OT: 12 August 1933 – “Unveiling of Mural Tablet: The Ceremony in Kilmuir Churchyard”

The Oban Times, 12 August, 1933

Unveiling of Mural Tablet

The Ceremony in Kilmuir Churchyard

Chaidh an clár so a chur suas gu bhi cumail cuimhne air Clann Mhic Cruimein, de robh deich ginealaich air zn tiodhlacadh anns a’ chladh so. Bha an treubh o dhualachas nam Piobairean aig MacLeòid; agus fad tri cheud bliadhna bha iad ainmeil airson am buadhan an Deilbh an Cluich is an Tragasg Ciùil Mhòir. 1500-1800 A.D.


The unveiling of the mural tablet in Kilmuir Churchyard, near Dunvegan, which followed the ceremony at Borreraig, was attended by a large gathering, the service being held in the open air.

The English translation of the inscription on the tablet reads:–

This tablet is erected to commemorate the MacCrimmons, of whom ten generations are interred in this place. They were the hereditary Pipers of MacLeod, and for a period of three centuries were distinguished for their gifts as Composers, Performers and Instructors of the classical music of the bagpipe. 1500-1800 A.D.

Rev. Alexander MacKinnon, parish minister of Dunvegan, conducted the service, and the tablet was unveiled by MacLeod of MacLeod, and afterwards dedicated by Rev. Dr. Norman MacLean, the prayer being followed by the “Lament for the Children,” played by Pipe-Major Robert Reid. The service ended with the playing of a portion of the piobaireachd “Cha till MacCruimein,” followed immediately by the benediction in Gaelic.

Rev. Dr. Norman MacLean’s Address

The Very Rev. Dr. Norman Maclean, who is minister of the widely famed church of St. Cuthbert’s, Edinburgh, Said–”We know the greater part of the bagpipes have played in the days that now are; and in that respect the past would be as the present. At Waterloo the sound of the pibroch rose loud and shrill where the fire was hottest. When at Alma the voice of Sir Colin Campbell rang out, clear and sharp, “Forward, Forty-Second,” with the notes of the bagpipes making the blood surge in their veins, the veterans dashedthrough the river and up the slope–to Victory. To the fainting men and women in the Residency of Lucknow, the far-off strains of the pipes sounded as the herald of miraculous deliverance. On that day John MacLeod stood for two hours, regardless of shot and shell, playing the tunes of battle that turned iron into steel. At Dargai the pibroch of the wounded piper sent the Gordons storming up the heights. And so the story goes. When in 1928 Scotland brought home the greatest of all her warriors, dead, and three thousand people thronged St. Giles’, and that Sunday morning when his body lay there, it was not the organ surging through arches dim that expressed for them their sorrow, their gratitude, and their pride. It was only when the piper came down the nave, below the tattered flags that saw many a battlefield on which the seat of empire was Sown in blood, pouring forth the strains of that lament which enshrines the woes of Flodden and all the dead on all the Floddens of history, only then did the eyes grow dim with tears, and the sob rise in the throat. The sorrow for him who called the nation to put their backs to the wall, found at last its fit expression. But the heart of men changes not.

To-day is the product of all the yesterdays. If to-day the bagpipes commit to the winds of heaven the deepest emotion of the Scotsman’s heart in joy and sorrow, in war and peace; so was it yesterday, and so will it continue so long as the waves wash the feet of MacLeod’s Maidens standing sentinel in the Minch.

It was, therefore, a noble thought that stirred the hearts of those lovers of the pibroch, and led them to worthily commemorate the greatest of all the Highland pipers–the MacCrimmons–in their ancestral home at Dunvegan.

