OT: 30 March 1912 – Piob Mhor [John Grant] “Origin of the Highland Bagpipe”

The Oban Times, 30 March, 1912

Origin of the Highland Bagpipe

25 March, 1912

Sir,–I have read with much interest the latest publication on the bagpipe, entitled “The Story of the Bagpipe,” by W. H. Gratton Flood. On pages 17 and 42 Mr. Gratton Flood says that Scotland got the bagpipe from Ireland. Now let us see what can be said on this important question. We know that there exists an instrument known as the Irish bagpipe, but long before we can trace, or find record of it, Scotland possessed its own Great Highland Bagpipe, constructed and invented by the Scottish Highlander. Mr. Gratton Flood says that Scotland was peopled from Ireland, and that the bagpipe came to the Highlands of Scotland with the Irish in the year 506 A.D. This is contradicted by the fact that Aristides Quintillianus, who lived and wrote in the year 100 A.D. said that the bagpipes were known in the Highlands of Scotland in his day. This leaves no room to doubt that the Highlanders of Scotland possessed their own bagpipe hundreds of years prior to the year 506, the date at which Mr. Gratton Flood says we got it from Ireland.

Apart from the fact already mentioned, the Irish pipe is entirely different in construction from our Great Highland Bagpipe, for this reason, viz.: The Irish bagpipe proper has got only one stock, with from one to three drones all inserted into it, and the wind is supplied to the bag by means of a bellows. The chanter in those instances has keys on it; in others it is much longer by far than the chanter of the Highland Bagpipe. The wind passes, and always did, from the mouth of the Highlander to a blow pipe into the bag of the Great Highland Bagpipe, and the chanter had holes only; no keys ever appeared on it. It had originally two drones on a twin stock, and finally the stocks were separated when the third drone was added about 100 years ago. One question I would like to ask is: On the face of the fact that Scotland was populated as soon as Ireland, if not sooner, what was the shepherd on the hillsides of the Highlands of Scotland doing when the Irish piper constructed his pipe? Was he asleep? No! He was more capable of constructing his own Highland Bagpipe than any other race in the universe. The Great Highland Bagpipe of Scotland is second to no other musical instrument in the world, and no country, writer, or musician under the sun can produce one single word of English language to prove that our Great Highland Bagpipe was got or copied from that of any other country. The bagpipe, being a primitive musical instrument, the Highland pipe was invented by the inhabitants of the mountainous region of Scotland, known generally as Highlanders, and brought to perfection decade by decade, until it now stands complete and supreme. I have only to mention the fact that the Irish bagpipe is confined to Ireland alone, while the Great Highland Bagpipe is to be found all over the world where human beings are found. Wherever the Highlander goes he takes his bagpipe with him. This proves that it is his alone, and no other pipe or bagpipe in the known world has ever reached the state of perfection that the Great Highland Bagpipe as. It stands alone, as does its music, and no other race but the pure-bread Highlander can fathom or understand the great “Ceol Mor” of the Celt. Another thing which is absolutely certain is that the words “Piob mòr” only apply to the Great Highland Bagpipe–not to the Irish bagpipe, as stated by Mr. Gratton Flood.

Not only does Mr. Gratton Flood claim are Highland bagpipe as being Irish, but he also claims our dress and music. The kilt is distinctively Highland, and ours alone; it was a primitive dress originally, and now it can only be made to perfection, as it ever was, in Scotland. Our piobaireachd and its construction are Greek to any race but the genuine Highlander. The Highlands of Scotland are famed all over the world for four great things that cannot be reproduced elsewhere, viz.: first, the great Highland bagpipe, then it’s music (piobaireachd), then the kilt, and finally whiskey. I know a great deal about three of them. I can play the bagpipes, understand its music in detail, I wear the kilt regularly, and sometimes I take a dram to. Nevertheless, I keep them all in their place, and so should everyone. That is to say, keep the origin of the Highland Bagpipe in the Highlands of Scotland, the origin of the Irish bagpipe in Ireland, and so on, as the case may be.

Mr. Gratton Flood in his book also states that the Clan pipers were borrowed from Ireland. It is a well-known fact that Scotland was the only country where clans existed, or bodies of armed men under that name; therefore clan pipers are purely Scottish and Highland. The great MacCrimmon, says Mr. Gratton Flood, was an Irish piper. Not so. Donald Mor MacCrimmon was a Highland piper. He belonged to Scotland, and was piper to Macleod of Macleod at Dunvegan, Skye.

One of the MacCrimmons went to Ireland for tuition, but, to finish the facts of the case, what follows? MacCrimmon went to Ireland to get lessons from a teacher there, but that tutor went from Scotland to establish a school of piping in Ireland. Piping in Ireland on the Irish bagpipe is fast passing into oblivion, while on the other hand piping in Scotland, and on the Great Highland Bagpipe all over the world, stands in a position it has never held before. There are thousands of pipers in Scotland and thousands outside of it, all playing the great Highland bagpipe. Therefore, let Scotland rejoice in its ancient arts. As Britannia rules the wave, let Scotland’s Highlanders rule their two great achievements, viz., their “piob” and “Ceòl Mòr.” In conclusion, let me add that my only hope is that someday we may see the College of Piobaireachd restored again, and all the MacCrimmon piobaireachd collected and published. In doing so we, the descendents of the masters of old, would be raising the grandest memorial stone to the undying memory of the great MacCrimmons. Their “Canntaireachd” is dead, there College is in ruins, and alas! the last of that ingenious race lies cold beneath the sod. If the MacCrimmons were to awaken, they would find that we have been slumbering, for piobaireachd stands no further advanced than when they left it two hundred years ago. They would scorn at the very idea that Ireland could claim the birth of or achievements in the art of piobaireachd. Therefore let us stand firm by our inheritance–piobaireachd and the “piob mòr.” The great Highland bagpipe and its classical music were hours in the beginning, and the ever shall be.–I am, etc.,

Piob Mor