The Oban Times, 3 June, 1911
29 May, 1911
Sir,–The subject of our discussion here is shrouded in the mists of antiquity. The curtain has fallen long, long ago, on the scenes of old, when the Highland bagpipe and piobaireachd were in their infancy, and I do not profess to be the one who can raise it or lay the first acts of the great drama of the Highlanders’ life in the very earliest ages as clearly before your readers today as when they were first played, disclosing all the secrets and mysteries of the past. Nevertheless, with the traditional links of the history of our Highland homeland, I did not hesitate to hold good my claim that the Highland bagpipe must have existed in the Highlands of Scotland at the beginning of the Christian era, or even earlier.
Going back on my own words, I already said that Dr. Bannatyne was at least hundreds of years short of the mark when he said that the bagpipe did not reach the Highlands of Scotland till the end of the sixteenth century. To save time and space, no matter what I or Dr. Bannatyne has said regarding the date on which the “MacLeod’s Controversy” was composed, it was composed in 1503, and while, as pointed out by Dr. Bannatyne, 1503 was the sixteenth century, that does not alter the space of time between the one way of putting it and the other. The end of the sixteenth century was 1599, and the beginning was 1503, thus I still gain my hundred years on your correspondent.
I promised to give either of your correspondents and answer to any question which they might put to me, and therefore regarding my statement about Aristides Quintillianus, who says in his writings that the bagpipe was known in the Highlands of Scotland in his day, if Dr. Bannatyne were to read an article from the able pen of Dr. K. N. MacDonald in the “Celtic monthly” of November, 1902, Vol. xi., entitled “Historians and the Bagpipes,” he will see this writer mentioned there, and also that the Clan Menzies had their piper MacIntyre, at the battle of Bannockburn. This is as able a letter as was ever written on this subject, and if Dr. Bannatyne disputes its validity, if necessary perhaps Dr. MacDonald will stand good for proof to uphold his most valuable information.
I have also before me a copy of J. & R. Glen’s Bagpipe Music, published in 1827, and in it Aristides Quintillianus is mentioned as an authority that the bagpipe prevailed in the very earliest times in the Highlands of Scotland. Surely so many writers would not use this historians name for the mere sake of assertion, as your correspondents try to make out. Although I have used the references quoted above as penetrating into the dim and distant ages of the past, I do not attempt to prove their validity. At the same time, there is no reason to dispute the truth contained in them.
Dr. Bannatyne said that the bagpipe was unknown in the Highlands of Scotland till the end of the sixteenth century now, what I have got to prove is that he is hundreds of years short of the mark. This was all I tried to prove. Any one with ordinary intelligence can see from it that I gave proof as well as assertion. What have we but traditional history to guide us when we go back to the earlier ages? We are informed by the best preserved records in existence that the tunes which I have mentioned were all composed on the dates I give. This is my proof, and everyone’s proof as well.
Because we happened to know that the Battle of Bannockburn was not commemorated in song till the eighteenth century–a lapse of 400 years–(The Battle at Bannockburn was fought in 1314, and Burns composed the song in the eighteenth century)–this does not apply to any of the tunes which I have mentioned, because our records show that they were composed on the dates given. Whatever Dr. Bannatyne says or thinks, I have given him all the proof that can be found to uphold my statement, and again I say it is for him to prove that they were not composed on the dates which we have. He must believe tradition and history as well as me–if not, again he has to prove otherwise.
Dr. Bannatyne is putting all his trust on the hope that if we did find proof it might be contrary to mine, and that as in the case of Bannockburn I might be 400 years wrong in my calculation. He is clinging to a hope as tender as a thread of the spiders web–in fact it has snapped before his eyes. If the editor’ space permits me, I hope to give more proof to show that the bagpipe existed in the Highlands of Scotland hundreds of years before the sixteenth century.
In J. & R. Glen’s Collection of Pipe Music, which I have already referred to, will be found a photo of a set of Highland bagpipes with the date 1409 on the stock. They are quite genuine, and I have no doubt that they can be seen at any time, if anyone disputes their age. Now this is 200 years earlier than the end of the sixteenth century, and as I have already illustrated, it must have taken hundreds of years previous to 1409 to make the instrument perfect as it appears. This is proof, apart from any other clues of importance.
If we were to put everything on the same basis as Dr. Bannatyne does, we could not believe the date of any act or deed to be true. Dr. Bannatyne offers a reason why the Highland bagpipe was called “Great.” There is very little difference in size between the miniature, reel, or half-sized, and the full-sized Highland bagpipe. Although the word “great” is used by bagpipe makers to distinguish the full-sized set from the others, there are other reasons for the instrument being “great,” as was described in my first letter, and cannot be disputed.
Finally, there is one thing I must ask your correspondent to prove, and that is that the bagpipe did not appear in the Highlands of Scotland till the end of the sixteenth century. He made the statement, and he has to prove that it is correct, and find prove to contradict all others, and records to show that he is hundreds of years wrong. In the closing words of his letter we have a mild form of his repentance. He says:–”While I think the bagpipe was in the Highlands of Scotland from a very early date, say 45 A.D., I cannot prove it.” I do not ask him to prove it, but why did he not say this in his lecture in Glasgow, instead of saying that “the bagpipe was unknown in the Highlands of Scotland till the end of the sixteenth century”? He must have believed as well as thought, otherwise there is no good at thinking.
Following Dr. Bannatyne’s letter appears one from “Sassenach.” In his letter he makes a fair confession, which is good for the soul. He says:–”I cannot refrain from admiring ‘Morag’s’ enthusiastic Highland patriotism.” What is this, “Sassenach,” but yourself now “repenting in sackcloth and ashes,” as you have already said. There are more readers of this valuable paper then you who have made the same confession, for which I have returned my warmest thanks. While there is something in my letters to admire regarding the Great Highland Bagpipe and its music, on the other hand there is no like appeal for admiration in yours, which only deals with foreign instruments of no value or interest to the Highlander. “Sassenach” says that he cannot “admire either my (‘Morag’s’) knowledge of the subject in dispute, or even the ordinary rules of argument.” But “Sassenach” is only one man, and that does not hinder scores of others from admiring my arguments all the same. In closing, I will again repeat my claim that the Great Highland Bagpipe originated, was invented, and perfected in the Highlands of Scotland at the very earliest ages, and it belongs to the Highlands of Scotland alone. Piobaireachd, it soul-stirring and inspiring music, was also created by the Highlander only, and brought to perfection hundreds of years previous to the “nineteenth century,” as stated by “Sassenach,” who tries to take the honour away from the generation to which it belongs, and give it to another that only inherited it.– I am, etc.,