The Oban Times, 2 December, 1933
The Music of the MacCrimmons
Inveran Hotel, Invershin, Sutherland, 27 November, 1933
Sir,–your correspondent, Mr. A.K. Cameron, makes some bold statements in his letter appearing in your esteemed issue of 25th November. There are few, if any, in this country who will give credence to Mr. Cameron’s averments.
If piping in Australia is, to use Mr. Cameron’s own words, “a disgrace,” it certainly is not so in this country; to-day, in the Homeland, piping is at as high a standard as it has been since the days of the celebrated masters–to name a few: the Mackays, Mackenzies, Campbells, and the MacDonalds. This is due in great extent to the efforts put forward by the Piobaireachd Society and a few individual tutors, still happily with us, who got the traditional teaching of piobaireachd from men who, were they alive, would be at least thirty or forty years older than the infallible champion that Mr. Cameron speaks of, but whose name he does not divulge.
If Mr. Cameron has in his possession any piping secrets I would suggest that he gets his champion to put these on paper and send them to the secretary of Piobaireachd Society, from whom, I am certain, they will receive the most careful and unbiased treatment.
I am, etc.
The Oban Times, 25 November 1933
The Music of the MacCrimmons
Cohagen, Montana, U.S.A., 14 October, 1933
Sir,–The remaining records of the music of the MacCrimmons should be collected and published as your correspondent Mr. Malcolm MacInnes suggested. Two hundred tunes–more or less–exist in their own notation, but the tunes, if published in their notation, would be useless, because the majority of pipers are unable to read this notation. There is only one piper living today that has been taught to play pibroch from both of their notations. He was also taught all of the rules which govern the notation in the time of the beats, depending on their position in a phrase, and in a measure. Due to the knowledge he acquired, from his father, who wrote many tunes for John MacCrimmon and Neil MacLeod of Gesto, and his tutor, he is able to translate the tunes from the old notation to staff notation, and do so accurately. I know for a fact that this piper is over eighty-eight years, and plays his favourite tunes on the bagpipes to this day.
I assume that the price of the translated tunes will be considered as very high, but what is the difference when every tune that was composed by a MacCrimmon is priceless to-day, although very few Scotsmen realise this; those that do have no money to spare, and those who have are not interested.
In order to preserve their music and notation from further mutilation in the future the vocable notation must be written underneath the staff notation. This method will preserve the traditional way of noting and timing the beats, which will be of the greatest value to the piper and the judge, and to those who have the traditional method already, but never had it, although it is “the order of the day.”
I assume the cost of publishing a book of their tunes in both notations will be exceedingly high, but nevertheless the MacCrimmons will never receive the full amount of credit due to them as composers, in the estimation of the public, unless this is done. Their tunes, as now played by many pipers is a pure disgrace–not to the MacCrimmons–but to those responsible.
If Mr. MacInnes is inclined to proceed further with the preservation of the music of the MacCrimmons in its original form–free from corrections and mutilations–we are with him. Of course, those living under Blue Eagle conditions are unable to proceed as formerly, due to the financial debacle, nevertheless the twenty tunes in “Gesto” of 1828 and several more tunes have been translated as outlined above, i.e., the vocables have been written below the beats as a text, which no piper can violate and play a pibroch as composed by a MacCrimmon.
The rhythm, time, and metre of every tune that was composed by the MacCrimmons, the MacArthurs, Mackays, and the MacDonalds were perfect. Why should we play a lower and degraded standard of their music, which is neither a credit to us who play it, nor to those who composed it? In order to remedy this state of affairs I suggest that we start on a memorial edition of MacCrimmon tunes.
I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 23 September 1933
Ostaig, Skye, 18 August, 1933
Sir,–We have just witnessed an event in history, in the erection of a memorial to the MacCrimmons in their ancestral home in Skye. It is a striking tribute to a wonderful type of music.
But the principle step has yet to come–the complete collection and publication of the records of the music of the MacCrimmons. As they were the greatest of the composers and players, and as their works were always being modified in tradition, this would include the works of the other great composers such as the MacArthurs, MacDonalds and Mackays. This collection is scientifically desirable from the point of view of music to show alteration and development; for no one can believe that the “Lament for the Children,” for example, with its subtle and masterly pieces of emphasis in the ends of the three parts and the ground, was played by Patrick Mor in its present style.
We have the recent illustration of “MacCrimmon’s Lament” being said to have been composed by Donald Ban MacCrimmon, who is credited with the gift of prophecy–composing not only the music but the words–a piper, a poet and a prophet, though the words of the song clearly show that their author had little more than a nodding acquaintance with the music of the pipe style of the lament and suggests modern composition and the hand of a clergyman.
The task suggested is big and difficult, but any attempt is better than none. Every year that passes increases the difficulty. Pipers pass like the rest,
I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 26 August, 1933
Piobaireachd and the Clarsach
Sir,–At the MacCrimmon Memorial I had the good fortune to meet a direct descendent of the Borreraig MacCrimmons, with the natural gift of piobaireachd composition and yet he rarely plays.
In speaking to him, I gradually oozed from his lips [sic] the story of the Clarsach and the Pipe and to my surprise, he told me that the clarsach influenced the pipe pointing out how the music of the late 16th or 17th century stood above all others in merit.
He went so far as to say that piobaireachd renderings on the clarsach were common at one time. Full of old lore he was almost uncanny in his knowledge of Iain Dall. Would it be too much to ask him to give us, through your paper, a short account of the Highland musicians of the 16th century. Trusting he may see this letter.
I am, etc.,
The Oban Times, 19 August, 1933
The MacCrimmon Memorials
12 August, 1933
Sir,–It is gratifying to those interested in the music of the MacCrimmons that at last some memorial to them has been placed near their old home.
