Why Keys on a whistle? Of course, if you only wish to play in the keys of G and D, you don’t need them. But if you would like to comfortably and accurately play such tunes as Wissahickon Drive, The Reconciliation, The Mason’s Apron, St Antoine’s Reel, and MANY Cape Breton tunes, Bluegrass or Old Time, you need the G# key, to play in “A”. The Two-key model (G# and D#) enables you to play in “E” such tunes as Marcel Martin, and My Mother’s Eye Glowerin’ O’er Me, in E minor , Champion, and many other tunes in E major AND minor. Three keys (G#, D#, and F natural) will let you play “Welcome to Cork”, “Golden Wedding Reel” and other tunes with that accidental F natural.
These models are named for the late John Killourhy who played at the Irish Music Sessions in Doolin and Lahinch, Co. Clare, and always attended the session during the Willie Clancy Summer School in Miltown Malbay. He had sent me (unannounced) his favorite whistle which he had bought in London in the 1930’s, with a molded bakelite head, recorder style windway, and blackwood body (No keys, though, although keyed whistles were available at the time - I have three in my personal collection), His whistle had been stepped on and crushed. I did extensive repairs, and returned it at no charge. He was very grateful, and years later, gave it to me. Eventually, I finally got to meet him in person at the Willie Clancy Festival.
The curved windway we now use was first pioneered by George Kelischek for his Susato whistles. Previously it had appeared on some types of organ pipes. Later, Chris Abell adapted it for his blackwood whistles, followed by the Schultz “Thin Weazel”, and Sweetheart Flute Co.