OT: 28 August 1937 – G.C.B. Poulter “The Last Clan Pipers”

The Oban Times, 28 August, 1937

The Last Clan Pipers
MacCrimmons, Mackays and Rankines

 Collingwood Place, Camberley, Surrey

18 August, 1937

Sir,–There is in many quarters a misapprehension that the hereditary clan pipers ceased or died out in the middle of the eighteenth century.

Ian Dubh MacCrimmon (1731-1822), hereditary piper at Dunvegan Castle, was succeeded, according to his friend and contemporary, MacMaster, by his brother, Donald Ruadh MacCrimmon, born in 1743, and referred to as “MacLeod’s hereditary piper” as late as 1815. Donald Ruadh died in 1825, and although we are perhaps to regard him as the last hereditary piper at Dunvegan, it should be noted that his cousin, Donald MacCrimmon of Lowerkill (son of Kenneth), had been a piper in MacLeod’s employment for the previous twenty years. Donald of Lowerkill died in 1843, and his son Kenneth took his place for three years; then came the great potato famine, the castle was let, and Kenneth exchanged his office at Dunvegan for the position of constable at Dumbarton, offered to him by MacLeod, and thus the famous line of MacCrimmon pipers came to an end after more than three centuries of continuous service at Dunvegan.

But for the decline of the MacLeod fortunes in the middle of the nineteenth century, this historic succession would have continued probably to the present day. Kenneth Mor’s daughter is still living at an advanced age, and she states that he was a splendid piper. Kenneth’s son, piper Donald MacCrimmon, died in the island of Bernera, Harris, in 1925, his grandson, Kenneth, is a piper, and his great-grandson, Patrick, now a piper in the Argylls, carries on the family traditions in the twelfth generation.

The Mackays, pipers to the Mackenzies of Gairloch, held their position almost as late as the MacCrimmons. The late Mr. John Mackay, J. P., of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, states that his “father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, were successively pipers to the lairds of Gairloch.” Mr. MacKay further states that his father was “the recognised and paid piper of the Gairloch family” and came to Pichton, Nova Scotia in the Summer of 1805. Mr. John Mackay died in 1884, aged 90, his father, John Roy Mackay, last hereditary piper to the Mackenzies of Gairloch, died in Canada early in the same century, and his grandfather, Angus MacKay was the son and successor of the celebrated Iain Dall or “Blind John” Mackay (1656-1754).

The Rankines, hereditary pipers to the Macleans of Duart and Coll, held their position as late as the Mackays. Duncan Rankine, who is referred to by Dr. Samuel Johnson, came to Coll as the Macleans piper in 1762, married Elizabeth MacCrimmon of Glendale, and died in Coll in 1807.

These three examples are taken at random, and no doubt many others could be given of hereditary piping dynasties continuing up to the nineteenth century.

I am, etc.,

G.C.B. Poulter