The Oban Times, 24 June 1911
Piobaireachd and Poetry
17 June, 1911
Sir,–In last Saturday’s issue Dr. K. N. MacDonald says: “‘Boreraig’ has also started a wide question in his remarks about poetry and music.” Dr. MacDonald is evidently meaning that vocal music and poetry are intertwined with each other, but instrumental music is quite different.
So far as I am concerned this question arose over a remark which I made in these columns that piobaireachd had nothing to do with poetry; and again I say neither it has. A real pipe tune has no words to accompany it, nor does it require words of any description. Bagpipe music is complete in itself without poetry, and I require no words whatever when I play it.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 17 June, 1911
The Small Historians and the Highland Bagpipe
9 June, 1911
Sir,–In my last letter to “The Oban Times” of the 3rd inst. on the above subject, Giraldus Cambrensis is stated as having written in A.D. 1118. This is an error; so it is in Mr. Manson’s work on the bagpipe. Giraldus, who wrote in the reign of Henry the II. of England and William the Lion of Scotland, towards the end of the twelfth century, 1187, mentions in his “Topographia Hiberniae” that “the Irish use only two musical instruments, the harp and the tabour; the Scots three, the harp, the tabour in the bagpipe.” The Welsh also use three–the harp, the pipe (might be a flute or tube), and the bagpipe. This is a very important statement, though overall this was never in Scotland, and fixes the use of the bagpipe in Scotland as early as the twelfth century at least; and the bas-relief at Melrose Abbey, founded by David I. in 1136 A.D., representing various instruments, among which are a flute, a bagpipe, a violin, and another instrument supposed to have been a crwth, clinches it.
It must also be borne in mind that the Danes and Scandinavians have also their own musical instruments, and would have brought them along with them into this country–especially into the West Highlands.
William Dauney, in his “Ancient Scottish Melodies from a Manuscript of the Reign of James VI.,” published in 1838, from which work the above facts were taken, points out that the most ancient Scottish representation of the harp is that which is delineated in the carved work of the monument near the church of Nigg, in Ross-Shire. This monument is supposed to be as old as the eleventh century. If this had not been discovered we should never have known that the harp was played at that time in the Highlands of Scotland. Similarly regarding the bagpipe, I quite agree with Lieutenant MacLennan that “silence is no evidence as to the absence of the bagpipe.” The case of the Battle of Harlaw is proof of that, as Dauney says:–
We should have thought that the bagpipes must have been in requisition at the battle of Harlaw in 1411, but in the ballad, in which details are very minutely commemorated, it is not mentioned, although “trumpets” and “drums” are particularized.
Had the Rev. James Mackenzie’s “History of Scotland” never been written, we should have for all time been ignorant that the pipes were played furiously, both at the Inch of Perth battle in 1390 or 1396, and at Harlaw in 1411. The historians did not know, or it was purposely concealed. The same reasons may have been in operation at Bannockburn. The MacDonalds, on account of their valour on that occasion, had conferred upon them the right to occupy the right wing in battle, the neglect of which proved so disastrous and fatal at Culloden!
The reason why we have not got anything ancient in Scotland is because the archives of the country were deposited at Iona about the seventh century, and the place was burned or sacked by pirates, etc., no less than seven times, and everything there was ruined. Edward III. also claimed the Scottish throne, and destroyed all he could get hold of. Besides, Cromwell carried hogsheads of documents out of the country. The bagpipe is said to have been a martial instrument of the Irish Kerns, or infantry, as far back as the reign of Edward III., and to have been continued as such down to the sixteenth century; and in the sixth century we find it mentioned by Procopius (lib ii., e, 22) as the instrument of war of the Roman infantry, while the trumpet was that of the cavalry. Pinkerton infers from this (Enquiry, vol. i., p. 391) that its warlike use in Britain and other countries subject to the Romans commenced about that time. The stone found near Bo’ness in 1870 indicates that the Romans used the bagpipe on the march prior to the sixth century.
