OT: 29 December 1934 – G.C.B. Poulter “The MacCrimmon Genealogy”



The Oban Times, 29 December, 1934

The MacCrimmon Genealogy

 Collingwood Place, Camberley, Surrey, 3 December, 1934

 Sir,–I could have amplified the information in my letter of November 10 [sic: he meant “17”] far beyond that of Mr. Ross in order to support the MacCrimmon line of descent. I refrained from asking for more of your valuables that appeared desirable at the moment; but now, may I extend the matter somewhat in replying?

Mr. Ross seems to agree with the line back to Donald Mòr in the 16th century, and his only objection appears to be to the approximate dates that I gave to those five MacCrimmons.

Iain Dubh.–No one doubts that he was born in 1731. Is it unreasonable to suppose that his father Malcolm was born about forty years earlier?

Malcolm, if born c. 1690, could have been fifty-three when Simon, Lord Lovat, sent David Fraser to be “perfected a Highland Pyper by the famous Malcolm MacCrimmon,” and he would thus have been about fifty-six when he composed the celebrated lament for Donald Ban. This would make Donald Ban (if a younger brother) less than fifty-six at the Rout of Moy.

Padruig Og was the father of Malcolm. I put the date of his birth at c. 1630. It would be interesting to know what year Mr. Ross would think more probable. By 1662 at the latest we learned that Padruig Og was teaching Iain Dall Mackay, about six years later he composed the lament Iain Garbh, and this was followed by the lament for Mary MacLeod c. 1705. I placed his second meeting with Sir Alexander MacDonald, when Iain Dall was able to recognise Padruig Og’s excellent playing “from among a thousand,” in 1734 at the earliest! He is said to have had twenty sons, three being by his second wife. One of them, John, is described by Mr. Ross as piper to Lord Seaforth. Surely this MacCrimmon, who had previously been piper to Macrae of Conchra in 1715, is claimed by the Glenelg branch? Were there two young Patricks? How can we reconcile the dates?

Padruig Mor was the father of Padruig Og. Date of birth was given as c. 1585, so that he would have been about 40 at the death of Rory Mor, 55 on his appointment as hereditary piper, 64 at the death of Lord Reay, and–unless the Wardlaw MS is followed–about 66 as the old man at Stirling. Obviously Padruig (alias John) was not very aged in 1651 if he were able to lead the pipers as “patron in chief” on the march to Worchester. There are various legends that he was received by the King outside Stirling, played before the King when the two MacLeod were knighted, and was again received by his sovereign at Whitehall and Scone. Do not these traditions suggest that MacCrimmon was rather more than a clansman of Sir Norman MacLeod of Bernara or Sir Roderick MacLeod of Tallisker–and that his capacity (at Worchester anyway) was more probably that of the regimental piper?

Donald Mor was the father of Padruig Mor. By fixing the date of his birth at c. 1560, he would have accompanied Sir Rory Mor’s five hundred clansmen to Ireland at the age of thirty-four, composed his best known works in the forties, and would have been about sixty-six at the death of Sir Rory Mor.

A knowledge of the MacCrimmon compositions and the events which they commemorate is essential (in the regrettable absence of parochial registers and family Bibles) in order to ascertain when these pipers lived. My approximate dates are largely based on those very tunes mentioned in Mr. Ross’s letters, besides others. The small amount of information available concerning the origin of the family has been discussed in your valuable columns from time to time during the past forty-five years, so I will only refer briefly to the line before Donald Mor. I think Finlay of the Plaid was a MacCrimmon. In 1635 Finlay McGruman, one of the strongest and hardiest men in Banff, held an armed force at bay until he fell dead as a result of many wounds. This spelling closely resembles that of McGrymmen, the surname of two brothers (Duncan and Donald), who are mentioned in a complaint made to the Privy Council by Rory McLeud of Dunvegan in 1599.

Can Mr. Ross produce evidence of the name MacCrimmon (not Crimthan the Wolf, or Ruman the protector) in Harris before the time of Giuseppe Bruno?

The MacCrimmons seem to have had some connection with Italy. In addition to the “Cremona legend” there are:–the Bruno pedigree, the story of Padruig Mor’s journey to Italy to perfect a new system of canntaireachd (which is supposed to have originally been brought to Scotland by an Italian monk), the existence of the Christian name of Ariosto in one branch of the family, and the fact that Cremona violins somehow found their way to the MacCrimmon district of Skye.

Mr. Ross’s reference to McAngus of Borreraig in 1528 is interesting; but is it not more surprising that as late as 1664 John MacLeod was the tenant of Borreraig?

The Farquhar MacCrimmons of Glenelg appear to be related to the Donald Donn MacCrimmons at Dunvegan, and the Christian names of Archibald, Christina, and Norman seem to be peculiar to these two branches, but I now think that it would have been better if I had described Donald, successor of Iain Dubh on Donald Ruadh at Dunvegan, as merely of kin to the Glenelg branch. The last MacCrimmon piper at Dunvegan was Kenneth, son of Donald (piper at Dunvegan for over forty years), son of Kenneth, son of Donald Donn.

Norman, on the left Kenneth, was piper on board H.M.S. Ariadne, and on his certificate of service (26 Nov. 1841) he is described as “one of the best pipers in Scotland.” I mention this because many people appear to regard the Donald Donn pipers as inferior to those of Iain Dubh’s branch. Norman is said to have served in the Army under a captain MacCrimmon. I do not know whether the latter was (1) Capt. Norman, son of major Norman, son of Farquhar of Glenelg; (2) Captain Padruig Mor, son of Iain Dubh, son of Malcolm of Borreraig, or (3) Captain Donald, brother of Captain Padruig Mor. It is interesting to note that Captain Donald died on his way back from the West Indies, and that Norman, the naval piper, died at Trinidad in 1846.

In conclusion, may I ask what “better facilities” exist for genealogical research in Skye to-day. In the past fifteen years almost a generation of the fine old Skyemen have passed on, including several well-known representatives of the MacCrimmon family. In many instances their legends have died with them, and numerous family papers and other heirlooms–including Captain MacCrimmons bagpipes–had been committed to the flames as “rubbish.”

–I am, etc.,

G. C. B. Poulter

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