OT: 8 November 1938 – G.C.B. Poulter “The MacCrimmons of Borreraig”

The Oban Times, 8 November, 1938

The MacCrimmons of Borreraig

Collingwood Place, Camberley, Surrey, 26 October, 1938

Sir,–With all due respect to the authority of a correspondent of the younger Simon Fraser, I venture to think that Mr. A. K. Cameron’s letter with its incomplete and somewhat fantastic genealogical data will be likely to revive a discussion which seemed .fully dealt with in the Oban Times on various occasions during the last half-century–particularly during December 1934 and more recently.

Fraser’s story of the Italian monk and “Miss MacKinnon from Skye” was quoted, for what it is worth, in my MacCrimmon Family” of 1936. The principal argument against the Italian theory of origin is the preexistence of the name in Skye and Harris, as Crimthan and Gruman in Ireland and the Hebrides, as Rimmon in Sutherland and as Rumun in the Isle of Man. In the past three years the clan MacCrimmon Society has greatly augmented the clan genealogy (by about 40,000 words), and with this increased information and knowledge, it seems almost certain that the MacCrimmons are of Scandinavian origin, and came into the country either through Sutherland or Ireland; alternatively, they may be Irish Celts. The Skye MacCrimmons have a Latin motto which in its Gaelic form was a war-cry of the ancient Irish MacCremons in Munster many centuries before the supposed arrival of this Lombardian Petrus in Ireland.

Iain Odhar

Mr. Cameron’s remarks on Iain Odhar and his son Donald Mor are the reverse of the impression given by Angus MacKay, whose father was a pupil at the Borreraig College. Writing of Donald Mor in 1838 Mackay states “While he was yet young, he acquired the especial favour of MacLeod, who resolved to give him all the instruction that could be had. He therefore sent Donald to Ireland, where a celebrated piper, who had gone from Scotland, had established a college of celebrity.” The general tradition is that Alasdair Crotach’s piper, Iain Odhar, received Borreraig (or Galtrigall) quite early in the sixteenth century. But Mr. Cameron prefers to believe that the MacLeod’s brought Iain and his son Donald from Ireland to Skye in 1548. My own view is that Donald Mor was not born until about 1570, as he was in Ireland in 1595, the Bratach Gorm was instituted about 16 of three when he composed “MacLeod’s Salute,” and in 1610 he was in London.

Mr. Cameron’s table of pipers indicates that Donald Mor was succeeded by his son Padruig Mor. Padruig held that office from 1640 to 1670. This, according to Mr. Cameron’s date for the arrival from Ireland, gives Donald Mor 92 years of active service as a piper! I agree that Padruig Mor had a son Padruig Og, father of Malcolm, father of Iain Dubh.

Whilst there is nothing in my letter of July 16th about “twelve generations of pipers,” I have shown elsewhere that Mr. Patrick MacCrimmon of Airdrie, a retired piper of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, is 12th in descent and that the eleven generations of MacCrimmons before him were all pipers, without the inclusion of Finlay. With regard to Finlay Dubh McRae it is a tradition among the Glenelg MacCrimmons that their ancestor John succeeded him as piper to Seaforth about 1718. Mr. Cameron will find no instance of “counting brothers and strangers as generations” in the MacCrimmon Clan History.

Mackay’s Genealogy Incomplete

Whilst we must regard Mackay as a valuable and accurate authority, it must be observed that his genealogical information is incomplete. He omits several children of Malcolm and his list of Iain Dubh’s progeny is far from full. For example there is proof that Donald Donn was a brother of Donald Ban, and there is no doubt in the family that Donald Og was a younger son of Iain Dubh. We do not know why Mackay ignored the Donald Donn branch: it is indeed a loss to piping history that he did so.

As to Gesto’s source of information and inspiration, I am not doubting that it originated from Iain Dubh’s college at Borreraig or that he received a certain amount of it from old Iain himself, but I think the book is more likely to have been compiled with the assistance of Gesto’s close friends, the Donald Donn MacCrimmons, then actively and successfully practising as pipers at Dunvegan, that from the eccentric, broken and aged Iain Dubh (all honour to him) who had had to close the piping school and had relinquished his pipes some sixty years previously. Gesto’s book was printed nearly a century after Iain’s birth and several years after his death at an advanced age. Mr. Cameron might be able to help in giving the approximate dates of Simon Fraser’s father. I cannot believe that old Simon Fraser was a contemporary of Iain Dubh, senior, and I have always understood that he was a pupil of (and younger than) Iain’s son, Iain Dubh the second.

In conclusion I trust that Mr. Cameron is only suggesting that old Fraser dedicated tunes to Iain Dubh, and not that he wrote music for the MacCrimmon composers!

I am, etc.,

G. C. B. Poulter, F. S. A. (Scot.),
Author of the “History of the Clan MacCrimmon.”