Dr. Solander, the famous naturalist and botanist (a Swede) told Mr. Pennant (“Pennant’s Tour in the Hebrides,” p. 302) that in the oldest Northern songs in Hebrides the bagpipe was mentioned under the name of the soeck-pipe–German “soeck pipe,” French “pipeau,” Gaelic “piob,” Welsh “pib,” Swedish “pipa,” Dutch “pijp.” In the Hebrew bardahi some clue is afforded to the ancient home of the Celtic bard and the cradle of our music. There has been a tradition in the Highlands that it was derived from the Danes and Norwegians; others, again, think it might have been communicated to the Scots by the Britons or Welsh, who probably acquired it from the Romans. It is just as likely that it was brought over by the first settlers some centuries before the Christian era.
Regarding Aristides Quintillianus, who has been mentioned by several writers as having recorded that the bagpipe was played in Scotland about 100 A.D., I think the passage might be traced with some little trouble. He is known to have been the author of an ancient treatise on music, which was afterwards printed in the Collection of Meibomius. He is said to have lived “probably” in the third century A.D. according to Meibomius (“Antiq. Musical Auc.,” Sept. 1652, Encyclopaedia Britannica, vol. i., eleventh edition, 1910-1911), it is reported to contain everything on music that is to be found in antiquity. If his data are satisfactory, they will go a long way to establish the bagpipe in the earliest centuries of our era in the Highlands of Scotland. A visit to the British Museum might be necessary to prove whether Aristides Quintillianus lived or wrote in the third century. “Logan’s Scottish Gael” is responsible for the remark that “Giraldus Cambrensis does not appear to have found it (the bagpipe) among the Scots, except he means by it the ‘chorus,’ an instrument of the Welsh also.” The passage was written in Latin, and is as follows:–
Hibernia quidem duobus tantum utitur et delectatur instrumentis–cythara, scilicet et tympano; Scotia tribus, cythara tympano et choro: Gwallia vero cythara, tibiis* et choro.
[Ireland, indeed, is fond of, and uses only two instruments–the lute and the drum; the Scottish tribes, lute, drum and chorus: but Wales, flutes and chorus.]
The term “chorales” being derived from the Greek “choros,” a chorus, and “aulos,” a pipe, was a name strictly designative of his office of “piper to the course,” after which the word “chorus” may have come to signify bagpipe by an easy natural transition.
Walafridus Strabo, a Benedictine monk who wrote in the ninth century’s Latin commentary on the Scriptures and other works, which were published at Paris in 1624, describes the “chorus” as a single skin with two pipes.–See his Comm. in cap. 15 Exod.
Nicholas de Lyranus, a Franciscan monk, who died in 1340, in his commentaries on the Bible, published in Rome in 1472 (in seven volumes folio), referring to Psalm 150, v. 4, observes:–
Dicunt aliqui, quod chorus instrumentum de corio factum: et habet duas fistulae de ligno unam per quam inflatur et allam per quam emitit sonum et vocaltur Gallice cheurette.
[Some say the chorus was an instrument made of leather, and has two pipes of wood which is inflated and by which a sound is produced like the French cherette.]
“Cherette” in French means the doe of the roe-deer. This seems pretty conclusive that the skin of the bag in the pipes were there.
We are told by Lucretius– one of the greatest Roman poets, born B.C. 95–in the fifth book of his poem, “De Rerum Natura” (of the nature of things) that the birds taught man to sing, and that the invention of musical instruments of the inflatile kind was suggested to him by the sounds produced from reeds when the Western wins blue over them–
The birds instructed man,
And taught him songs before his art began,
And while soft evening gales blew o’er the plain,
And shook the sounding reeds, they taught the swains,
And thus the pipe was framed, and the tuneful reed.
The same notion concerning wind instruments is found in Ovid’s beautiful account of the transformation of the nymph Syrinx into reeds.
“Morag” raises a great question when he says that our forebears must always have existed in the Highlands and that the great Highland bagpipe was born there. Britain is an island, and must have been peopled from somewhere. The Celts in ancient times occupied nearly the whole of the Western Europe, and what is more likely than that they were the first settlers in this country, pipe or no pipe?
