OT: 23 November 1912 – K.N. MacDonald – “Sheantaireachd”

The Oban Times, 23 November, 1912


21 Clarendon Crescent, Edinburgh, 18 November, 1912

Sir,–I enclose herewith a letter from Mr. Simon Fraser, of Australia, whose father was an intimate friend of Captain MacLeod of Gesto. It throws considerable light upon the “old stuff,” and those who were making history. I trust that the substitution of “sheantaireachd” for “canntaireachd” won’t put the philologists “into fits!”–I am, etc.,

K. N. MacDonald


59 Moonee St., Ascot Vale,

Melbourne, Australia, 15 October, 1912

My dear Dr. MacDonald,–I have just received your letter from Dr. Watt, South Africa, and I can assure you that I am greatly pleased to receive a letter from the grandson of my late father’s highly esteemed friend, Captain Neil MacLeod, Gesto. He was related to my father’s mother, and he took a great fancy to my father when a boy, and they were close personal friends up to the time of my father’s leaving for Australia in the year 1828. Dr. Bannatyne says in one of his letters 1836, but I must have made a mistake in giving the Doctor the wrong date.

In the year 1816 Gesto introduced my father to John Dubh MacCrimmon, with a view of getting him to learn the pipes, as my father was passionately fond of piobaireachd. My father did not persevere with the pipes, but he learned a great many tunes in sheantaireachd, which is the original name. It is not in any Gaelic dictionary. I am not aware that any of the correct beats of the pipers’ language are in any dictionary.

I enclose a copy of the urlar of the last tune that Gesto and John Dubh taught to my father. Gesto was a splendid piper, and excelled in heavy tunes such as the “Glass Mheur,” “Sir William Wallace’s Lament,” “Cumha na Cloinne,” and many others.

He was also a fine strathspey and reel player on the violin, and was splendid in such tunes as “The Marquis of Huntley’s Farewell,” “Miss Lyle,” “Stirling Castle,” etc. He was taught by one of the Gows. He often played with Knockie, as they used to call Captain Simon Fraser.

I have heard my father often speak of a great night that he had with Gesto, Knockie, and John Bane Mackenzie. Gesto and John Bane played the pipes singly and then together. Then Knockie and the Gesto play the violin. “Talk about music!” “(my father used to say ) “I never heard the like of it before or since!” My father was a good scholar, and could write a beautiful hand, consequently he used to assist Gesto in writing the tunes in sheantaireachd.

My father was born in July, 1796, on the same day as Burns, the poet, died, and he used to feel proud of this. Gesto taught Sandy Bruce the pipes, and also gave his son Peter lessons, and it was Gesto who taught Peter the “Glass Mheur,” or finger lock, and this was the first tune that Peter Bruce taught myself. It was Malcolm Bruce (Peter’s brother), I think, that was piper to Sir Walter Scott. The last tune Peter taught me (strange to say) is the one enclosed.

I get “The Oban Times” every week, but some copies have gone astray, one especially being the one containing your first letter to Mr. Grant. I have an excellent copy of Burn’s Works, and I honestly believe that Burns wrote or composed those poems and songs. Any schoolboy could ask me if I saw Burns write them, and, of course, I could not say that I did. Now, this is the style of argument used by Mr. Grant; therefore I cannot argue with him. I know for a fact that Gesto was a splendid piper and violin player; also that his book of 1828 is genuine MacCrimmon Notation. I have also several tunes that have never been printed, including “The Lost Pibroch” and “Cave of Gold.” As for what the Rev. A. McGregor says, I cannot take any notice of that, as he never heard Gesto play, from the simple fact that Gesto left off playing the pipes before my father left Scotland, and in any case, Gesto did not agree with the clergy as to the numerous creeds that have done a lot of harm to pure Christianity. Like myself, he believed in primitive Christianity, free from theological puzzles and all the different creeds. He was a fine scholar and an upright, sterling friend, and you must accept my sincere thanks (both you and Dr. Bannatyne) for your able defense of this great man. May you both live many years to defend Gesto and his work from the hands of those who would try to destroy the MacCrimmon music.

Your sincere Friend,

(Signed) Simon Fraser.

P. S.–Re Gesto’s first book, containing the history of the MacCrimmons’ views on Christianity that offended the clergy and caused the book to be suppressed, I can give you full particulars if you wish it.

Urlar, or Ground, referred to.

I hiendo dro dro
hiendo dro drin
hiendo dru diriro
beitrie diriro dru diriro
hiendo dru diriro
bietrie diriro hien driu =
Hiendro dru diriro
bietrie diriro dru diriro
hindo dro drin
hiendo dra diriro
hiendo dro diriro
bietrie diriro hien drin =
hiendo dru diriro
hiendo dra diriro
hien bietrie dru diriro
ietrie diriro huen drin.

The above pibroch is not in Gesto’s book of 1828.