Why, however, should the writer of your very interesting article describing the unveiling etc. (and others) ascribe the tune” Lament for Rory Mor” (thirteenth Chief, who died in 1626) to Patrick Mor MacCrimmon.
Donald Mor MacCrimmon was piper to Rory Mor and accompanied him to Ireland in 1594. Donald Mor probably died some years later than Rory Mor. The tune is, of course, by Donald Mor. His style is not that of the son Patrick. Donald Mor’s tunes have a bold, crude strength not so apparent in his son’s. The tune is certainly in the same style as other well-known tunes composed by Donald Mor. It is interesting to find it on record that a Donald MacCrimmon, piper, was with Mackay (afterwards Lord Reay) in Tongue in May 1612. This gives credence to the story that Donald Mor did take refuge with Mackay after the “Flame of Wrath” incident, and there composed “Too long in this Condition.”
Patrick Mor MacCrimmon was piper to Ian, fourteenth Chief of MacLeod (died about 1649) and to Rory (the “Witty”), fifteenth Chief (died about 1664). Patrick Mor’s style is less crudely grand that his father’s, but perhaps more melodious and sweet. Besides the many tunes known to have been composed by him, he could perhaps be credited with “Is it mirthful you are” (perhaps composed on the birth of Rory the Witty), the “Lament for the HarpTree,” the “Lament for Hector of the Battles” etc. The “Lament for the Earl of Antrim” is possibly one of his early compositions.
Patrick Og MacCrimmon was piper to Ian Breac, sixteenth chief (died 1693), and was alive when Mary MacLeod, the poetess, died, possibly soon after her Chief; vide “Lament for Mary MacLeod.” Ian Breac’s harper was Rory Dall and his bardess Mary MacLeod. Unfortunately there are few tunes which can be definitely ascribed to Patrick Og. His “Lament for Mary MacLeod” is perhaps best known. He must have composed this after he composed his “Lament for Ian Garve. The reference to the “fingers of Patrick” in one of Mary MacLeod’s poems must, of course, be to the fingers of Patrick Og. It is clear, in any case, that as a composer Patrick Og did not approach his father or grandfather.
Of subsequent MacCrimmons there are few who could be called composers of great merit. Certainly Donald Bane is credited with “MacCrimmon will never return,” and if the tune is his, all honour to him. Some think the tune older than his time, however, in which case the song may have been composed to earlier music.
The tune “I got a kiss of the King’s hand” is often ascribed to Patrick Mor, it being said he accompanied Rory Mor to London and there kissed the King’s hand! As Donald Mor was Rory Mor’s piper, Patrick Mor could hardly have composed a tune on such an occasion. Certainly its style is more that of Donald Mor than Patrick Mor.
We have, however, the evidence of the Wardlaw MS that this tune was composed at Torwood in 1651 by “John Macgurmen,” piper to the Earl of Sutherland. This “MacGurmen” was a “very old man” at the time and, if a “MacCrimmon,” may perhaps have been a brother of Donald Mor. Certainly the tune is not Patrick Mor’s style at all, but more that of Donald. “The Glen is Mine” has merit, and was composed by John MacCrimmon, piper to the Earl of Seaforth and son of Patrick Og.
The present is a very suitable time to raise points of this nature, with the unveiling of the MacCrimmon Memorials fresh in our memories, and they are raised with no desire to belittle the sentiment connected with the old music.
I am, etc.,
Subscriber to the Memorials
The MacCrimmon Memorials
Cha till, cha till, cha till MacCriomain,
An cogadh no sith cha rill e tuille;
Le airgod no ni cha till MacCriomain,
Cha till e gu brath gu la na cruinne.
Cárn Cuimhne Clann Mhic Cruimein a bha o dhualachas nam Piobairean aig MacLeòid fad dheich ginealach agus a bha cliùteach airson Deilbh is Cluich is Teasgasg Ciùil Mhoir is ann dlùth air an làrsach so a bha Sgoil Chiùil Mhic Cruimein. 1500-1800 A.D.
The Memorial Cairn of the MacCrimmons of whom ten generations were the hereditary Pipers of MacLeod, and who were renowned as Composers, Performers and Instructors of the classical music of the Bagpipe. Near to this spot stood the MacCrimmon School of Music. 1500-1800 A.D.
The MacCrimmon Memorials were unveiled on Wednesday, 2nd August, at Borreraig and at Kilmuir Churchyard in presence of a large concourse of people. The MacCrimmons became imbued with the spirit of Skye, and expressed it in the exquisite music on the pipes. All the wild grandeur of the Coolins, the stillness of the blue waters that flow through Skye like silver strands; all her romantic story, all her poignant history, her laughter and her tears are in the pibroch. Little wonder then that such widespread interest was taken in the ceremonies which took place last week, when people flocked to Borreraig and Kilmuir to pay homage to the greatest pipers the country has produced. The famous Coolins and all the mountains that add to the glory and grandeur of Eilean a Cheo were enshrouded in mist, so that those who were visiting Skye for the first time lost much of the charm of the island.
The house party from Dunvegan Castle arrived by the steam yacht Ketch, owned by Mr. Norman Heathcote, nephew of MacLeod of MacLeod, and these were the [sic] MacLeod of MacLeod, Mrs. Walter, Miss Heathcote, the Earl of Cassillis, the Very Rev. Dr. Norman Maclean and the Hon. Mrs. Maclean; Rev. Dr. Neil Ross, C.B.E., Mrs. and Alasdair Ross; Mr. And Mrs. Fred T. MacLeod and Norman MacLeod; Miss Heloise Russell-Fergusson, Ardtur, Appin; Mr. William C. Robertson of Orbust, and Mr. and Mrs. Seton Gordon, Durntulm.
