OT: 29 July 1933 – The MacCrimmon Memorial and Skye

The Oban Times, 29 July, 1933  

The MacCrimmon Memorials and Skye 



On Wednesday next, the grassy sward above the rocky shore at Borreraig will see the unveiling of a monument to the MacCrimmons of Skye. Borreraig is on the south side of Loch Dunvegan, and is in view from the Castle, the home of the MacLeod Chiefs, to whom the MacCrimmons were the hereditary pipers. As is well known in the Highlands, the musical genius descended from father to son in this family, and a piping college was founded at Borreraig to which young man from all parts came for tuition. It is on record that Alastair Crottach, the eighth Chief (from 1480 to1540), gave the islands of Borreraig to a MacCrimmon, which the family held until 1770. In the rent-roll of Dunvegan they appear as holding Galtrigel in 1664.  

The genealogy of the famous family was some time ago given by Rev. Dr. Neil Ross, who is a native of the MacLeod country, and who, along with the Very Rev. Dr. Norman MacLean, is to undertake the religious part of the ceremonies. He ranges the succession as follows:–  

Fionnladh a Bhreacain; Iain Odhar; Padruig Caogach; Padruig Og; Domhnull Mor; Padruig Mor; Padruig Og; Domhnull Ban; Aonghas Og; Calum; Iain Dubh; Padruig Mor my Dheireadh (the last).  

Fionnladh was born about the middle of the 15th century, and little is known of Iain Odhar, although he appears as the first of the hereditary pipers and Skye, according to Iain Dubh’s version given in Captain Neil MacLeod’s book. The supreme place in this famous family of pipers and composers may be given to Padruig Mor. He was piper to Iain Breae, the sixteenth chief of the MacLeods, who lived in the stirring times of the seventeenth century, when Charles I was dethroned, when Cromwell ruled, when civil war raged, when the Stuart monarchy was restored and again lost.  

The most touching composition of Padruig Mor was Cumha na Cloinne (Lament for the Children), which had been inspired by grief at losing his family of sons, except one, by fever, the infection of which was brought by a foreign ship to Dunvegan shores. The oft-played lament–  

Cha till, cha till, cha till, MacCriomthainn,
An cogadh, no ‘n sith, cha till e tuilleadh.  

was the composition of Donald Ban, and it may be called the swan-song of the MacCrimmons. Donald, by prophetic dream, never returned from the expedition in 1745, which ended in the rout at Moy.  

The choice of the site for the Memorial at Borreraig is a fitting acknowledgment of the debt which piping owes to the MacCrimmons. If it is permissible to single out any body which in modern times has excelled in maintaining the standard of pipe music, credit is due to the Piobaireachd Society.  

The MacCrimmon College, modest according to present-day ideas, was at Borreraig, but as the playing of piobaireachd is for out-of-doors, the green sward was the class-room, and the cave the practice-hall during stormy weather. To the latter, Uamh nan Piobairean, the MacCrimmons, it is said, retired to find inspiration for their masterly compositions.  

Borreraig in Skye is the home and cradle of the piobaireachd.  

The monument is one of the character which Highlanders raise to their dead. It is a cairn of rugged native stones, in which is placed a tablet in Gaelic. The English translation is–  

The Memorial Cairn to the MacCrimmons, of whom ten generations were the hereditary pipers of MacLeod, and who were renowned as composers, performers and instructors of the classical music of the bagpipe. Near this spot stood the MacCrimmon School of Music. 

This tribute is eloquent in its brevity.  

Our far-off correspondent, Mr. A. K. Cameron of Montana, U.S.A., claimed that ten generations according to the inscription should be six or seven, but Rev. Canon R.C. MacLeod, brother of the Chief, whose knowledge of the MacLeod Chiefs and all concerning its accompanying history, claims the greatest respect, replied in a letter to the Oban Times that the inscription on the memorial is probably right. “The calculation,” he wrote, “which gives thirty years to a generation works out with amazing accuracy whenever it is applied to the pedigree of any old family.”  


On the same occasion a mural tablet will be unveiled which has been placed in Kilmuir Churchyard, Skye. There are two leaded inscriptions, one in Gaelic, with the following English translation:–  

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.