OT: 20 May 1911 – Morag “The Great Highland Bagpipe in Its Music”

The Oban Times, 20 May, 1911

The Great Highland Bagpipe in Its Music

15 May, 1911

Sir,–I have much pleasure in replying to Dr. Bannatyne and “Sassenach.” I am prepared to stick to my guns in what I have said, and defend my statements with the valour that becomes a Highlander.

Dr. Bannatyne says:–He (“Morag”) cites the dates of certain battles, etc., on which pibrochs were composed in support of a contention that the pipes were known in the Highlands some centuries previous to the sixteenth century.” This is quite true, and what proof does Dr. Bannatyne cite–any at all? No, He simply asks me, “Can ‘Morag’ prove that these tunes were composed on the dates of the events they celebrate?”; “Can ‘Morag’ prove that either a Menzies or a set of bagpipes was at Bannockburn?” There are two sides to every question, and on this basis I have to ask your correspondent–Can Dr. Bannatyne prove that the tunes which I mention were not composed on the dates I give? Can he prove that a Menzies or the bagpipes were not at Bannockburn? This is for him to do before he can defeat me, or prove that what I have said is untrue.

Is it likely that an event such as “The Desperate Battle, Perth,” which took place in 1390, was not commemorated until the end of the sixteenth century? It is not at all likely that a composer was to use so rusty material as this. Common-sense and reason prove that this tune was composed at the time of the battle. Another thing, if Dr. Bannatyne was to read the records which we have of Scottish history, he would see that the pipers were present at this battle. He must find proved to contradict this.

As regards Quintillianus, whether he lived in Scotland or not, though Dr. Bannatyne cannot prove that he did not, is of little or no consequence, as he must have been in possession of the facts which I have mentioned before he made reference to the pipe being in Scotland in the year 100. Where does Dr. Bannatyne get his information of 200 years ago, not to speak of 1000 years previous to this, but from old writings. This goes without saying, and I am much indebted to him for correcting the misprint regarding the “MacLeod’s Controversy.” It was composed in the year 1503, not 1603, as it appears in my letter. Perhaps your correspondent overlooks the fact that he admits that the bagpipe was in the Highlands of Scotland 100 years earlier than he did in his lecture, by this correction.

Next in turn is the “Sassenach.” He begins with “Ipse dixit,” and says that it is enough to make him laugh, and no wonder. If what I have given is insufficient proof regarding the earliest date in which the Highland bagpipe existed in the Highlands of Scotland, it is a pity that “Sassenach” does not furnish some better or contradictory proof. He supposes that it would have done as well if I had said that “Scots Wha Ha’e” was composed before the battle of Bannockburn was fought. “Scots Wha Ha’e” is a song for one thing; it is not a pipe tune. I am not a “Sassenach” I am a Highlander, and I use only Highland material, viz., piobaireachd, and the Great Highland bagpipe, to prove my point. “Sassenach” neither uses assertion or proof. I made no attempt to induce or ask “Sassenach” or anyone else to throw Dr. Bannatyne over. I simply contradicted his statement regarding the first appearance of the Highland bagpipe in the Highlands of Scotland, and I had good reason too (sic).

“Sassenach” goes on to tell us of the story of Asian, Persian, and Egyptian bagpipes. They are of no interest to me. It is the Great Highland Bagpipe I am dealing with. He is holding out the foreign instrument in place of our own native one. “Sassenach” says: “At the bidding of an anonymous newspaper correspondent.” What is “Sassenach,” if he is not also an anonymous newspaper correspondent?

In concluding his remarks, “Sassenach” says: “I do not think that there exists any document to prove that it was a Scottish instrument.” This is the point at which your correspondent gives himself away. “He does not think.” To think won’t do. He must make sure, and also prove what he does find. I am quite certain that the Highland bagpipe originated in the Highlands of Scotland from the records which we have, and those who say no must fetch proof of their arguments. Possession is nine points of the law, which consists of ten points complete. The Highlands of Scotland possessed the Highland bagpipe beyond traditional or any other record, and in this it also possessed at first I still maintain, until I see satisfactory proof to the contrary.

“Sassenach” estimates the time at 110 or at the most 120 years ago, since the Highland bagpipe was first known in Scotland. This shows how meagre his knowledge of the instrument is. I would advise both of your correspondents to study my first letter, and they will see that my statements are founded on facts. I can give both of your correspondents an answer, and a satisfactory one, too, to any question which they may put to me on the subject of which I am writing. I have not put myself to all this trouble in giving the information which I have done, or taking up so much space in the columns of a paper so valuable as this, for a mere name for myself, or making fame or glory my prize. My motive is to uphold my native instrument and its own peculiar music, piobaireachd; to fight their enemies, and to prevent them any longer from making attacks on them to pull them down to the lowest ebb, and my duty is to make a great name for the Highland bagpipe and piobaireachd. If I am successful, this alone will be my prize, my pipe will always be in tune, my piobaireachd will always sound sweetly in the ear of the Highlander worthy of that name; while on the other hand your correspondents’ pipes are always liable to being out of tune, their piobaireachd being false, or in the form which “Sassenach” has himself said, “ipse dixit.” –I am, etc.,