OT: 13 May 1911 – Alexander MacRae “Lament for Duncan MacRae”



The Oban Times, 13 May, 1911

Lament for Duncan MacRae

Clunes, Kirkhill, R.S.O.,

May 5th, 1911

Sir,–I have read with much interest the correspondence on the Lament for Duncan MacRae. Tradition should never be lightly cast aside, and the account given by Miss Matheson is certainly that commonly accepted in Kintail, where the piobaireachd originated, and is the one I have always been accustomed to hear. The discrepancy is, however, remarkable, and undoubtedly requires explanation. I do not know how far back the “Mhic Iain” title can be traced. May it not be a mere mistake? Practically all written pipe musmic is quite modern (apart from canntaireachd) and, before founding an argument upon the name “Mhic Iain,” it must be conclusively shown that this is really the original name of the tune, and not a mere perpetuation of an early printer’s error. The unfamiliar title, “Donnachaidh nam Pios,” might easily have been misread, “Donnachaidh Mhic Iain.”

At the same time, there is nothing inherently improbable in the suggestion that the air was composed to commemorate a member of the Torlysich family–one of the most honourable, as it is the oldest, of the various branches of our Clan. The leader of the Clan MacRae at Sheriffmuir was a Duncan MacRae, and a member of this family–a warrior of the highest renown, than whom no more fitting subject could have been found for the genius of Finlay Dubh, several of his pibrochs appear to have been written about 1715. He is open, however, to the same objection as Donnachaidh nam Pios. He was not “the son of John.”

As regards the Donnachaidh mac Eoin mentioned by your correspondents, there are also some difficulties. He died in 1645, and as he was not the head or even a special prominent member of his family, it may reasonably be assumed that the Lament was written at no great period after his death. As Finlay Dubh Macrae was at the height of his powers after 1715, it is a little difficult to believe that he had composed perhaps his finest pibroch about 70 years earlier. He lived to take an active part in the ’45, when he composed the “Duke of Perth’s Salute,” and it died more than a century after the Battle of Auldearn.

So long as the Lament is admitted to be a Macrae tune, the question is not one of very great importance, but there does seem to be a difficulty in finding an explanation which will cover all the facts. I shall be very greatly interested if any further like can be thrown upon the subject.

In conclusion, may I say how regrettable it is that the enemies of the Clan Macrae should have carried their animosity to such a pitch that no topic, however remotely connected with the Clan, can be discussed in your columns without their seizing the opportunity to direct a shower of invariably anonymous attacks against those who have had the temerity to take a load against them in the movement for the defence of the honour and position of the Clan? The Chieftainship question does not seem to be particularly germane to the subject of piobaireachd, and it’s gratuitous introduction is not only a proof of animus, but tends to cast upon the whole matter a suspicion of bias an ulterior motive. –I am, etc.,

Alexander MacRae

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