“Dos Mor” says that there is no music in the pipes. The music is there sure enough, but perhaps he cannot take it out of it! A famous piper once told me the that people who could not love the music of the pipes had no souls! Did “Dos Mor” never hear of the Highlander who would shut up in a room with seven pipers, all playing at the same time, and he thought he was in heaven!
Jubal was the seventh in ascent from Adam, mentioned in Scripture as “the father of such as handle the harp and organ.” These terms are generic, and signify all instruments of the string and tube kind, and only goes to show the antiquity of musical instruments.
“Boreraig” has also started a very wide question in his remarks about poetry and music. Sentiment in connection with music is only at its best in connection with the words, or poetry. When one is leaving his native country for ever, he plays “Cha till mi tuille,” but it is the words that bring forth a flood of tears, fed by the soul roused by the music. These subjects would require separate essays and great verbosity of language before they could be settled.–I am, etc.,
K. N. MacDonald
P.S.– a French military officer, describing the warfare carried on near Edinburgh in the year 1547, specifies that “fourteen or fifteen thousand Scots, including the savages accompanying the Earl of Argyle, arrived. . . . And while the French prepared for the combat the wild Scots encouraged themselves to arms by the sound of their bagpipes.”† We can safely deduct 250 years from 1549 since the Campbells of Argyll first began to use the pipes in battle, and we bring it down to 1299. We may even take 500 off, and we bring the earliest. At which the Campbells most likely used the pipes and war down to A.D. 1049. The MacDonalds were strong in the Western Isles when the Norsemen first invaded the country, and it is more than probable that they were led by pipers to meet the enemy. Written history cannot bind this enquiry within a narrow compass. The piper who led the Irish insurgents in A.D. 1581 has an instrument with two long grounds, and a chanter that reaches some inches below the knee. The bag seems twice the size of the same of the present day, and is placed in front of the performer, and pressed with the right forearm and wrist.
The learned Moresin testifies his having witnessed among the “Scottish Mountaineers” their coincidence with the custom of ancient nations and lamentations of women for the departed and the funeral pipes preceding the bier. In the same century, 1591, Moresin‡ wrote of the Scottish poet’s verse:–
I will na pricatis for me sing,
Dies illa, dies ire,
Nor yit na bellis for me ring,
Sicut sempre solet flere,
But a bagpipe to play a spring.
* Tibia. The shinbone – a pipe, a flute, originally made of bone.
† Bengue. L’Histoire de la Guerre d’Ecoisse. “Les Ecossais Sauvages se provocquoyent aux armes par les sons de leurs cornemeuses.” Paris, 1555.
‡Moresinus, Edinburgh, 1591
The Oban Times, 3 June, 1911
The Small Historians and the Highland Bagpipe
Edinburgh, 27 May, 1911
Sir,–The pipe in some form is one of the oldest instruments of music, and it may be safely assumed is as old as the people of the Highlands and the Celts generally. But the “Great Highland Bagpipe,” in its present state of perfection, is the work of the Highlanders of Scotland alone, and, as far as can be seen, is destined to live longer than any other form of it in this or any other country.
The earliest notice of the bagpipes in Scotland is by Aristides Quintillianes in 100 A.D. In A.D. 1113 Giraldus Cambriensis, the historian, mentions the pipes as Welsh and Irish, but not as Scottish, unless he means by it the chorus, an instrument by the Welsh also. The chorus mentioned by Giraldus and the piob-mala of the Middle Ages were the same instrument. So early as 1024 a piper in Ireland had the right of entry into the King’s house night or day, but Walker and others acknowledged that the bagpipe was introduced from Scotland (Walker’s “History of the Irish Bards.”)
