Former Kintyre piper is Atholl Gathering champion

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A former Kilkenzie woman has been named the overall winner at the first major solo piping contest of the year after achieving two firsts and a second.

On a wet and windy day at the Atholl Gathering, 26-year-old Sarah Muir won the piobaireachd and hornpipe and jig events, and took second place in the march, Strathspey and reel competition.

Sarah, who was presented with a bottle of whisky as well as a trophy after being given the top honour, told the Courier: ‘It was a great feeling to be named the overall winner – I didn’t expect it!’

The Atholl Gathering, held annually at Blair Castle in Perthshire, is a two-day event celebrating Scottish culture and heritage.

Held on the bank holiday weekend at the end of each May, this year’s events took place last weekend, with the William Grant Foundation-sponsored solo piping competitions held during the Highland Games on Sunday.

Sarah started piping when she was a student at Dalintober Primary School, aged 10, under the tuition of Ian McKerral, becoming a member of Kintyre Schools Pipe Band (KSPB). During this time she also received private tuition from Jim Henderson.

Her older brother David played the pipes and when she was offered the chance to take up lessons in P6, she decided to give it a go. She began clarinet lessons in P5, which she continued through secondary school, but decided to focus her musical talents on piping.

She left Campbeltown Grammar School in 2009 and moved to Glasgow to study at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, graduating in 2013 with a BA (Hons) in Scottish Music – Piping.

Since 2014, Sarah has been employed by Fife Council as a piping instructor. She said: ‘It was great to get a teaching job with the council, I never thought I would do this as a career. I teach both primary and secondary pupils, from P5 to S6.’

She has been a member of several bands, playing with Inveraray and District Pipe Band from 2009 to 2012, before joining Shotts and Dykehead Caledonia Pipe Band for five seasons, winning the World Pipe Band Championships with the band in 2015.

She no longer plays with a pipe band, choosing instead to focus on her solo piping.

Her success is a result of hard work, as she explained: ‘I practice almost every day leading up to a competition, for 45 minutes a night. I practice more in the competition season than in the off season, during winter.’

Sarah is now taught by award-winning piper Willie McCallum who is also a native of Campbeltown.

Despite Sarah’s success, her hard work continues as she is already looking forward to competing at Rosneath Highland Gathering and Inveraray Highland Games, both in mid-July.