A procession was formed and led by the Portree Pipe Band playing suitable airs the company soon arrived at the Cairn, which stood out prominently on the hillside. Among those present were Mrs. MacLeod of Skeabost and Mr. Jack MacLeod; Mrs. Campbell (Airds), Professor Milne, and Mrs. and Miss Milne, Aberdeen; Mr. R. C. MacLeod, Secretary of the Clan MacLeod Society, Edinburgh; Professor Davidson, Aberdeen; Mr. D. S. MacMillan and Miss Annie I. MacMillan, North Bank House, Portree; Mrs. R.R. MacMillan (Mary B. MacLean), Carluke; Mrs. MacDonald, Viewfield, and party; Miss Stewart, ex-Superintendent Mackinnon Glasgow Police, and Miss MacKinnon.
Colonel Macaulay, Golspie; Mr. Neal MacCrimmon, Solomon Islands; Dr. Calum MacCrimmon, Gullingham, Kent; Miss Mann and Miss Davie, Craigronach, Portree; Mrs. Gilmour, Viewfield, Portree; Mr. J. D. Fraser, do., Mr. J. M. Graham, Kyleakin; Misses Margaret, Jessie and Morag MacLean, Glasgow; Miss Annie MacLeod, Stornoway; Miss Alena MacLeod, Stornoway.
Mrs. Martin Hardie, Lochawe; Mr. D. M. Mathieson, Stornoway; Mr. Lachlin MacKinnon, Glasgow; Dr. Calum Stewart and Miss E. Stewart; Mr. Alastair Grant, Glasgow; Mr. and Mrs. Matthews, Tweedmouth, Berwick-on-Tweed; Mr. Hugh MacCorquodale (“Fingal”), Mr. J. Stevenson, Glasgow, and representatives from the Clan MacLeod Society present, among others, were Mr. Wm C. MacLeod (Orbost), V.P.,; Mrs. MacLeod-Easson, V.P.; Major R.C. MacLeod, Hon. Secretary; Mr. J. Norman MacLeod, Council, and many others.
Thereafter, MacLeod of MacLeod, addressing the gathering, said–
It is a matter of great pride to me to find myself called upon to speak to so great a gathering before this memorial cairn which has been erected in perpetual memory of the MacCrimmons. Who were the MacCrimmons? Their origin is lost in the mists of antiquity but for nearly 300 years, from 1500 to 1800, they were hereditary pipers to the MacLeods, and the recognised authorities on pipe music in Scotland, eminent as composers, eminent as players, eminent as teachers. Wonderful, is it not, that for three centuries this family should have occupied this land of which we stand, in hereditary right, in full view of Dunvegan Castle, the home of the Chiefs they served. With the close of the eighteenth century they passed away. There is no longer a MacCrimmon piper in the Castle, no longer a musician working at Borreraig for the perfection of his art. The MacCrimmons have gone; the MacLeods remain. And I feel that those who have promoted, and made possible the erection of this memorial have a right to call upon me, the 27th Chief of MacLeod, to pay my tribute to their memory.
They followed their Chiefs in war, and in the earlier days war–or, at least, the strife of clans–was the principal occupation. When a raid was reported the clansmen were summoned, perhaps by fire signals from tower to tower, the Chief leading, supported by the Fairy Flag–the gift of the fairies, and now preserved in the Castle–and by MacCrimmon, putting force and fire into men’s hearts with his pipes. Apart from warfare, the MacCrimmons were acknowledged, far and wide, as the leading pipers in Scotland, and they held their College very near the spot where we now stand. “The Piper’s Hollow,” where the students practised, is also hard by.Their work as teachers was in no way casual; on the contrary, admission to their College was formal, and seven years’ apprenticeship was required. In the muniment room at the Castle is still preserved the indenture executed in 1743 by Lord Lovett–who was afterwards beheaded on Tower Hill for the part he played in the ’45–which states (I briefly quote as indicating at attitude of the great Highland lairds to the pipers of Borreraig):–
A Piper’s Indenture
“At Beaufort, the ninth day of March, One Thousand Seven Hundred and Forty-three Years. It is contracted and agreed upon between the Right Honourable Simon, Lord Fraser of Lovat, on the one part, and David Fraser, his Lordship’s servant, that his Lordship is now to the isle of Skiee, in order to have him perfected a Highland pyper by the famous Malcolm McCriminn, whom his Lordship is to reward for educating the said David Fraser. And the said Simon, Lord Fraser of Lovat, binds and obliges himself, and his Lordship’s heirs, executors, and successors whatsomever, to maintain the said David Fraser, his servant, during the space above mentioned, in bed, board, and washing, and to furnish and provide him in cloathes, shoes, and stockings, and likewise to satisfy and pay to him yearly and ilk year the sum of fifty merks Scots money in name of wages, during the said space of seven years.”
What men must the MacCrimmons have been to attract students from all over the Highlands to this wild spot, 60 miles from the mainland, in an island roadless and very difficult of access in those early days. During the three hundred years of the MacCrimmon reign, there were eleven known as pipers to the Dunvegan Castle, two of whom stand pre-eminent. Patrick Mor MacCrimmon flourished under Sir Rory Mor MacLeod of Dunvegan, who was himself the hero among the Chiefs of that family. The importance of the piper’s office was recognised in that the Privy Council, bent on enforcing economy, directed reduction of retinue in the households of the greater Chiefs, but were unable to contest the pipers’ right to retain an attendant whose sole duty was to carry his master’s instrument.
In grief for his Chief’s death in 1626, Patrick Mor MacCrimmon composed the “Lament for Rory Mor,” which lives to-day as one of the most tender and beautiful of all the pibrochs left to posterity by the MacCrimmons. He lost by death his seven sons, and composed the pibroch “A Lament for the Children.”
To Patrick, who must have been an old man, a conspicuous honour was done by King Charles the Second.
