The Care and Feeding
of the Irish Flute
by Mickie Zekley
"When I was a young man, before I would play the flute, I would put it in the rain barrel over night. But don't you know that one day it just fell to pieces."
Quote from an old time player from Clare.
Many an Irish musician has destroyed his fine old instrument by pouring Guinness or "Paddy's" through it to make it play better, and in the process, turned a fine 150 year old treasure from a master craftsman into tinder for the fire. With proper care, these fine old wooden flutes can be a joy for many lifetimes.
Each time before playing, each joint of the flute should be greased with cork grease. Once each month, the flute should be oiled with woodwind bore oil inside and out but not on the pads or inside metal liners. The bore of the flute and tone holes should be cleaned regularly. The cork in the head joint should not leak. If it does, it should be properly replaced. A leaky cork can make a great instrument play weakly and out of tine. The end of the cork should be five eighths of an inch from the center of the blow hole on most flutes. It should be taken out regularly and greased to keep it from shrinking and leaking. The cork can seek in and out to improve intonation.
The best swab is a long stick with a hole in the end to thread a silk scarf through. This should be used to dry the inside of the flute after each use.
Any loose joint, leak due to a crack, loose liner, or poorly seated key will turn your joy to frustration. Proper repairs are hard to find due to the lack of experience of most repairers with old instruments.
Remember to always protect your instrument from extremes of temperature and repairs by an inexperienced person. Feed it well and it will give you a feast of music and joy.
The term Irish flute is not a proper term. The type of flutes we have been talking about are English, Irish, or American made flutes made circa 1820-1860 with 4-8 keys and six open holes and for the most part, the keys are block mounted. Happy fluting.