The Oban Times, 10 June, 1911
5 June, 1911
Sir,–Those who are in doubt regarding the origin, antiquity, and history of the great Highland bagpipe and piobaireachd will doubtless be inclined to think that the mystery still deepens, that the mist is lowering on the subject, and thickening into complete darkness, which all efforts to penetrate may seem both hopeless and fruitless.
I can assure them that I have been enveloped in a heavier mist than this, and never gave up hope until I saw the horizon.
Although we had a new contributor last week, it was only a passing cloud on the sky, and the bright sunshine which prevails will soon leave us again where I began–that the great Highland bagpipe and piobaireachd are ours and ours only.
Your correspondent Mr. MacLennan attempts to bring us back to the cradle, and there he would fain lull us to sleep to a purely imaginative tale, but I may tell him that I am too old to sleep or be amused with such stories. Mr. MacLennan says:–
“I believe it is generally accepted that Asia minor was the cradle of mankind, and that the sixth descent from Adam was the first ‘piobair.’ It then naturally follows that all mankind knew the pipe, and whenever there was a migration a piper or two would be among them.”
Mr. MacLennan’s solitary idea that the sixth in descent from Adam was a piper may be true, although I can hardly digest it, and in any case, it is of no interest to me to dispute. At the same time his statement that “whenever there was a migration a piper or two would be among them,” is cooked entirely to suit his own appetite and purpose! “Would be among them.” This is purely imagination. If he was certain as to the statement, or if there is any truth in it, why did he not say “was amongst them,” and give us their names, as one of them might have been a MacCrimmon?
Mr. MacLennan says:–
“We have at least records of five persons who came at different times to this country, with the retinue, and colonised the place, so that the bagpipe came when and as we came ourselves.”
Our records may be quite correct regarding the five different persons who came to this country, but we have no proof to show that the great Highland bagpipe came here with any or either of the five persons. Therefore, I controvert this part of Mr. MacLennan’s statement as being entirely incorrect, until he furnishes me with proof.
“So that the bagpipe came as we came ourselves.” I beg to inform Mr. MacLennan that neither he nor I came to this country. We were born in it, at least I was, and more than likely so was Mr. MacLennan. I say the same regarding the great Highland bagpipe, it was born in this country, or in more was invented and originated in the Highlands of Scotland. Now, when Mr. MacLennan had said that “the bagpipe came as we came ourselves,” meaning that “we” migrated into the Highlands, this shows that he would even make us believe that we ourselves were imported into the Highlands of Scotland, whereas the truth is, we were born here, and neither migrated or were imported, and, as I have already illustrated, the same applies to the great Highland bagpipe.
Mr. MacLennan goes on to say–”the information we have on this point is very meagre.” This is quite true, and would require to be borne in mind. Further, he says–” Silence is no evidence as to the absence of the bagpipe.” Nor is any proof of this presence. Silence is concurrence, and I take it that the thousands of Highlanders who read this correspondence and make no reply agree with me, that the great Highland bagpipe originated, was invented, and belongs to Highlanders and the Highlanders of Scotland only, whereas there are only two who oppose me.
Though Dr. Bannatyne disputes the date when the Highland bagpipe was first known in the Highlands, he does not say that it was imported into Scotland or the Highlands, so that according to his letters on this disputed point in question, I free him from giving the credit of the creating of the Highland bagpipe to a foreigner. Mr. MacLennan says the bagpipe was mentioned in Ireland and Wales in the very earliest times, but in Scotland we have no ancient records. I hope he read Dr. K. N. MacDonald’s letter in your issue of 3rd inst., which says differently, and he says himself that a piper played at Urquhart Castle in 110 B.C. what is this an ancient record? He is contradicting himself.
Mr. MacLennan backs up Dr. Bannatyne in that the bagpipe was called “great” to distinguish it from other kinds in the Highlands. But there is the difference between the foreign instrument and our own Highland one to be recognised. Regarding piobaireachd, Mr. MacLennan says that he once thought this class of Highland music was our own too, but he has been undeceived. He says that it was made famous by John Bull, and it spread to Wales and Ireland, and is to be found in the ancient music of both countries. This is pure nonsense. No other country in the world except Scotland has piobaireachd in any form which they can claim as their own. The great Highland bagpipe is purely Highland or Scotland’s national musical instrument, and so is piobaireachd its great music. From Mr. MacLennan’s letter it can be seen that he does not know the difference between a mere song and a piobaireachd.
I quite agree with “Boreraig” the piobaireachd has nothing to do with poetry, but as “Boreraig” has the subject at hand, I will him to prove his own point he chooses. –I am, etc.,