Story of Two Compositions
In May 1651, when the King’s army was lying before Stirling, there was a competition among the pipers, 80 of whom were present. The King, noticing that one received special respect from the others, called him to his side and gave him his hand to kiss, whereupon MacCrimmon rose from his knees and played, extempore, the tune–a great favourite to-day “I gave a kiss to the King’ s hand.” I can only refer to Donald Ban, who held the post of hereditary piper in theperiod of the ’45. The Chief ordered him, on leaving his forces from the Castle, to play “MacLeod’s March,” which might inspirit is men. Donald Ban, overmastered by feeling, played “MacCrimmon’s Lament,” in which he foretold his own death–”MacLeod may return, but MacCrimmon shall never.” His forecast was realised, for he was the only man to fall, by an accidental bullet in a night skirmish near Inverness.
In the College they taught only what is known as the “great music,” pibrochs, as distinguished from the “lesser music,” marches, strathspeys and reels. As regards pibrochs, one has only to glance at the titles of some of the best-known to realise their variety of subject matter. They comprise salutes to Chiefs, welcomes to Loyalty, gatherings of the clans, farewells to persons and places, battle tunes and marches.
Those of us who to-day rejoice in the preservation of the MacCrimmon music, illustrated by modern masters of the art, acknowledge with gratitude the patriotism, enthusiasm, and practical generosity of the Highland Society of London, which, in the early years of the nineteenth century, stimulated interest in bagpipe playing by the holding of periodic competitions, and which in 1838 was largely responsible for the publication of a volume which contains the earliest categorical account of the MacCrimmons. To-day, that Society is still continuing its beneficent work, and its example has inspired the present-day activities of the Scottish Piobaireachd Society, the Scottish Pipers’ Society, the Highland Pipers’ Association in Edinburgh, and kindred societies.
In conclusion, MacLeod of MacLeod referred to the work of Mr. Fred T. MacLeod, who had originated the memorials and been largely responsible for that day’s celebrations, also to Rev. Dr. Ross, who composed the inscriptions, and to those who had been responsible for carrying out the work of design and erection.
Following MacLeod of MacLeod’s address, part of a MacCrimmon piobaireachd was played–” The Glen is Mine.”
Pipers from the Skye Piobaireachd Society took part in the ceremony, and there were representatives present from the Royal Celtic society, the MacLeod Society, the Piobaireachd Society, and the Scottish Pipers’ Society.
The Oban Times, 12 August, 1933
Unveiling of Mural Tablet
The Ceremony in Kilmuir Churchyard
Chaidh an clár so a chur suas gu bhi cumail cuimhne air Clann Mhic Cruimein, de robh deich ginealaich air zn tiodhlacadh anns a’ chladh so. Bha an treubh o dhualachas nam Piobairean aig MacLeòid; agus fad tri cheud bliadhna bha iad ainmeil airson am buadhan an Deilbh an Cluich is an Tragasg Ciùil Mhòir. 1500-1800 A.D.
The unveiling of the mural tablet in Kilmuir Churchyard, near Dunvegan, which followed the ceremony at Borreraig, was attended by a large gathering, the service being held in the open air.
The English translation of the inscription on the tablet reads:–
This tablet is erected to commemorate the MacCrimmons, of whom ten generations are interred in this place. They were the hereditary Pipers of MacLeod, and for a period of three centuries were distinguished for their gifts as Composers, Performers and Instructors of the classical music of the bagpipe. 1500-1800 A.D.
Rev. Alexander MacKinnon, parish minister of Dunvegan, conducted the service, and the tablet was unveiled by MacLeod of MacLeod, and afterwards dedicated by Rev. Dr. Norman MacLean, the prayer being followed by the “Lament for the Children,” played by Pipe-Major Robert Reid. The service ended with the playing of a portion of the piobaireachd “Cha till MacCruimein,” followed immediately by the benediction in Gaelic.
Rev. Dr. Norman MacLean’s Address
The Very Rev. Dr. Norman Maclean, who is minister of the widely famed church of St. Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, Said–”We know the greater part of the bagpipes have played in the days that now are; and in that respect the past would be as the present. At Waterloo the sound of the pibroch rose loud and shrill where the fire was hottest. When at Alma the voice of Sir Colin Campbell rang out, clear and sharp, “Forward, Forty-Second,” with the notes of the bagpipes making the blood surge in their veins, the veterans dashedthrough the river and up the slope–to Victory. To the fainting men and women in the Residency of Lucknow, the far-off strains of the pipes sounded as the herald of miraculous deliverance. On that day John MacLeod stood for two hours, regardless of shot and shell, playing the tunes of battle that turned iron into steel. At Dargai the pibroch of the wounded piper sent the Gordons storming up the heights. And so the story goes. When in 1928 Scotland brought home the greatest of all her warriors, dead, and three thousand people thronged St. Giles’, and that Sunday morning when his body lay there, it was not the organ surging through arches dim that expressed for them their sorrow, their gratitude, and their pride. It was only when the piper came down the nave, below the tattered flags that saw many a battlefield on which the seat of empire was Sown in blood, pouring forth the strains of that lament which enshrines the woes of Flodden and all the dead on all the Floddens of history, only then did the eyes grow dim with tears, and the sob rise in the throat. The sorrow for him who called the nation to put their backs to the wall, found at last its fit expression. But the heart of men changes not.
To-day is the product of all the yesterdays. If to-day the bagpipes commit to the winds of heaven the deepest emotion of the Scotsman’s heart in joy and sorrow, in war and peace; so was it yesterday, and so will it continue so long as the waves wash the feet of MacLeod’s Maidens standing sentinel in the Minch.
It was, therefore, a noble thought that stirred the hearts of those lovers of the pibroch, and led them to worthily commemorate the greatest of all the Highland pipers–the MacCrimmons–in their ancestral home at Dunvegan.
