OT: 27 May 1911 – Sassenach

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.,


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