Major represents the Scots at Bannockburn as using tubae, litui, and cornua. Mike not the tubae be the “Dos mòr”? Sir Walter Scott represents the men of the Isles as charging to the sound of the bagpipes. The Clan Menzies are also alleged to have had their pipes with them at Bannockburn, and they are supposed to have been played by one of the MacIntyres, their hereditary pipers.
These pipes are still in existence, or at least three portions of them. Bruce’s son, says another tradition, had pipes at Bannockburn. There are said to be MacDonald pipes in existence which consist of a chanter and blow-pipe only, and which it is alleged, were played before the MacDonalds at Bannockburn. This may have been the Menzies pipes, as the MacIntyres, who are credited with having been owners of each, were at different times pipers to the Menzies and to the Clanranald branch of the MacDonalds.
In A.D. 1316 two there is an entry in the Exchequer Rolls of 40s, “paid to the King’s pyper.” David II, of Scotland. According to the Rev. James Mackenzie’s “History of Scotland,” a very pious and able Free Churchmen, who was born to publish a falsehood, a detailed statement is given of the desperate fight between the Clan Kay (or Quhale) and the Clan Chattan, at the Inch of Perth in 1390 or 1396, in “Snow-beards” time, Robert III, of Scotland. says:–
Two Highland Clans, the Clan Chattan the Clan Kay, had long been at deadly feud, and their strife filled the whole district with slaughter and confusion. It was agreed to refer the dispute to the judgment of battle: a space was railed in for the combat, which was fought in the presence of the King, and a great assemblage of the Nobles. Sixty Highlanders –thirty from each clan–stalked into the barriers to the sound of their great war pipes.
The chanter of the pipes played by the Clan Chattan on that occasion is still preserved, I believe, at Cluny Castle. Similarly, at the Battle of Harlaw in 1411, fought between Donald, Lord of the Isles, who claimed the Earldom of Ross, and the Earls of Buchan and Mar:–
Albany decided in favour of the Earl of Buchan, Donald raised an army of 10,000 men, and the first tidings which the governor heard of him was that the fires of the Highland Army were blazing in the heart of Ross. The Lord of the Isles was that at Dingwall by a force of the Earl of Buchan’s Men, but they were soon cut to pieces. Donald swept onwards spreading havoc before him. He overran the fertile province of Moray, threatening to make Scotland a desert to the shores of the Tay. Enraged at the havoc made on his territory, Mar got together a force. The Burgesses of Aberdeen took down their swords, put on their steel caps, unfurled the banner of the City, and with the Provost at their head, marched with the Earl of Mar. The two armies encountered at the village of Harlaw, near the place the water of Ury falls into the Don. With pibrochs deafening to hear, (showing that there was a good many) the Highland host came down.
Pennant also mentions that the pipes were played at the Battle of Harlaw.
In 1870 a stone was dug from the ground near Be’ness on which was sculptured a party of Roman soldiers on the march. They were dressed in short kilts, and one was playing a bagpipe. The instrument was very similar to those of the present day, except that the drones were shorter. It was naturalised in the Kings Palace in 1392 (Scottish Court).
The bagpipe was unknown to the citizens of Rome up to the year A.D. 87. Nero played on it then as a new instrument to appease the people. In 35 B.C. one of the Roman historians tells us that he heard this instrument played on by the Celts inhibiting the mountains of Pannomia. It came from the north through the Celts, and from the South to the Greeks. The Greeks have known the pipes for 2100 years, the Latins for 1900 years. There is at Rome a fine Greek sculpture, in basso-relievo, representing a piper playing on an instrument bearing a close resemblance to the Highland bagpipe. The Greeks acknowledged that to the barbarians, i.e., the Celts, they owed much of their music and many of its instruments. The Romans, who no doubt borrowed the bagpipe from the Greeks, used it as a martial instrument among their infantry. Prudentius, A.D. 348, the greatest of the Roman Christian poets, first mentioned the bagpipe as an instrument of war.