Dunvegan- The Ancestral Home of Piping

For Dunvegan is the Mecca of all who love the music of the pipes. From the fifteenth century to the beginning of the nineteenth century, the procession of the MacCrimmon pipers, father and son, was unbroken. There is a tradition that the first of them came from Cremona–but that may be only a tradition based on the similitude of name. Yet there may be something in it, for the Highlander would not be apt to give to an Italian the glory due to the Celt! This at least is certain, that Alasdair Crottach (the humpbacked), who was chief of the MacLeods of Dunvegan from 1480 to1540, gave the lands of Borreraig to the MacCrimmons, and that they established there a college, in which pipers were trained for generations. “To the making of a piper go seven years of his own learning and seven generations before,” wrote Neil Munro and the MacCrimmons had behind them the generations, and, in addition, a gift of unwearied learning. The name MacCrimmon at last cast a spell over the Highlands.

The hour in which the name of the MacCrimmons shone brightest in history was the morning after the Battle of Inverurie in 1746. In that battle the MacLeods, fighting reluctantly for King George, were defeated by Lord Louis Gordon, who commanded the forces engaged there for Prince Charlie. Among the prisoners was Donald Ban MacCrimmon–perhaps the greatest of the MacCrimmons–who was at heart a Jacobite. On the following morning the camp of Lord Louis Gordon was silent. The pipers did not go their round with their rousing and exultant strains. When the Lord Louis Gordon asked why the pipers were not playing, he received the unexpected answer that they were silent because MacCrimmon was taken prisoner. This is an episode unparalleled in history–the musicians of one army refusing to play because a musician of a hostile army had been made prisoner. But Donald Ban MacCrimmon was greater to the pipers then either Prince Charlie or King George.

Kings and Princes were the shadows of time; but Donald Ban MacCrimmon was the Prince of Pipers, and time had no dominion over him. The day of his defeat was followed by the morning of triumph. The silent bagpipes of Lord Louis Gordon on the morning after the Battle of Inverurie were the greatest tribute ever paid to genius.

Pathos in Composition

Among the many tunes which the MacCrimmons bequeathed to posterity three are pre-eminent for the overwhelming expression they give to sorrow and wistful sadness. On a Sunday Padruig Mor MacCrimmon worshiped in the Dunvegan Church, accompanied by eight sons. Within a year seven of them were dead, and the stricken father composed the tune “Cumha na Cloinne” (the Lament for the Children), in which the stricken hearts of innumerable parents have heard the wailing of their own woe. But by far the most moving of all laments is that in which Padruig Mor poured out the sorrow of his heart when he heard that his chief, Rory Mor, was dead. Rory Mor was the greatest of all the MacLeod Chiefs. In his day the last of the clan battles was fought in Skye between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds. It was his statesmanlike mind that made law and not the sword the arbiter in Skye. When he died at Fortrose in 1626, MacCrimmon heard the sad news at Dunvegan, and setting out for Borreraig he composed on the way the lament, “Cumha Ruaraidh Mhoir” (Rory Mor’s Lament):–

“Tog orm mo phiob’s theid mi dhachaidh.” An English translation is but a skeleton:–

“Give me my pipes; I’ll home them carry,
In these sad halls I dare not tarry;
My pipes hand o’er; my heart is sorry
For Rory Mor, my Rory Mor.”

The lament which makes the deepest appeal to the Highlanders heart is that composed by Donald Ban MacCrimmon on the eve of setting out with his Chief in 1745. Though Donald Ban was a Jacobite, his loyalty to his Chief was greater, and he accompanied him and the clan when they joined the Hanoverian forces. After his capture at Inverurie (as already told) Donald was released; and he was killed at the inglorious rout of Moy. It was with a heavy heart that Donald Ban MacCrimmon left Borreraig to fight for the Hanoverians–his heart and his head at war. With a presentiment of doom he composed the wistful lament:–

Cha till, Cha till, cha rill mi tuille
Ged Philleas MacLeoid cha bheo MacCriomain
A’n cogadh no ‘n sith cha rill MacCriomain
Cha till gu brath gu la na cruinne.

Sir Walter Scott’s translation is an echo:–

Return, return return shall I never,
Though MacLeod should return, not alive shall MacCrimmon,
In war nor in peace, ne’er return will MacCrimmon.