Dunvegan- The Ancestral Home of Piping
For Dunvegan is the Mecca of all who love the music of the pipes. From the fifteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the procession of the MacCrimmon pipers, father and son, was unbroken. There is a tradition that the first of them came from Cremona–but that may be only a tradition based on the similitude of name. Yet there may be something in it, for the Highlander would not be apt to give to an Italian the glory due to the Celt! This at least is certain, that Alasdair Crottach (the humpbacked), who was chief of the MacLeods of Dunvegan from 1480 to1540, gave the lands of Borreraig to the MacCrimmons, and that they established there a college, in which pipers were trained for generations. “To the making of a piper go seven years of his own learning and seven generations before,” wrote Neil Munro and the MacCrimmons had behind them the generations, and, in addition, a gift of unwearied learning. The name MacCrimmon at last cast a spell over the Highlands.
The hour in which the name of the MacCrimmons shone brightest in history was the morning after the Battle of Inverurie in 1746. In that battle the MacLeods, fighting reluctantly for King George, were defeated by Lord Louis Gordon, who commanded the forces engaged there for Prince Charlie. Among the prisoners was Donald Ban MacCrimmon–perhaps the greatest of the MacCrimmons–who was at heart a Jacobite. On the following morning the camp of Lord Louis Gordon was silent. The pipers did not go their round with their rousing and exultant strains. When the Lord Louis Gordon asked why the pipers were not playing, he received the unexpected answer that they were silent because MacCrimmon was taken prisoner. This is an episode unparalleled in history–the musicians of one army refusing to play because a musician of a hostile army had been made prisoner. But Donald Ban MacCrimmon was greater to the pipers then either Prince Charlie or King George.
Kings and Princes were the shadows of time; but Donald Ban MacCrimmon was the Prince of Pipers, and time had no dominion over him. The day of his defeat was followed by the morning of triumph. The silent bagpipes of Lord Louis Gordon on the morning after the Battle of Inverurie were the greatest tribute ever paid to genius.
Pathos in Composition
Among the many tunes which the MacCrimmons bequeathed to posterity three are pre-eminent for the overwhelming expression they give to sorrow and wistful sadness. On a Sunday Padruig Mor MacCrimmon worshiped in the Dunvegan Church, accompanied by eight sons. Within a year seven of them were dead, and the stricken father composed the tune “Cumha na Cloinne” (the Lament for the Children), in which the stricken hearts of innumerable parents have heard the wailing of their own woe. But by far the most moving of all laments is that in which Padruig Mor poured out the sorrow of his heart when he heard that his chief, Rory Mor, was dead. Rory Mor was the greatest of all the MacLeod Chiefs. In his day the last of the clan battles was fought in Skye between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds. It was his statesmanlike mind that made law and not the sword the arbiter in Skye. When he died at Fortrose in 1626, MacCrimmon heard the sad news at Dunvegan, and setting out for Borreraig he composed on the way the lament, “Cumha Ruaraidh Mhoir” (Rory Mor’s Lament):–
“Tog orm mo phiob’s theid mi dhachaidh.” An English translation is but a skeleton:–
“Give me my pipes; I’ll home them carry,
In these sad halls I dare not tarry;
My pipes hand o’er; my heart is sorry
For Rory Mor, my Rory Mor.”
The lament which makes the deepest appeal to the Highlanders heart is that composed by Donald Ban MacCrimmon on the eve of setting out with his Chief in 1745. Though Donald Ban was a Jacobite, his loyalty to his Chief was greater, and he accompanied him and the clan when they joined the Hanoverian forces. After his capture at Inverurie (as already told) Donald was released; and he was killed at the inglorious rout of Moy. It was with a heavy heart that Donald Ban MacCrimmon left Borreraig to fight for the Hanoverians–his heart and his head at war. With a presentiment of doom he composed the wistful lament:–
Cha till, Cha till, cha rill mi tuille
Ged Philleas MacLeoid cha bheo MacCriomain
A’n cogadh no ‘n sith cha rill MacCriomain
Cha till gu brath gu la na cruinne.
Sir Walter Scott’s translation is an echo:–
Return, return return shall I never,
Though MacLeod should return, not alive shall MacCrimmon,
In war nor in peace, ne’er return will MacCrimmon.
As the emigrant ships set sail that was the tune the pipers ever played. . . . “Return, we never.” As the Chiefs were laid in the last resting-place, as soldiers in fields of blood filled up shallow graves–that was the tune–It has woven itself in the lifeblood of the Celt. It has made the MacCrimmons immortal.
The Dignity of the Piper
Everywhere a MacCrimmon went, his servant, carrying the pipes, accompanied him. It was his servant that Padruig Mor addressed when he said, “Tog orm mo phiob”–”lift on the my pipes.” They did not engage in manual toil. When the lady of Glengarry asked the family piper why he did not engage in useful work in his spare time, he replied, “It is a poor estate that cannot support the laird and the piper without their working.” It was only natural that the laird and the piper should be equal in their idle hours. When the Duke of Edinburgh consulted Donald Mackay, the Prince of Wales’s piper, as to engaging a piper, “What kind of piper does your Royal Highness want?” asked Donald. “Oh! just a piper like yourself,” answered the Duke. “It is easy to get a piper,” replied Donald, “but not easy to get a piper like me.” The uncle of that good piper was Angus MacKay, a native of Kyleakin, Queen Victoria’s first piper, and the father of Angus was taught by John Dubh MacCrimmon. From the MacCrimmons came the dignity that graced the presence of Queens and Princes.
