OT: 17 July 1915 – John Grant “The Highland Bagpipe”

The Oban Times, 17 July, 1915

The Highland Bagpipe

27 Comely Bank Street, Edinburgh, July 8 1915

Sir,–Gaelic men satirised the Highland bagpipe in vulgar style. Their reason for that is as apparent as Mr. Calum MacPharlain’s.

Your correspondent says: “The bagpipe was and is the enemy of Gaelic vocal music,” but I may tell him that this is not so. The bagpipe and Gaelic vocal music never quarreled, but the Gaelic bards and those who make the Gaelic language a would-be specialty have quarreled with the Highland Bagpipe; and moreover, I can give your correspondent the answer in one word–jealousy, because the Highland Bagpipe wiped the Gaelic bard out of the retinue of the Highland Chieftain.

Now we come to the crux of the whole thing so far as the Highland bagpipe, or any kind of bagpipe, Gaelic in prose or poetry, and your correspondent are concerned. His final statement: “The bagpipe is not necessary to heroism. The great lack of our people is moral courage, particularly to enable them to face fact and strip humbug and hypocrisy bare.”

Now, Sir, I love the moors with the shaggy heath; I adore the mountain, with the majestic peaks towering to the heavens; I have bathed my mingled thoughts in the quietude of the corry, where twines the path and winds the dimpling stream; and I am proud of my native Highland language, music, poetry and everything dear to my Highland home. For those reasons I do not wish to dismantle or speak harshly of any of them, but your correspondent has compelled me to take the following as an analogy: The bagpipe is an invaluable instrument in the encouragement of heroism. Many a Highland piper has played on the battlefield in the fire zone, aye, even before his comrades. Some have fallen for ever, while others lived to tell the tale. Many a piper has played his comrades onto victory, and it was the inspiring notes of the pipes that lead and prompted the rank and file to heroism and heroic deeds. Both parties have admitted this fact, as well as their officers. In the present war the shrill and piercing notes of the Highland Bagpipe had cheered on to the charge, or death itself, all around it, whether Highlanders, Lowlanders, English, Irish, French or Belgian.

Your correspondent appears to me to be a walking encyclopedia in everything Highland, though his practical knowledge in some respects is next to nil. One thing he seems to pose in is the Gaelic language in prose, and perhaps in poetry for all I know. Can he say the same about the Gaelic language or the Gaelic bard that I have said, and is true, about the Highland Bagpipe? Much against my will I asked him–What would the Gaelic poetry of the bard of old, or even modern years, do in the charge to-day on the battlefield. Nothing! Under the roar of the cannon it could not be heard. The Englishman, Frenchman, and the Belgian can only look on it as a meaningless jargon. It conveys nothing to them. There is no incitement to battle or heroism in this relic. The Gaelic language is practically dead, and it is being revived at a great cost and a hard-scrambled donation, while the bagpipe has flourished and will flourish forever. If there is a lack of moral courage, is it your correspondent or me that lacks it most? Until I have been compelled I have not even spoken so of the Gaelic language, and what I have now said is only to compare my favourite pastime and his own. The whole tone of his last letter shows clearly that he is jealous of the Highland bagpipe, although he will not own it up. Does it require moral courage to do this? Now I think I have given your correspondent what he has been asking for, viz., something “to enable him to face facts,” and in this way he has been the means of allowing me, in his own words, to “strip humbug and hypocrisy bare.”–I am, etc.,

John Grant