OT: 17 June 1911 – Morag “The Great Highland Bagpipe in Its Music”

The Oban Times, 17 June, 1911

The Great Highland Bagpipe in Its Music

12 June, 1911

Sir,–In your issue of 10th inst., Dr. Bannatyne says he will leave the subject with “Morag,” shrouded in the mists of antiquity. He has failed to see any proof in my letters to uphold what I have said, but those who read the correspondence cannot fail to see a double proof, viz., in my letters and in Dr. Bannatyne’s own. Seeing that he has failed to find proof on my side, I will cast my powerful searchlight upon his material, and there show him proof in his own words. It can be clearly seen that Dr. Bannatyne has admitted in the course of his correspondence that the bagpipe was known in the Highlands of Scotland in the first century, and he now suddenly rushes at a verdict which is entirely erroneous, and all his own. “Not proven,” says your correspondent, but Dr. Bannatyne is not the judge. The public are sole arbiters and judges in this case, and I leave it with them. At the same time, before I conclude, I will express my own opinion to be equal with my opponent.

Let me repeat Dr. Bannatyne’s statement, on which the controversy is based. He said that “the bagpipe was unknown in the Highlands of Scotland till the end of the sixteenth century.” Now what I said, and have to prove, is that he is at least hundreds of years short of the mark. Dr. Bannatyne now says that his statement suffered loss by being condensed. This excuse won’t take. His statement I have repeated above, and he cannot get away from it. He admits in the course of his lecture of 1903 that Quintillianus the historian who not only lived but wrote in the first century, says that the bagpipe was known in the Highlands of Scotland in his day. In the first part of his lecture Dr. Bannatyne is very shaky as to the real date on which the bagpipes was first known in the Highlands of Scotland, but after giving us a few preludes on the pipes of other countries, he puts his arms round Quintillianus’s neck, clings to his history, and believes his statements that he made, which I need not repeat. Here he puts his foot down in earnest, and marks off the first century as the date which he could count on, for we find him saying:–”It may be safely stated that its use among the Highlanders is at least contemporaneous with the first Roman invasion of Scotland about 45 A.D.” Now, Dr. Bannatyne cannot back out of this. He must have meant by this statement to his audience in 1903 that the bagpipe was in the Highlands of Scotland in the year 45 A.D. Now he would fain contradict this, but it is too late.

Another quotation from Dr. Bannatyne’s lecture I wish to point out is where he says:– “The first mention of the bagpipe in Scottish history as a military instrument is by Buchanan, who states that it was played at the battle of Balrinnes in 1582.” This suits Dr. Bannatyne’s statement almost to a T. This is not far from the end of the sixteenth century, which was 1599. Still if I had no other proof to go on, although I am not void of good proof, Dr. Bannatyne is seventeen years wrong in his calculations, and I gain this period on him over this one transaction.

Let us now look on the subject with a more serious aspect–that is, Dr. Bannatyne now seeks to make out as untrue, and ignores, all the information which Quintillianus gives us, and on which he proves his first date of the existence of the bagpipe in the Highlands of Scotland in his lecture of 1903, and now turns round and believes Buchanan only. In the judgment of intelligent readers of your valuable paper, can anyone tell me why we should believe the one historian and discard the statement of another, especially when it is clearly stated that Quintillianus, the historian, lived in the first century as well as wrote? Dr. Bannatyne’s statement that the bagpipe was known in the Highlands of Scotland in the first century must be true, and what is still worse, this is in accordance with his own findings.

Dr. Bannatyne says he has “seen two sets of pipes dated 1409. They are similar in design and workmanship, and are not older than the seventeenth or eighteenth century, judging from the workmanship and the state of preservation.” This is your correspondent’s narrow view of looking at what are facts, and his method of contradicting the real age of the pipes in question is the essence of assertion, and offers not the slightest shadow of proof whatever, so this won’t help him.

Dr. Bannatyne says “‘Morag’ has laboured.” Not so; I have worked with a light heart, and done my duty to my national instruments and its music as a true and loyal Highlander. My endeavours are crowned with success.

Regarding your correspondent’s remark that he will leave the subject “shrouded in the mists of antiquity,” this is true–that previous to the Christian era the antiquity of the Highland bagpipe and the date when it was first known and invented in the Highlands of Scotland certainly is, and forever will be “shrouded in the mists of antiquity.” Nevertheless Dr. Bannatyne has proved just what I have done–that the bagpipes were known to exist in the Highlands of Scotland in the first century; therefore I have won my point.

I take your correspondent and his own word, “and I finally leave the subject with ‘Morag.’” I take it that he has given in, and I am left where I began, with an instrument and its music second to none in existence. The great Highland bagpipe was known in the Highlands of Scotland in the first century. There is no proof whatever to show that it was ever imported into the Highlands of Scotland; therefore it is ours, and ours alone. Piobaireachd, its only real music, is ours also, for no one other than the real Highlander can understand or cultivate it.

In conclusion, I am proud to say that I have fought and won another victory for my native instrument and its music. They are richer, and I am none the poorer. I have claimed nothing for my reward other than that I am able to say that I have raised this noble instrument and its great music to a higher position than has ever yet been accorded to them, and that it should be the desire of every loyal and patriotic Highlander to let them both remain. I thank the editor of the “The Oban Times” most heartily for his invaluable help in sacrificing his valuable columns in order to allow me to fulfill my hearts desire.–I am, etc.,


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