No man can judge the bagpipes or set a value on the MacCrimmons unless he has been familiar with the sound of the piobaireachd in its native element. The piper is an alien in the street, and when enclosed by walls and under a roof he is as Samson shorn of his locks. As naturally as the curlew to the shore, or grouse to the moor, or the seal to the sea, so naturally belong the bagpipes to the open air. The MacCrimmons are the music-makers of the great bens, of the deep valleys, and of the sea breaking round rock-bound promontories. The MacCrimmons are gone, leaving no material trace; but their legacy abides. “The world,” says an ancient Gaelic proverb, “will come to an end, but love and music will last for ever.”
Much interest was evinced in the excellent bagpipe playing of such experts of Ceol Mor as Pipe- Major John McDonald, M.B.E., Inverness; Pipe-Major Robert Reid, Glasgow, and Piper Angus Macpherson, Invershin. Mr. Alexander McInnis, piper to MacLeod of MacLeod at Dunvegan Castle, was also honoured by taking part in the ceremony at Kilmuir Churchyard, and he also performed his part well.
Concerts at Dunvegan
On Wednesday evening at the conclusion of the unveiling of the cairn and the tablet, a concert was held in the public Hall of Dunvegan, over which the Earl of Cassillis presided. There was a very large attendance, the proceeds being in aid of the Hall Fund. The programme was wholly sustained by Mr. Hugh Campbell, a noted baritone, who sang groups of Irish and Scottish songs to the delight of the audience, and Miss Heloise Russell-Fergusson in her singing of Hebridean songs to clarsach accompaniment was given a fine reception. Miss Fergusson’s singing and clarsach playing, together with the easy natural way she told the story of each of her songs, made a strong appeal to her audience.
Another successful concert was held on Thursday evening, 3rd August.
At this concert, Mr. Fred T. MacLeod, who was largely responsible for the erection of the cairn, in telling the story of the MacCrimmons, said that he hoped the publicity recently given by the press to the memorial ceremonies and the tribute paid that day would result in correcting some of the various erroneous impressions attached to the musical value of pibroch or Ceol Mor. The question was often asked how did the MacCrimmons preserve and transmit their heritage of pibroch. It was generally agreed that they did so by the same means as the “Seannachhaidh” of old preserved and transmitted the family traditions of the clan–by memorisation and vocal repetition. The reason why Ceol Mor was so little understood and appreciated was because of the difficulty of its technique. Ignorance lay at the root of much of the adverse criticism directed against it. At the same time the melody of the theme or urlar was readily recognised and admired even by the uninitiated. Not even the heart-rending notes of “The Last Post” could equal the sublimity and pathos of some of the MacCrimmon compositions. The nearest approach to-day to the old MacCrimmon School of Piping in Skye was the School for Army Pipers in Edinburgh.
A most interesting part of the ceremony at Borreraig was when MacLeod of MacLeod asked if there were any of the name of MacCrimmon present. As if waiting on such a question being put, quite a number of men and women proudly stepped forward, and the Chief shaking them heartily by the hand congratulated them bearing such a noble and honoured Skye name as MacCrimmon. Three gentlemen–Donald MacCrimmon, Glenelg; Donald MacCrimmon, Breakish, and Neil MacCrimmon, Portree, at present on holiday in his native Isle from Solomon Island, after an absence of over twenty years, claimed to be the great-great-grandsons, and we understand there were several other relatives of the great MacCrimmon present.
The Garden Party
On Thursday a garden party was held at Dunvegan Castle. A very large number of ladies and gentlemen attended. They were received by MacLeod of MacLeod and his daughter, Mrs. Walter. Tea was served, and the party afterwards enjoyed viewing the famous Castle and its magnificent grounds. Music was provided by Piper MacInnes of Dunvegan Castle and by Roderick Ross, son of Rev. Dr. Neil Ross. This boy, who is only 12 years of age, play the piobaireachd “Phog mi lamh an Righ” with the confidence of a veteran, and his playing evoked the admiration of the party. MacLeod of MacLeod and his daughter, Mrs. Walter, were very happy among the guests, which included, besides the House Party already mentioned, Sheriff Garson, Mrs. Rawnsley, Mr. And Mrs. Robertson MacLeod of Greshornish; Mrs. Campbell of Kingsburgh; Mr. And Mrs. Colin Campbell, Mrs. Hilleary, Mr. Kenneth Fraser, Colonel Kemble, Mrs. Fraser, Uiginish; Mrs. Harry MacDonald and the Misses MacDonald of Viewfield; Mrs. Osbaldeston-Mitford, the Hon. Sylvia Fletcher-Moulton.
Captain and Mrs. Mantz of Scalpay; Mr. Malcolm MacInnes, Rev. Alex. MacKinnon, and Mrs. and Miss MacKinnon; Rev. Mr. Black, Rev. N. D. MacArthur, Dr. and Mrs. Scott; Dr. and Mrs. MacKinnon; Dr. Ian F. MacLeod, Mr. Ferguson, Dr. Ferguson, Mr. John Ross and Mrs. Ross.
Mr. Donald Ross, Mr. and Mrs. McCallum, Scorrybreek, the Lady Hanworth and party; Dr. and Mrs. MacLean; Mr. Norman MacLeod, Mr.Duncan Macmillan and Miss MacMillan; Mrs. MacCrimmon, Sir James MacLeod, Dr. MacCrimmon, Mrs., Miss and Master MacCrimmon; Mr. Neil MacCrimmon, Mr. Archd. MacLeod, Mr. John Cameron, Ebost; Mrs. MacLeod, Easson, the Misses MacLeod, Wales.
The following message was received by the Clan MacLeod Society, also a letter from Nova Scotia MacLeods stating they intended to hold a gathering there to mark the great occasion, and from Mr. Walter MacLeod of the British Consulate, Cincinnati, U.S.A.:–
“My thoughts are with you and for you, as it is impossible for me to get over this year. All good thoughts from your clansmen on this side of the Loch.”
