The Oban Times, 10 June, 1911
Sir,–The correspondence appearing in your columns dealing with bagpipes and bagpipers has its grim significance.
How can anyone really seriously carry on an argument with “Morag,” who laboriously sets out to prove that as a musical instrument the bagpipe is superior to all other musical instruments? Why, Sir, the bagpipe is not a musical instrument at all; it is a weapon! Not only that, but until comparatively recently it was scarcely known in the Highlands. There were, no doubt, pipers attached to the families of chiefs from time immemorial, but the people of the Highlands took very little interest in pipers or pipe music.
I was born and bred in the Highlands, and in my youth the only pipers we ever heard, except upon the very rare occasions of an election or some great gathering, were the tinkers who performed to the scandal of the neighbourhood. Pipers were held in disfavour by the more thoughtful and pious Highlanders.
Had it not been for the pipers attached to the Army, very little notice would have been taken of the music. I am aware that piping has been a feature of Highland sports for a matter of 50 or 60 years; but the pipers competing were, until recent years, few in number, however able they might be in execution. The homes of piping were in Inverness, Perth, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. Outside these towns few pipers were found–I am speaking comparatively.
I think it is a mistake to impute to the Highlanders characteristics of which they are innocent. The true Celt is a kindly being, proud of his home, tractable, and God-fearing. He is not by nature a warrior at all. True, regiments were at one time recruited from the Highlands of Scotland, but I think the men joined them mainly because the chief or laird was deeply interested, and also because the Army was a natural outlet to young able-bodied men, who found themselves crowded out of their native lands by force of circumstances. Possessed of superior physique, many of them gravitated to the Army just for precisely the same reasons that they joined the police forces, and not because they were particularly fond of fighting. Precious few join the Army now, and many of the most famous Highland regiments are recruited from the large cities.
I protest vehemently against the modern idea that the Celt is a melancholy individual brooding and imaginative, and without thrift or strength of purpose. Scott, Black, Stevenson, and Neil Munro are chiefly responsible for the notion of the “am I no’ the bonnie fighter” myth. If your correspondents took to arguing upon some means of restoring the Highlanders to their native lands, and left off writing about pining and place-names, it would be to the advantage of themselves and your readers.
Pipers! Faugh! I learned the pipes when I was a young man and I can testify that there is no music in the instrument. And if your correspondent thinks I am talking about a thing I don’t understand, I’ll willingly meet him and play him march, quickstep, reel, or piobaireachd. –I am, etc.,
Don Mhor [Dr. Blair Helmsley, York]