OT: 26 January 1935 – George I. Campbell “Ian Dall Mackay’s Chanter”

The Oban Times, 26 January, 1935 

 Iain Dall Mackay’s Chanter 

 Garscube Estate Office, Bearsden, Dunbartonshire, 11 January, 1935 

 Sir,–I am sending you an extract from a letter received by me recently from His Honour Judge Calder of the County Court, Caribou, B.C., together with copies of its two very interesting enclosures. The first of these, written by a member of the family, supplements, in much picturesque detail, the accounts of the famous Gairloch Mackays given in the preface of Angus Mackay’s Piobaireachd Collection, and, at greater length, in chapter XVII of Osgood Mackenzie’s “A Hundred Years in the Highlands” (London: Edward Arnold, 1921). 

 The second is a photograph of Iain Dall’s pipe chanter. Iain Dall, the friend and pupil of Patrick Og MacCrimmon, and one of the most talented figures in the history of Highland music, is stated by Osgood Mackenzie to have been born in 1656. The news that his chanter is in existence and well cared for is of the deepest interest. 

 We now know the whereabouts of an instrument which satisfied the ear of a great master and composer in days which either fell within or bordered upon the golden age of piobaireachd playing. Those who know how difficult every good piper is to please with his chanter will appreciate the importance of Judge Calder’s discovery and the gratitude due to him for it.–I am, etc., 

 George I. Campbell, Hon. Secretary and Treasurer, The Piobaireachd Society. 

Extract from a letter from Judge Calder, British Columbia, to the Hon. Sec. of the Piobaireachd Society, concerning “Ian Dall” and his chanter. Dated 26 October, 1934.

 The ship “Hector” in July 1773 sailed from Loch Broom, bearing the first contingent of Highland emigrants to Nova Scotia. Among the list of passengers was John Mackay, piper. 

 Angus MacKay, writing in 1838 his sketch of the MacKay family of pipers, in his book of Piobaireachd (page 12) states that– 

 “Iain Dall left two sons, Angus and John. The first succeeded his father as family piper and left his son John in the same situation. However, submitting to the changes which took place in the Highlands he emigrated to America about the year 1800, whither his brother John preceded him sixty years ago. 

 It is almost obvious that Angus MacKay must have met that it was his Uncle John–not his brother–who preceded him sixty years ago. 

 Pondering over the above I used to wonder whether this John Mackay, piper, of the “Hector” was the same John of “sixty years ago.” I therefore wrote to my friend and colleague, His Honour Judge Patterson of New Glasgow N.S..,expressing my surmise. Judge Patterson, I should explain, is, as his father the Rev. Dr. Patterson before him was, the historian and ‘seanachie’ of his country. 

 His reply informed me that he had no trace of the John Mackay of the “Hector,” but that the descendents of Iain Dall–via his grandson, John Roy, son of Angus–are living in New Glasgow and elsewhere, and furthermore that a great grand-daughter of this John Roy–Norma Mackay, the wife of Donald Sinclair, barrister, of New Glasgow–was in possession of Iain Dall’s pipe chanter. 

 This last summer, while on a visit to my birthplace in Cape Breton, I made a pilgrimage to see the Mackays and to view and examine the sacred relic, the photograph of which I now forward in the earnest hope that it may not be entirely without interest to the Society and its friends. 

 The photo shows how very ancient the original is, and how worn by usage. Besides the crack visible at the front, it must have been broken across the low A, for a broad metal band secures it at that point. The wood is very dark brown, like walnut, but denser and of finer grain. It is certainly not any wood of which pipe chanters are now usually made, although it is not unlike black African. 

 I am enclosing here with a typed copy of the manuscript left by John McKay–son of John Roy–entitled “Reminiscences of a Long Life.” It will possibly provide you with the few fresh intimate glimpses of this noted family. John Mackay was for very many years Stipendiary Magistrate of New Glasgow; born 1796: was eleven years of age when he accompanied his father, John Roy, to Nova Scotia in 1805, and died in harness in September 1884, age ninety.