As to the great antiquity of the pipes there can be no doubt whatever. “In the earliest sculptures, which are those in the tomb of an individual behind the Great Pyramid, between three and four thousand years old, is a concert of vocal and instrumental music, consisting of two harps, a pipe, a flute, and several voices, and during the reigns of the Pharaohs of the eighteenth dynasty other combinations frequently occur,” and it is much older than that. Of the contributors to this subject I agree mostly with Morag, who seems quite fit to fight her own battles.
A Mhòrag chlatach a’ chull dualaich,
Gur h-e do luaidh a th’ air m’aire.
‘S geod nach iarr mi thu ri d’phòsadh,
Gu’m b’o mo rí(?) a bhi már-riut.
–I am, etc.
K. N. MacDonald
Refer to the Rev. James Mackenzie’s History of Scotland, 1898. Logans Scottish Gael, 1831.
The manners and customs of the ancient Egyptians by Sir G. Wilkinson, 1847. Manson on the Highland bagpipe, 1901, and Dr. Duncan Fraser’s History of the Bagpipes, etc., 1910.
The Oban Times, 3 June, 1911
Cumha Dhonnachaidh Mhic Iain
29 May, 1911
Sir,–Would you kindly make the following correction in my letter of 22nd inst., viz.:–I said: “In one setting an odd bar is given in the ground, with 6, 6, and 5 bars.” This should read: “in one setting an odd bar is given in the ground, with 4 Bis, 4 and 5 bars.”–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 27 May, 1911
22 May, 1911
Sir,–I cannot refrain from admiring “Morag’s” enthusiastic Highland patriotism, but I regret that I cannot admire either his (or her) knowledge of the subject in dispute, or even of the ordinary rules of argument.
“Morag” seems to think that the mere assertion of a string of flimsy inferences, drawn from more flimsy premises, ought to be accepted by all as final and conclusive, and that the bare statement of “Morag” is quite sufficient to establish the argument.
As I write, there lies before me a book, the title page of which says:
“A collection of ancient piobaireachd, to which are prefixed some sketches of the principal hereditary pipers in their establishments. Dedicated to the Highland Society of London by the Editor. Angus Mackay, Edinburgh, 1839.”
Turning to page 15, I find the following: “the pipe is one of the most ancient of instruments of music. It was in use among the Greeks, by whom it was called ‘Pivola Piob Mhala’ see ‘Logan’s Scottish Gael,’ vol. III.”. . . “The instrument was also known to the Romans. Giraldus Cambrensis, who died in 1225, mentions the pipe as a British instrument; and it was used among his own countrymen in Wales. The last piper of whom we hear in Wales was Shon na Peepy (John the Piper).”
Prince Charlie’s pipes are still extant, and in the possession of Colonel MacDonald of Glenalladale. A few years ago Pipe-Major Mackenzie played them, and he informs me that the pipes had no big drone. Their date must be about 1745. I may mention that Pipe-Major Mackenzie has the sporran and shoulder-brooch of the Prince in his house, Hornby Boulevard, Bootle, Lancashire, and I have no doubt he will willingly show these relics to any caller who happens to visit that neighbourhood, as well as the large collection of piobaireachd which he possesses.
Milbank’s pipes possess only two drones, and anyone who investigates the matter will find that until the end of the 18th, or the beginning of the 19th century the big drone was a mere flagstaff, and did not sound. McDonald, pipe maker of Edinburgh, bored it and made it sound about the date mentioned.
The last improvements were made on the instrument by the late P. Henderson, pipe- maker, Glasgow, about the year 1880, and he left the instrument as it is now.
That there have been lost enormous quantities of splendid pipe music goes without saying, but this has been largely due to the pipers themselves, who selfishly refused to make the piobaireachd known to their contemporaries, with the result that their music died with them.
Now, Sir, what does all this go to show? It goes to show that no nation can claim to have invented the bagpipe. It has been known by the nations of great antiquity, and the great bagpipe is the outcome of an evolution through long ages, and only in the 19th century has its become the soul-stirring instrument we have now. And all this noise has arisen from the broad-minded and temperately-worded lecture of Dr. Bannatyne, to whom our best thanks are due, and to yourself for having published it, thereby adding to our knowledge of that instrument, which no one admires more than–Yours, etc.,
The Oban Times, 27 May, 1911
22 May, 1911
Sir,–I have read your correspondent, Colonel John MacGregor’s letter, which appears in your issue of last week. He reproduces a paragraph which appeared in some newspapers. I attach no importance to this information, nor the find either.
