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Updated 01/11/2017


The Piper's Maggot

Slip jig refers to both a style within Irish music, and the Irish dance to music in slip-jig time. The slip jig is in 9/8 time, traditionally with accents on 5 of the 9 beats.  The slip jig is one of the four most common Irish stepdances, the others being the reel, the jig and the hornpipe. It is danced in soft shoes. At one time only men danced it, then for several decades only women, and today slip jigs can be danced by any dancer, though at a competitive level they are almost exclusively danced by women. This dance is graceful and controlled, with heels very high, often called "the ballet of Irish dance".            

Because of its timing, the slip jig is longer than the reel for the same number of bars of music. In Irish stepdance competition, the tempo of 113 beats per minute is the same as other dances, but as each bar is longer, instead of dancing to 48 bars of music the dancer is only required to dance 40 bars of music (each of 212 steps). Stepdance judges prefer sliding motions with the feet and graceful movements that seem to slip across the floor.

Also known as A Health To The Piper, Good Health To The Piper, Health To The Piper, Here’s A Good Health To The Piper, Here’s Good Health To The Piper, The Piper’s Whim, and Seo Slainte Do’n Piobaire, The Piper’s Maggot earliest appearance in print was in the Scottish Robert Bremner's 1757 collection. The tune also appears in the 1840 music manuscript collection of Waverton, Cumbria, musician John Rook

A 'maggot' is a unit of liquid measure equal to a dram but also refers to a favourite, a thing of small or slight consequence or a whim or plaything; from the Italian maggioletta. In the context of maggot as a dram, the following anecdote illustrates the consequences of imbibing too many ‘piper’s maggots’.

He became well known about the neighbourhood, and picked up a living from the passengers going that way, who generally threw him a few pence as the reward of his musical talent. A certain gentleman, who never failed in his gene­rosity to the piper, was surprised, on passing one day as usual, to miss him from his accustomed place: on inquiry, he found that the poor man had been taken ill, in consequence of a very singular accident. On the joyful occasion of the arrival of one of his countrymen from the Highlands, the piper had made too free with the contents of his keg: these so over-powered his faculties that he stretched himself out upon the steps of the church, and fell fast asleep. Those were not times to sleep on church steps with impunity. He was found in that situation when the dead-cart went its round; and the carter, supposing of course, as the most likely thing in every way, that the man was dead, made no scruple to put his fork under the piper's belt, and, with some assistance, hoisted him into his vehicle, which was nearly full, with the charitable intention that our Scotch musician should share the usual brief ceremonies of interment. The piper's faithful dog protested against this seizure of his master, and at­tempted to prevent the unceremonious removal; but failing of success, he fairly jumped into the cart after him, to the no small annoyance of the men, whom he would not suffer to come near the body: he further took upon himself the office of chief mourner, by setting up the most lamentable howling as they passed along.

The streets and roads by which they had to go being very rough, the jolting of the cart, added to the howling of thee dog, had soon the effect of awakening our drunken musician from his trance. It was dark, and the piper, when he first recovered himself, could form no idea either of his numerous companions or of his conductors. Instinctively, however, he felt about for his pipes, and playing up a merry Scotch tune, terrified, in no small measure, the carters, who fancied they had got a legion of ghosts in their conveyance. A little time, however, put all to rights; lights were got; and it turned out that the noisy corpse was the well-known living piper, who was joyfully released from his awful and perilous situation.