OT: 23 July 1938 – G.C.B. Poulter “The MacCrimmons of Borreraig”

The Oban Times, 23 July, 1938

The MacCrimmons of Borreraig

Collingwood Place, Camberley, 16 July, 1938

Sir,–Those of your readers who are interested in piping history will know the story of how Iain Dubh MacCrimmon, last of the hereditary pipers at Borreraig, resigned office “about 1770” as a protest against the demand of Norman MacLeod for part of the farm of Borreraig. The value of Borreraig had risen to six or seven times its former amount and MacLeod of MacLeod proposed to resume one half of the estate, but offered to be Iain MacCrimmon a free lease of the other half for ever. Nothing seems to have been known of Iain Dubh for the next quarter-of-a-century until he went to Greenock in 1795 with the idea of emigrating to America.

Mrs. Osbaldeston-Mitford has just forwarded to the MacCrimmon Society (of which she is a Vice-President) some valuable notes on the MacCrimmons made by her from the Dunvegan muniments.

Most interesting among these items are two leases from which it seems that in 1769 Iain Dubh (as John MacCrimmon) retired to the halfpenny lands of Boridale, lying in the Barony of Duirinish, which were granted to him by Norman MacLeod of MacLeod at an annual rental of £4 sterling, and in the same year the “twopenny town lands of Borreraig and the farthing land of Shadeir” were granted by MacLeod to Donald McCrimon, piper.

Thus it appears we have the time and circumstances under which the Iain Dubh branch of the MacCrimmon family were succeeded at Borreraig by their cousins the Donald Donn MacCrimmons. It is sometimes suggested that Iain Dubh’s successor was his brother, Donald Ruadh. This is now disproved by the lease, which shows that the new tenant Donald was illiterate. Donald Ruadh, who went to America in 1772, became an Army officer and was well able to write.

From a copy of the Struan accounts 1769-1772, also, given to the MacCrimmon Society by Mrs. Mitford, it would seem that Peter MacCrimmon of Struan (brother of Malcolm the hereditary piper) was an instructor at the Borreraig College, as in 1772 he was charged £60 for rent of Struan “after deducting your school salary.”

Another interesting item from the Dunvegan papers is a grant of the township and lands of Swordlan in Glenelg, with the right to manufacture kelp, commencing at Whitsun 1795, from Norman MacLeod of MacLeod to four tenants, including Duncan MacCrimmon and Roderick MacLeod, thus confirming the family tradition that these individuals had quarter shares of the township.

The documents also show that the MacCrimmons of Struan continued there to the second generation, as Malcolm son of Peter paid £ 24 towards the rent of Struan in 1769.

Another item is the will of John MacLeod of Gesto, witnessed by Angus MacCrumen in 1782. Angus (son of Donald Donn MacCrimmon) was then about 40 years old, and his nephew Norman MacCrimmon of Renton, the naval piper, was a pupil of Captain Neil MacLeod of Gesto. The MacLeod’s of Gesto seem to have been particularly acquainted with the Donald Donn MacCrimmons during more than 60 years following the closing of Boreraig college, and I suggest that it is through Donald Donn, rather than by Iain Dubh, that Gesto and the Frasers obtained whatever knowledge they possessed of the Borreraig musical system.

We know that Simon Fraser the second was a pupil of John MacCrimmon, son of the famous Iain Dubh, but there is no evidence that young John was a master of his art or that he ever had instruction in piobaireachd from his celebrated father. Besides, Iain Dubh would have been about eighty years old by the time his eleventh child John had reached an age to take up piping.

The MacCrimmon Society and the clan generally must feel most grateful to Mrs. Mitford for these valuable researches.

I am, etc.,

G. C. B. Poulter, F. S. A. (Scot.),
Hon. Secy. The Clan MacCrimmon Society