: 'Why have I bothered?!' But once you've reached a certain point you can't really go back, 'cause you've wasted that time.”

Which begs the question of why did he pick it up?

John Sullivan continued “It was something to do. I'm ex-military and I've always liked marching with a band – a band in the parade that I've been in. And I thought 'Well, why not?' And it just so happened that I had my car in a garage and the young lad who was taking my paperwork said 'I've just joined a pipe band. You could join the pipe band and they'll teach you!' ”

“O, good idea, said I! Until I came down to doing it, and then it was a lot of work! I'm with the Kemptville pipe band, that's the first band that I joined with, and it's the band that I'll finish with. I fit in well, they've treated me well, and now I'm a permanent part of that band and will always be so.”

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