OT: 1 December 1934 – G.F. Ross “The MacCrimmon Genealogy: Evidence from Dates and Times”

The Oban Times, 1 December, 1934

The MacCrimmon Genealogy: Evidence from Dates and Times

 Hawksheid, Abbotswood, Guildford, Surrey,

Sir,–Regarding Mr. G.C.B. Poulter’s letter in your issue of November 17, I am afraid your correspondent must have some reliable information about the MacCrimmon family, to place Malcolm c. 1690, Padruig Og c. 1630, Padruig Mor c. 1585, etc.

It is perhaps natural that so many romantic legends should grow round this famous family of musicians, but to-day, with better facilities available, there is little excuse for some ideas still prevailing. Let us have sentiment by all means, but temper it with reason and study.

A knowledge of MacCrimmon music is a help in studying the question of dates, for many tunes are based on events, the date of which is known. Let us go backwards and see if we cannot at least fix the time in which some of the more memorable composers lived.

The Famed MacCrimmons

Iain Dubh is said to have died in 1822, aged 91 years. He would therefore have been born in 1731. He is said to have thrown up his position as piper to MacLeod, with the intention of going to America in 1795. He was piper to Norman 19th MacLeod and to Norman 20th, as Gesto’s publication shows. He was probably the last hereditary piper with the family.

Malcolm is said to have been the father of Iain Dubh. In 1743, William Fraser, brother of David Fraser, the composer of “Lord Lovat’s Lament,” was apprenticed by Lord Lovat to Malcolm. (See “History of the Parish of Kiltarlity,” by Rev. Archd. MacDonald.)

Padruig Og, by his first wife, is said to have been the father of Malcolm. By his second marriage he is said to have had three sons. One, John, was piper to Lord Seaforth and was the composer of “The Glen is Mine” (perhaps also “Chisholm’s Salute”). Another son, Donald Bane, was killed at the Rout of May in 1746. Padruig Og was the composer of the “Lament for Mary MacLeod,” the Skye poetess. She died c. 1700-5, soon after the death of her Chief, Roderick 17th MacLeod. It was probably about 1720 that Sir Alexander MacDonald, 7th Baronet, try to deceive Iain (Dall) Mackay (the blind piper) regarding his piper Charles MacArthur and his teacher Padruig Og MacCrimmon. Your correspondent will probably know the story. Iain Dall Mackay is said by “Fionn” to have been born in 1666 and died in 1754 age 98, but there is a discrepancy of ten years and these figures! The “Lament for Ian Garbh Raasay” (who died c. 1688) is by Padruig Og, though in some collections it is ascribed to his father. It is clearly not a Padruig Mor tune.

Padruig Mor was the father of Padruig Og. We can fix Padruig Mor’s heyday by several of his tunes. Here are some:–The “Lament for Donald MacKay,” Lord Reay, who died in 1649; “Lament for Donald MacAngus of Glengarry” (Donald of Lagan), who died in 1645. He probably composed the “Lament for Hector Roy MacLean,” killed in the battle of Inverkeithing in 1651. (Hector Roy was related to the MacLeod, as also is Lord Reay; hence, no doubt, the MacLeod family piper composed the Laments.)

Donald Mor was the father of Padruig Mor. Several of his tunes can be fairly accurately dated. His “MacLeod’s Salute” and “MacDonald’s Salute” were probably composed soon after Rory Mor 13th MacLeod entered into a bond of friendship and mutual forgiveness with Donald Gorm Mor of Sleat, August 24th, 1609, the day after the Statutes of Ieolmkill. No doubt Rory Mor entertained his late enemy at Dunvegan soon after. It is interesting to note that a “Donaldo MacCriummen,” “pyper,” was included in a remission, dated 1616, granted to Donald Mackay (afterwards Lord Reay) for the killing of certain coiners during arrest at Tongue (“The Book of MacKay”). This would seem to confirm the legend that Donald Mor went to Sutherland, vide the stories regarding the tunes “Squinting Padruig’s Flame of Wrath” and “Too long in this condition.” The tune “Lament for Rory Mor,” Donald Mor’s Chief (who died in 1626), is also a Donald Mor tune, in spite of the dictum of many, who should know better, that it was composed by his son Padruig Mor. This is perhaps not the time to raise this issue, but it might be said (for the benefit of your correspondent) that those who really do know something of MacCrimmon music, and there are not many who realise some of its finer points, could not possibly ascribe the tune to the son with other compositions of the father beside them. It is indeed a pity that at the unveiling of the Cairn at Borreraig this error was perpetuated.

Some think “Macintosh’s Lament” is by Donald Mor. Supporting this idea is the fact that William 12th MacLeod (elder brother of Rory Mor) entered into a bond of manrent with Lachlan of Dunachton 16th of Macintosh, whose daughter he had married. Lachlan died in 1606. This would confirm Flood’s idea that the tune is not earlier than the seventeenth century. Donald Mor is said to have been with his Chief, Rory Mor, when the MacLeod’s and MacDonald’s assisted Red Hugh O’Donnel in his rebellion against Queen Elizabeth in Ireland in 1594.

Before Donald Mor we have little to go upon. Iain Odhar is said to have been Donald’s father, and Padruig Donn his grandfather, but we have little more than legend to leamupon. Finlay of the Plaid, described as in Galtrigil, is supposed to have given the alarm which led to the fight at Trumpan, c. 1580, by some authorities. If so, was he a MacCrimmon?

The legend that the MacCrimmons came originally from Cremona is surely not worthy of serious attention? Are we not told that the name existed in Harris long before the time of the alleged Brunos?

As to the alleged ten generations of hereditary pipers to the MacLeods, it looks as if unreasoning sentiment had got out of hand. It would be more reasonable, I consider to limit the number to, say, six or seven. In any case we can be certain of only five or six, in spite of the idea that the school at Borreraig was founded by Alister Crotach in the first half of the sixteenth century. It is interesting to note that on 11th March 1528 Donald Gruamach of Sleat was compelled to reimburse the MacLeods for “spoilations,” including certain cattle and sheep to John MacAngus, Borreraig.

I trust this may be of some use to those interested in MacCrimmon history.

I am, etc.,

G. F. Ross