Colonel McGregor says:–”The bagpipe chanter is certainly the instrument with which Adam charmed the snakes and everything else;” also that “it did not take Adam long to know that the chanter, beautiful though it sounded, was always putting him out of breath.”
One would really imagine, to read this, that Colonel MacGregor lived at the back of a big tree in the far corner of the Garden of Eden! This is purely imagination, if ever anything was, for Adam never saw the chanter of the Highland bagpipe, or any other chanter. If Adam had the chanter, as your correspondent says, he must have forgot to play it to the serpent, or it failed to charm this cunning creature in the fatal hour. Adam chose this instrument, says your correspondent, “because it is simplest,” and from it sprang the flute, etc., etc., as well as all other wind instruments.” If Col. MacGregor means by this that the Highland bagpipe chanter was simple to make or to play either, he is not a pipe-maker, nor a piper either; and to say, or even imagine, from the chanter sprang any other form of wind instrument is pure nonsense.
The Highland bagpipe chanter may be simple to look at, but is very difficult to make with the perfect sound, and is difficult to learn and play. At the back of all its simplicity is the great secret of its ingenious mechanism, as well as the secret of how to perform upon it its own peculiar music, and just the same as the Highlander, though he is simple to look at, when put to the test he is the genuine metal. He concealed in this simple-looking instrument, which from its very infancy had always a bag attached to it, an art which can only be produced by the sturdy or hearty Highlander.
The real piobaireachd is very difficult to play; it requires hard practice and a skilled performer to play it to perfection. A lady may play the bagpipes with weak reeds, but to master a pipe with the stiff reeds of hard ringing and true sound, takes a powerful Highlander of the real Rob Roy type to handle and play it. The rest of Col. McGregor’s letter is very interesting, but it has not settled the question as to the antiquity of the Highland bagpipe or its origin either.
I have great pleasure in thanking your correspondent, “Loch Sloy,” for the very high compliment he has paid me in my endeavours to uphold my national instrument, but I owe him a greater debt than my tongue or pen can tell for his loyalty in coming forward to support me in his warm-hearted love for an instrument and its music which both seem as dear to him as they are to myself. “Loch Sloy” asks the support of my pen in advocating the need of encouraging and furthering the cause of piobaireachd composition. It has always been my special desire, and will ever be, as long as the Highland blood courses through my veins, to uphold the memory and great achievements the old masters of piobaireachd; to cherish and preserve untarnished the contributions to piobaireachd which I have inherited from my forefathers; and finally, to encourage the cultivation and composition of this ancient and Royal art.
While there are many dangers attached to opening piobaireachd composition to competition, I am not a narrow-minded man, but one who would like to give everyone and everything a chance to see what would be the profit or benefit thereof. As suggested by “Loch Sloy,” if it was possible to get up such competition at Oban and Inverness, I most heartily agree with him, and have great pleasure in supporting his recommendation for at least a fair trial. If unsuccessful, such competitions could be abandoned at the discretion of the promoters.–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 26 November, 1910
Oban, 22 November, 1910
Sir,–In view of the opposition aroused by my letter of the 5th inst., I hope you will allow me to make my position a little plainer. I am not wanting in the discrimination necessary to perceive differences between the founders of the S. P. U. And the “Society that will be nameless,” and, for that matter, if my observation is correct, between “Fair Play to All” and Dr. Bannatyne.
Now, in the first place, “Fair Play to All” wished to show to us the mistakes and pitfalls into which existing Societies have fallen; his wish still remains at the phantom stage. He admits that this “nameless Society” do good, and that all the piping world are much obliged to them for what they do, and yet he bombastically declares that they are trying too much. His remarks re the teaching of performers give cause for much merriment amongst our leading pipers, and clearly show to us that “Fair Play to All” and those “pipers and others” whose views he discloses, need not be feared.