As the emigrant ships set sail that was the tune the pipers ever played. . . . “Return, we never.” As the Chiefs were laid in the last resting-place, as soldiers in fields of blood filled up shallow graves–that was the tune–It has woven itself in the lifeblood of the Celt. It has made the MacCrimmons immortal.

The Dignity of the Piper

Everywhere a MacCrimmon went, his servant, carrying the pipes, accompanied him. It was his servant that Padruig Mor addressed when he said, “Tog orm mo phiob”–”lift on the my pipes.” They did not engage in manual toil. When the lady of Glengarry asked the family piper why he did not engage in useful work in his spare time, he replied, “It is a poor estate that cannot support the laird and the piper without their working.” It was only natural that the laird and the piper should be equal in their idle hours. When the Duke of Edinburgh consulted Donald Mackay, the Prince of Wales’s piper, as to engaging a piper, “What kind of piper does your Royal Highness want?” asked Donald. “Oh! just a piper like yourself,” answered the Duke. “It is easy to get a piper,” replied Donald, “but not easy to get a piper like me.” The uncle of that good piper was Angus MacKay, a native of Kyleakin, Queen Victoria’s first piper, and the father of Angus was taught by John Dubh MacCrimmon. From the MacCrimmons came the dignity that graced the presence of Queens and Princes.

No man can judge the bagpipes or set a value on the MacCrimmons unless he has been familiar with the sound of the piobaireachd in its native element. The piper is an alien in the street, and when enclosed by walls and under a roof he is as Samson shorn of his locks. As naturally as the curlew to the shore, or grouse to the moor, or the seal to the sea, so naturally belong the bagpipes to the open air. The MacCrimmons are the music-makers of the great bens, of the deep valleys, and of the sea breaking round rock-bound promontories. The MacCrimmons are gone, leaving no material trace; but their legacy abides. “The world,” says an ancient Gaelic proverb, “will come to an end, but love and music will last for ever.”

Much interest was evinced in the excellent bagpipe playing of such experts of Ceol Mor as Pipe- Major John McDonald, M.B.E., Inverness; Pipe-Major Robert Reid, Glasgow, and Piper Angus Macpherson, Invershin. Mr. Alexander McInnis, piper to MacLeod of MacLeod at Dunvegan Castle, was also honoured by taking part in the ceremony at Kilmuir Churchyard, and he also performed his part well.

Concerts at Dunvegan

On Wednesday evening at the conclusion of the unveiling of the cairn and the tablet, a concert was held in the public Hall of Dunvegan, over which the Earl of Cassillis presided. There was a very large attendance, the proceeds being in aid of the Hall Fund. The programme was wholly sustained by Mr. Hugh Campbell, a noted baritone, who sang groups of Irish and Scottish songs to the delight of the audience, and Miss Heloise Russell-Fergusson in her singing of Hebridean songs to clarsach accompaniment was given a fine reception. Miss Fergusson’s singing and clarsach playing, together with the easy natural way she told the story of each of her songs, made a strong appeal to her audience.

Another successful concert was held on Thursday evening, 3rd August.

At this concert, Mr. Fred T. MacLeod, who was largely responsible for the erection of the cairn, in telling the story of the MacCrimmons, said that he hoped the publicity recently given by the press to the memorial ceremonies and the tribute paid that day would result in correcting some of the various erroneous impressions attached to the musical value of pibroch or Ceol Mor. The question was often asked how did the MacCrimmons preserve and transmit their heritage of pibroch. It was generally agreed that they did so by the same means as the “Seannachhaidh” of old preserved and transmitted the family traditions of the clan–by memorisation and vocal repetition. The reason why Ceol Mor was so little understood and appreciated was because of the difficulty of its technique. Ignorance lay at the root of much of the adverse criticism directed against it. At the same time the melody of the theme or urlar was readily recognised and admired even by the uninitiated. Not even the heart-rending notes of “The Last Post” could equal the sublimity and pathos of some of the MacCrimmon compositions. The nearest approach to-day to the old MacCrimmon School of Piping in Skye was the School for Army Pipers in Edinburgh.