Much interest is being taken in the book to be shortly published by Mr. Fred T. MacLeod on the MacCrimmon Pipers. Coming from the pen of such an able authority as Mr. MacLeod, who is full of the history of the hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Dunvegan, the new publication should be well received.
Mr. Fred T. MacLeod acknowledges the great assistance given to him by Mr. Kenneth Fraser, schoolmaster, Dunvegan, who made all the local arrangements.
The Oban Times, 12 August, 1933
by Fred. T. MacLeod
Those who were privileged to be members of the house-party in Dunvegan Castle prior to and during the time of the unveiling of the MacCrimmon Memorials at Borreraig will ever retain a happy recollection not only of MacLeod’s traditional hospitality and Mrs. Walter’s sweetness and charm, but also of the incidents that occurred in the old banqueting room, now the drawing room, in close proximity to the historical dungeon. It was pleasant in the morning to be wakened out of slumber by the tuneful playing of MacLeod’s piper to look out of one’s bedroom window, high above the Castle rock, upon a scene of matchless beauty, the dazzling blueness of the loch below contrasting strongly with the purple heather of the many islets studding its surface.
After dinner on Wednesday there arrived at the Castle Pipe-Major John MacDonald, Pipe-Major Robert Reid and Mr. Angus Macpherson. Again the past lived in the present. The Fairy Flag, unfurled to its full extent, in close proximity to the famous Dunvegan Cup and Sir Rory Mor’s Horn, caught the eyes of the pipers as with graceful carriage and perfect step they reproduced with unerring accuracy and tunefulness the MacCrimmon pibrochs centuries old. As they turned slowly in their steps it appeared as if, facing them on the wall, the portrait of Dr. Samuel Johnson and the original letter he wrote to MacLeod from Ullinish when leaving Skye, assumed a new significance. We sat spellbound as with wonderful restraint the beautiful notes of the old-world music welled forth.
Earlier in the evening there sailed down Loch Dunvegan, her white sails shimmering in the sunlight, Mr. Norman Heathcote’s yacht “The Ketch.” It was a thoughtful action on his part to lend the services of his yacht to convey his kinsman MacLeod and his party to Borreraig on the following day, and he spared no efforts to bring the vessel to anchor before the Castle in good time. Those of us responsible for the arrangements connected with the unveiling ceremony at Borreraig wish to be allowed to express our sense of deep appreciation to Mr. and Miss Heathcote, not only for their personal kindness and courtesy, but for providing a means by which the official party could reach their destination by the waterway so familiar to the MacCrimmons, across which 307 year ago Patrick Mor brought the sad news of his Chief’s death, far from home, to his pupils in Borreraig.
Those of the guests interested in the contents of the muniment room spent an interesting hour or two among historic papers dating from the 13th century, marvellously arranged and easily accessible because of their perfect indexing, the result of the indefatigable labours of Canon R. C. MacLeod of MacLeod, the family historian. Estate rentals of the 17th century were examined in the hope of being able to link ourselves with the estate tenants of those days, sometimes with fruitful results; while those to whom the musty old documents did not appeal passed the door of the muniment room, a narrow stair built in the thickness of the wall, and thus gained access to the Castle roof, from which an unrivaled panoramic view of Skye and the adjacent isles was obtainable.
On the Thursday afternoon MacLeod and Mrs. Walter were At Home to a large number of invited guests from far and near. The day was beautifully fine, and upwards of 200 persons enjoyed themselves in the Castle and in the grounds.
In conclusion I should like to refer to the two concerts, held on Wednesday and Thursday evenings, successfully organized by Mrs. Walter with her customary enthusiasm. Two of the Castle guests, Miss Heloise Russell-Ferguson and Mr. Hugh Campbell of Strathcathro, both well-known and highly accomplished artistes, carried through the entire musical programme.
These functions, together with the ceremonies at Borreraig and Kilmuir, Dunvegan, comprised a series of events which will long be remembered throughout the length and breadth of Piping Scotland.
The Oban Times, 12 August, 1933
Memorial Cairn to the MacCrimmons of Borreraig
A MODERN SAGA
Contributed by a Guest
I have just returned from attending the ceremonies in connection with the MacCrimmon Memorials. And glad am I that I should have had the good fortune to be there; it was an event not be forgotten. Moreover, I was most kindly favoured with an invitation to come to the Castle at Dunvegan for the occasion, and that was much to me. I sat at the Chief’s festive board, midst a goodly company, a welcome guest. I saw himself at the one end of the table, and his gracious daughter, Mrs. Walter, at the other, kindly, thoughtful and attentive to all there. But soon it would not be the present Chief I would be seeing, nor the chatter of the company there I would be hearing. It would be Sir Rory Mor I saw at the head of the table, and it would be the words of Clan Ranald’s bard, Niall Mor MacVurrich, that would be in my ears.
In the evening we gathered in the great drawing room, where assembled many ladies and gentlemen. As from my seat I cast a glance round the great chamber, my eye rested on the venerable Chief. He stood about the centre of the floor, just opposite the Fairy Flag, his fine head bedded in flowing locks, silver white; his body clothed in the attractive Highland garb–a noble figure. And, attended by other gentlemen similarly clothed, there was presented a scene to be remembered.
Suddenly the door was opened, and two pipers, handsomely dressed in full Highland costume, stepped in, playing their instruments. But their music was not the wild, deafening strains we so often hear. There, within the four walls of that room, the music of the pipes fell softly and gratefully on the ear. It was the Ceol Mor (the Great Music) of the MacCrimmons, played by great masters of the art. They had to play again. One felt there could not be too much of it, and was sorry when it ceased.
