OT: 5 April 1913 – The Early History of the MacCrimmons

The Oban Times, 5 April, 1913

The Early History of The MacCrimmons
Related by Themselves to Captain MacLeod of Gesto

By Dr. K. N. MacDonald

It appears that in 1826 the late Capt. Neil MacLeod of Gesto wrote a history of the McCrimmons or McCrummens, embracing a great many tunes in the MacCrimmon system of notation together with the histories of their origin and composition, in which he was assisted by Mr. Simon Fraser’s father, who was a very clear and beautiful writer, and was therefore a living witness of the following narrative as supplied by the McCrimmons. The book was not published, for reasons which shall appear presently, but as a substitute the book of 1828, which we have now got was brought out.  Giordano Bruno, an Italian philosopher and Pantheist, one of the boldest and most original thinkers of the age, was born at Nola about 1550. He became a Dominican monk, but his religious doubts and his censures of the monastic orders, compelled him to quit his monastery and Italy. He embraced the doctrines of Calvin at Geneva, but free dissension not being in favour there, he went to Paris, where he gave lectures on philosophy, when he made many bitter enemies. He spent two years in England, and became the friend of Sir Philip Selney. In 1585 he went again to Paris and renewed his public lectures. After visiting several towns in Germany, he returned to Padua in 1592, and went afterwards to Venice, where he was arrested in 1598 by the Inquisition, and sent to Rome, where he lay in prison for two years, and on the 17th of February, 1600, he was burned at the stake as a heretic. His theory of the world was pantheistic. He was well-versed in astronomy, and adopted the views of Copernicus. But he was also a believer in astrology, and wrote many works in Latin and Italian, which abound in bold and noble thought, and are rich in eloquence.

A relation of his, Petrus Bruno, about or before this time, left Cremona, Italy, and went over to Ireland and settled there. He had to leave on account of his religious opinions. He did not believe in pantheism–which identifies the universe with God–but believed strongly in primitive Christianity, and he got access to some original documents which, to his mind, proved that the Bible had been tampered with about the beginning of the second century, and he held, therefore, that creeds have nothing to do with the true teachings of Christ.

Gesto was disappointed that his book of 1826 was interfered with by friends, and determined to leave a nut behind him, as Gladstone did with Home Rule that would be difficult to crack. “The Lament for the Laird of Annapole,” No. 18 in his book of 1828, is in reality a lament for Bruno, the philosopher. It will be noticed how much the letters r u n o are used in this particular tune, which is pretty stiff to translate and play: also “trun” and “drun,” in the finish and the “hi die dru” beats, which have puzzled so many. Well, to shorten the story of Petrus Bruno, he took the name of “Cremmon,” and added “Mac” to it. Whether this is true or not, Gesto did not invent it, and it was for mentioning it that some of his friends prevailed upon him not to publish the work, which was a great loss to lovers of piobaireachd. “The Lost Pibroch,” or “Piobaireachd,” is a beautiful tune, by Patrick Mor MacCrimmon, according to Mr. Simon Fraser, and is a lament for the Savior. This tune is in existence, and we must get a hold of it. Petrus, it is said, was the original inventor of the “Sheantaireachd,” or pipers’ language, which was used by the MacCrimmon’s not only as music, but to conceal their religious opinions as well.

In regard to making the pipes speak, this is nothing more or less than a certain beat struck on the chanter, which conveys to those who are “in the know” what is meant by it. Donald Mòr and Patrick Mòr afterwards perfected the system.

About the middle of the seventeenth century Patrick Mòr went to Italy to study, and to see if he could prove the truth of Petrus Bruno’s contentions regarding tampering with the Scriptures. He found out what led him to believe that all that Petrus said was correct, for on his return he gave his opinion that if Martin Luther had taken the same trouble to purify Christianity as he did to form a religion of his own, the world would have been the better for it, and instead of slaughtering one another over the different creeds, people would understand that Christianity, is a religion of love, and not a mixture of love and hate, for he held that as oil and water will not mix, neither can love and hate. It was for having mentioned this in his first book that brought Gesto into conflict with some people of his time, and he deferred to their wishes.

In Mr. Simon Fraser’s last letter he states that Mr. Kenneth Stewart, a friend of Peter Bruce, died in New South Wales many years ago. He was also taught by Gesto, and was considered by Peter Bruce to be one of his (Gesto’s) rent best pupils. He ends by wishing “a happy and prosperous new year to all the descendents of the immortal Gesto, the saviour of the MacCrimmon music”–sentiments which I most cordially endorsed.