Descendants Present

A most interesting part of the ceremony at Borreraig was when MacLeod of MacLeod asked if there were any of the name of MacCrimmon present. As if waiting on such a question being put, quite a number of men and women proudly stepped forward, and the Chief shaking them heartily by the hand congratulated them bearing such a noble and honoured Skye name as MacCrimmon. Three gentlemen–Donald MacCrimmon, Glenelg; Donald MacCrimmon, Breakish, and Neil MacCrimmon, Portree, at present on holiday in his native Isle from Solomon Island, after an absence of over twenty years, claimed to be the great-great-grandsons, and we understand there were several other relatives of the great MacCrimmon present.

The Garden Party

On Thursday a garden party was held at Dunvegan Castle. A very large number of ladies and gentlemen attended. They were received by MacLeod of MacLeod and his daughter, Mrs. Walter. Tea was served, and the party afterwards enjoyed viewing the famous Castle and its magnificent grounds. Music was provided by Piper MacInnes of Dunvegan Castle and by Roderick Ross, son of Rev. Dr. Neil Ross. This boy, who is only 12 years of age, play the piobaireachd “Phog mi lamh an Righ” with the confidence of a veteran, and his playing evoked the admiration of the party. MacLeod of MacLeod and his daughter, Mrs. Walter, were very happy among the guests, which included, besides the House Party already mentioned, Sheriff Garson, Mrs. Rawnsley, Mr. And Mrs. Robertson MacLeod of Greshornish; Mrs. Campbell of Kingsburgh; Mr. And Mrs. Colin Campbell, Mrs. Hilleary, Mr. Kenneth Fraser, Colonel Kemble, Mrs. Fraser, Uiginish; Mrs. Harry MacDonald and the Misses MacDonald of Viewfield; Mrs. Osbaldeston-Mitford, the Hon. Sylvia Fletcher-Moulton.

Captain and Mrs. Mantz of Scalpay; Mr. Malcolm MacInnes, Rev. Alex. MacKinnon, and Mrs. and Miss MacKinnon; Rev. Mr. Black, Rev. N. D. MacArthur, Dr. and Mrs. Scott; Dr. and Mrs. MacKinnon; Dr. Ian F. MacLeod, Mr. Ferguson, Dr. Ferguson, Mr. John Ross and Mrs. Ross.

Mr. Donald Ross, Mr. and Mrs. McCallum, Scorrybreek, the Lady Hanworth and party; Dr. and Mrs. MacLean; Mr. Norman MacLeod, Mr.Duncan Macmillan and Miss MacMillan; Mrs. MacCrimmon, Sir James MacLeod, Dr. MacCrimmon, Mrs., Miss and Master MacCrimmon; Mr. Neil MacCrimmon, Mr. Archd. MacLeod, Mr. John Cameron, Ebost; Mrs. MacLeod, Easson, the Misses MacLeod, Wales.


The following message was received by the Clan MacLeod Society, also a letter from Nova Scotia MacLeods stating they intended to hold a gathering there to mark the great occasion, and from Mr. Walter MacLeod of the British Consulate, Cincinnati, U.S.A.:–

“My thoughts are with you and for you, as it is impossible for me to get over this year. All good thoughts from your clansmen on this side of the Loch.”

Much interest is being taken in the book to be shortly published by Mr. Fred T. MacLeod on the MacCrimmon Pipers. Coming from the pen of such an able authority as Mr. MacLeod, who is full of the history of the hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Dunvegan, the new publication should be well received.

Mr. Fred T. MacLeod acknowledges the great assistance given to him by Mr. Kenneth Fraser, schoolmaster, Dunvegan, who made all the local arrangements.