The following morning we went down to the Castle jetty on Loch Dunvegan, whence a boat carried us to a great birlinn lying out in the deep water–a beautiful white thing, spotlessly clean and shining, and trimmed and dressed with all the meticulous care of the perfect sailor. Soon we were speeding across the loch to the further side, where the Memorial cairn was situated. The Chief and his daughter moved among the guests, and the pipers paraded the deck, sending their music across the waves and heralding the approach of the Chief to the waiting crowds. The Chief lands, he joins his people there, and, preceded by the pipers, we mount the hill to the cairn, where the greater number of the people have gathered.
The proceedings begin. Rev. Dr. Ross (MacLeod on his mother’s side) addresses the people in their own tongue; and they listen reverently to his words as he reads to them from the Gaelic Bible. The Chief unveils the inscription on the cairn. The pipers play a salute. Then the Chief addresses the great gathering, and at the end calls for MacCrimmons present to come to him. Eagerly many press forward. He has a word for all, and they respond with that combination of freedom and respect which is the manner of the clansman. The Chief is the father of the people, and they act towards him with becoming freedom and respect.
Headed by the lads of the Portree Pipe Band, we return to the great white birlinn, which carries us back over our six miles of water to Dunvegan Castle. The swelling notes of the pipes announced to the inmates the return of the Chief.
In the afternoon we go to Kilmuir Churchyard, where the people gather in even greater numbers and listen to the words of their own minister, Mr. MacKinnon, and to the very great and impressive address given by Very Rev. Dr. McLean. Then the Chief unveils a plaque let into the wall of the old church in memory of the many MacCrimmons who lie buried there. This is dedicated by a prayer by Dr. MacLean. The piper plays MacCrimmons “Lament for the Children” (seven of his children had died within a year). Dr. MacLean pronounces, in Gaelic, a benediction, and, with the strains of “Cha Till MacCrimmon” (MacCrimmon will never return) ringing in our ears, we depart.
That night, and the following night, we attend concerts held in the local hall, which was built by the late MacLeod for the benefit of the people, and which has been improved, by the addition of electric lights, etc., by the present Chief. The succeeding morning, those of us whom mundane affairs call elsewhere say goodbye to Dunvegan Castle and its respective owner, rather sadly. We had tasted lotus and are loath to go.
The Oban Times, 29 July, 1933
On Wednesday next, the grassy sward above the rocky shore at Borreraig will see the unveiling of a monument to the MacCrimmons of Skye. Borreraig is on the south side of Loch Dunvegan, and is in view from the Castle, the home of the MacLeod Chiefs, to whom the MacCrimmons were the hereditary pipers. As is well known in the Highlands, the musical genius descended from father to son in this family, and a piping college was founded at Borreraig to which young man from all parts came for tuition. It is on record that Alastair Crottach, the eighth Chief (from 1480 to1540), gave the islands of Borreraig to a MacCrimmon, which the family held until 1770. In the rent-roll of Dunvegan they appear as holding Galtrigel in 1664.
The genealogy of the famous family was some time ago given by Rev. Dr. Neil Ross, who is a native of the MacLeod country, and who, along with the Very Rev. Dr. Norman MacLean, is to undertake the religious part of the ceremonies. He ranges the succession as follows:–
Fionnladh a Bhreacain; Iain Odhar; Padruig Caogach; Padruig Og; Domhnull Mor; Padruig Mor; Padruig Og; Domhnull Ban; Aonghas Og; Calum; Iain Dubh; Padruig Mor my Dheireadh (the last).
Fionnladh was born about the middle of the 15th century, and little is known of Iain Odhar, although he appears as the first of the hereditary pipers and Skye, according to Iain Dubh’s version given in Captain Neil MacLeod’s book. The supreme place in this famous family of pipers and composers may be given to Padruig Mor. He was piper to Iain Breae, the sixteenth chief of the MacLeods, who lived in the stirring times of the seventeenth century, when Charles I was dethroned, when Cromwell ruled, when civil war raged, when the Stuart monarchy was restored and again lost.
The most touching composition of Padruig Mor was Cumha na Cloinne (Lament for the Children), which had been inspired by grief at losing his family of sons, except one, by fever, the infection of which was brought by a foreign ship to Dunvegan shores. The oft-played lament–
Cha till, cha till, cha till, MacCriomthainn,
An cogadh, no ‘n sith, cha till e tuilleadh.
was the composition of Donald Ban, and it may be called the swan-song of the MacCrimmons. Donald, by prophetic dream, never returned from the expedition in 1745, which ended in the rout at Moy.
The choice of the site for the Memorial at Borreraig is a fitting acknowledgment of the debt which piping owes to the MacCrimmons. If it is permissible to single out any body which in modern times has excelled in maintaining the standard of pipe music, credit is due to the Piobaireachd Society.
The MacCrimmon College, modest according to present-day ideas, was at Borreraig, but as the playing of piobaireachd is for out-of-doors, the green sward was the class-room, and the cave the practice-hall during stormy weather. To the latter, Uamh nan Piobairean, the MacCrimmons, it is said, retired to find inspiration for their masterly compositions.
Borreraig in Skye is the home and cradle of the piobaireachd.
The monument is one of the character which Highlanders raise to their dead. It is a cairn of rugged native stones, in which is placed a tablet in Gaelic. The English translation is–
This tribute is eloquent in its brevity.
Our far-off correspondent, Mr. A. K. Cameron of Montana, U.S.A., claimed that ten generations according to the inscription should be six or seven, but Rev. Canon R.C. MacLeod, brother of the Chief, whose knowledge of the MacLeod Chiefs and all concerning its accompanying history, claims the greatest respect, replied in a letter to the Oban Times that the inscription on the memorial is probably right. “The calculation,” he wrote, “which gives thirty years to a generation works out with amazing accuracy whenever it is applied to the pedigree of any old family.”
On the same occasion a mural tablet will be unveiled which has been placed in Kilmuir Churchyard, Skye. There are two leaded inscriptions, one in Gaelic, with the following English translation:–