I am quite prepared to admit my criticism of the S.P.U., but at the same time I would like “Fair Play to All” to remember that I am quite a good sportsman, and for the benefit of the “piper” members of the S.P.U. I also am a good loser. It requires someone else than “Fair Play to All” to tell me through these columns about the S.P.U. members. “Loch Sloy” is not so palpably ignorant of matters concerning the S.P.U. I know full well, and to my cost, the antagonistic views hid behind the smiling countenances, especially when conversing with the gentleman judges as mentioned by “Fair Played to All.” I hope the day will never be when a few “pipers and others,” forming and S.P.U. will be able to taboo certain gatherings where the judges will be to their liking.
Dr. Bannatyne seems to be on a par with “Fair Play to All.” I never, on matters concerning the S.P.U. mentioned the name of the “Society that would be nameless,” although it was easily seen to whom “Fair Like to All” referred. I am glad, nay proud, that this “Society” and your humble servant, “Loch Sloy,” have yet to reach that stage of “Ichabod,” as expressed by Dr. Bannatyne. Meantime, honest labour meets with its due reward, and every day sees further “glory” looming afresh upon the horizon.
In conclusion, I wish it to be known that I have no connection whatever with this “Society that will be nameless,” only a love for the piobaireachd which they are so ardently giving to us, and doing their utmost to teach at any expense, free of charge, for its furtherance, while at the same time putting talented young pipers in a position to compete more successfully with their elders, who were themselves at some time or other taught at great cost and trouble by the parents of some of the members of the “Society that shall be nameless.” To some “pipers and others,” “Ichabod” is a most fitting term, but to the S.P.U. I would say, quoting the words of our national Bard, that “the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley.”–I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 19 November, 1910
Salsburgh, by Holytown
14 November, 1910
Sir,–With your permission, I shall deal with “Ceol Mor’s” letter of 6th inst. categorically.
(1). “Has there been a meeting of any influential body proposing or authorising any such a meeting as is about to be called?”
This is a free country, and anyone can call such a meeting if inclined to do so. A reference to the advertisement in your present issue will give “Ceol Mor” other details.
(2). “Ceol Mor” says my two letters contradict each other. I cannot agree to this. The Scottish Pipers’ Union rules and regulations will, if accepted by Games Committees, be accepted voluntarily or not at all. He states: “if no Games Committees recognize the Unions judges or rules, their attempt will be fruitless.”
The Union will risk the “if.”
(3). I have not hitherto, in my letters on this subject, mentioned the Scottish Piobaireachd Society, or used any expression that could be construed as pointing to that body. It only controls three or four games in the country, at which it gives prizes, so I do not think the Union and the Society will come into conflict. It has never been the aim of the Society to control piping and dancing generally. I do not see that “Ceol Mor,” “Loch Sloy,” and others are serving any good purpose by dragging in the Scottish Piobaireachd Society unnecessarily, and defending it when not attacked. It is not the intention of the Union to give prizes to be competed for at games, and so its own members will not be competing for the Union’s prizes. Nor will the Union be controlled by members who are in the habit of competing any more than the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association, which is controlled by old athletes.
(4). For “Ceol Mor” to assume that the object of the Scottish Pipers’ Union is to oppose the Piobaireachd Society implies that he knows all about the proposed Union, though I am not aware that his advice has been sought by those who are trying to form it. I do not think the Society needs “Ceol Mor,” “Loch Sloy,” or anyone else to defend it. Its objects are well defined, and it does not pretend to be the hub around which the wheel of piping and dancing revolves. “Ceol Mor” says he is not a narrow-minded man. I am glad he tells me so, because I should have probably formed a different opinion from the tone of his letter.
(5). He states that he does not think such a body as the Union is necessary. Who is he that he should so venture his single opinion in the face of the hundreds of pipers, dancers, and others interested, who think it is needed? If he and “Loch Sloy” do not fear for the Piobaireachd Society, who do they, on the assumption that it is to be attacked, rush into print and attempt to damn the formation of a Union, of whose objects they are so probably ignorant? “Loch Sloy!” “Loch Sloy!” Ichabod!
Not being a narrow-minded man, “Ceol Mor” should eschew reading into the simple English in which I stated the objects of the Pipers’ Union an attack on another body with different aims, and whose members, I hope, will someday be also members of the Scottish Pipers’ Union.–I am, etc.,
Charles Bannatyne, M.B.
The Oban Times, 19 November, 1910
The Scottish Pipers’ Union
Sir,–I notice in your issue of 5th inst. a letter on the above subject signed “Loch Sloy.” The correspondent begins by saying that my letter in a former issue of yours will not materially assist the idea. Now, in the first place, my letter was intended to show those “few pipers and others” some of the mistakes and pitfalls into which existing societies had fallen, and to warn them against making the same mistakes.
I am quite prepared to admit that the “Society that will be nameless” does a certain amount of good, and that all the piping world are much obliged to them for what they do, but in my opinion they are trying too much. When they take to instructing performers who know more than anyone of them, it is quite time that such proceedings should be noticed. I know they have a hard task, but I don’t think they have gone about it in the most judicious manner.
“Loch Sloy” is good enough to say that I have attacked and run down the “Society that will be nameless” in a most unsportsmanlike manner, but I think he shows himself very much less of a sportsman when he tries to belittle a Society not yet in existence. If “Loch Sloy” will only have a little patience and wait till he sees of whom the “few pipers and others consist,” it will be quite time for him then to criticise them. He also says he sees no chaos existing in piping and dancing, but I would remind him of an old proverb which says there are none so “blind as those who will not see.” If he attends many of our Highland gatherings, he cannot fail to notice decisions given quite against what is fair. I myself this season saw, or rather heard, a decision so completely absurd that everybody round the ring was disgusted; and allow me to tell “Loch Sloy” that at most Highland gatherings there are as competent judges of dancing and playing round the ring as those gentlemen in the judging seat. One of the best judged meetings held this season, or rather last season, was where professional pipers were asked to judge, and one of the worst was where gentlemen were judging. Good luck and long life to the Pipers Union! My sincere wish is that it may have a good send-off.–I am, etc.,
Fair Play to All.
The Oban Times, 5 November, 1910
The Scottish Pipers’ Union
Symington, by Kilmarnock,
28 October, 1910
Sir,–”Fair play for All’s” contribution to these columns of 29th inst. on behalf of the above will not materially assist the S. P. U.–Rather the reverse, because he does not content himself with landing the great possibilities of the new body, but attacks and runs down in a veiled and altogether unsportsmanlike manner the only existing Society in our midst, who, at great inconvenience and expense to themselves, have done, and are still doing, magnificent work toward the furtherance of our piobaireachd.
I see no chaos at present overshadowing piping and dancing, as voiced in these columns by Dr. Bannatyne. Some of your readers will agree with me, and others won’t. Personally, I will not say that the idea of an S.P.U. is a really excellent one because a few pipers and others take it upon themselves, after some hesitancy, to propose an S.P.U., with the main reason for doing so concealed in the background, and simply because we have a Society “that will be nameless,” who teach all eligible young man or lads piobaireachd free of charge, who give us new piobaireachd every year to compete with that would be lost to us were it not for this Society, who at great expense to themselves hold schools in different chosen parts of Scotland, in which schools the teaching is done by the most competent players amongst us. The few declare–Are we to be ruled by the Society, who give us the prizes and bind us to their settings? (and rightly so): the founders of the proposed S.P.U. shout No!
We are told the first meeting of the proposed S.P.U. will soon be advertised. I wish them luck, but judging from the warning given by “Fair Play to All” to Dr. Bannatyne, it is going to be a very hazardous undertaking indeed. –I am, etc.,