MacCrimmon Pipers

Give McIntyre ye pyper fforty pounds scots as his prentises(hi)p with McCrooman till May nixt as also provyde him in what Cloths he needs and dispatch him immediately to the Isles.

Instruction from John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane, to his chamberlain, Alexander Campbell of Barcaldine, c. 1697.

Item paid to quantiliane McCraingie McLeans pyper for one complete year as prentyce fie for the Litle pyper before he was sent to McCrooman, the soume of £160

Statement of Earl of Breadalbane, 22 April, 1697, at Taymouth Castle.

MACCRIMMON TRADITIONS.

THERE was a gathering of the clans at Dunvegan Castle. There sat down to dinner at the Macleod’s hospitable table eleven noble chiefs, each accompanied by his piper, a walking exhibition of his clan’s glory and greatness. Each chief was greater than the other, and each piper was better than his fellow. Great reputations were at stake; and all were anxious to have the matter decided at once. The Macleod gave the signal. Out stepped the famous piper of the Macdonalds of the Isles, and filled the hall with the well-known strains of the old Piob-mhor. Others followed and bravely upheld the traditions of clan and family. But one was amissing. There was an anxious look in Macleod’s eye. Where was the old piper who had so long and faithfully served the chief of Dunvegan? He sent a page-boy to look for him. He returned with sad news—the piper was hopelessly drunk. Great was the chief’s anger at being thus humbled in his own stronghold. Something must be done and that quickly. The tenth piper was tuning his pipes. One more to go—and then all would be found out. A sudden idea seized the chief’s mind. He grasped the pageboy’s hand, and whispered in his ear, “You are the twelfth piper—remember your chief’s words.” The feast went on as merrily as ever, and the fun grew fast and furious—but the page-boy, MacCrimmon, was not there to enjoy it. He was lying on a hillside, cursing the unkindly fate which had put him in so awkward a predicament. But there were friendly spirits moving about. Out of the hill-side there came the prettiest little fairy ever seen by human eyes. She made straight for MacCrimmon, and soon knew as much of his trouble as he did himself. She did not try to comfort him, but she did something better. She gave him a curiously-shaped whistle and bade him play on it. He smiled knowingly—but he would oblige the little lady because she meant kindly. He blew—and soon the hills and rocks re-echoed the divinest music ever heard in Dunvegan. He turned to thank his friend—but he was alone.

At once he hurried back to the castle and just came in time to hear the closing notes of the eleventh piper’s pibroch. He stepped out in his place and, heedless of the titter which passed all round the hall, he “blew up” the pipes. The scorn of the company was soon turned into admiration as the stripling played in faultless and brilliant manner compositions unknown to the others. From that hour MacCrimmon was the acknowledged prince of pipers.

On one occasion there was a pipe-music competition at Dunvegan Castle. There were competitors from all parts of the country, and among them the head of the MacCrimmon College, and his nephew. The professor had taught his nephew all the music known to him except one tune, which, he hoped, would give himself the lead in the competition. On their way to Dunvegan, they spent a night in a way-side inn, and shared a bed. The old gentleman was soon fast asleep, and naturally enough began to dream of the morrow’s work. He seized his nephew’s arm, on it played the notes of the tune which was to give him first place among the pipers. The keen witted youth was not slow to notice that there was more in the affair than might appear on the surface, and in a very short time he committed all the notes to memory. Next day, the first piper called on to play was the nephew. His first tune astonished most of those present, none more than his tutor, who at once gracefully retired from the competition, and allowed his worthy nephew to carry off the chief honours of the day. It was doubtless this incident which gave rise to the well-known Gaelic proverb—”An gille ‘toirt bàr air Mac Criomain“—the lad, or pupil, surpassing his master, MacCrimmon.

It may be added that the MacCrimmons were hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Dunvegan. During the sixteenth and seventeenth century several generations of them acted in this capacity. They founded a college of music at Boreraig, Skye, and thither all the leading pipers of the day proceeded to complete their education. They invented a system of musical notation for the pipes, by means of which they taught their pupils.

Kenneth Macleod.

The Only Way of Accompting

John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland, Viscount of Tay and Paintland, and Lord Glenorchy, Benderloch, Ormelie and Wick.

The Earl of Breadalbane, a man of great power in the Highlands, and head of a numerous clan of the Campbells, was intrusted with a sum of money, which some authors call 20, and some 12,000 pounds, to be distributed among the chieftains, on the condition of their submission to the existing government, and keeping on foot, each chief in proportion to his means, a military force to act on behalf of government, at home or abroad, as they should be called on. This scheme would probably have rendered the Highland clans a resource, instead of a terror, to the government of King William; while their love of war, and their want of money, would by degrees have weaned them from their attachment to the exiled King, which would gradually have been transferred to a prince who led them to battle, and paid them for following him.

But many of the chiefs were jealous of the conduct of the Earl of Breadalbane in distributing the funds intrusted to his care. Part of this treasure the wily Earl bestowed among the most leading men; when these were bought off, he intimidated those of less power into submission, by threatening them with military execution; and it has always been said, that he retained a considerable portion of the gratuity in his own hands. The Highland chiefs complained to Government of Breadalbane’s conduct, who, they alleged, had advised them only to submit to King William for the present, until an opportunity should occur of doing King James effectual service. They also charged him with retaining, for his own purposes, a considerable part of the money deposited in his hands, as the price of peace.

My dear Lord, The money you mention, was given to purchase the peace of the Highlands. The money is spent—the Highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accompting among friends.

Government, it is said, attended to this information, so far as to demand, through the Secretary of State, a regular account of the manner in which the sum of money placed in his hands had been distributed. But Breadalbane, too powerful to be called in question, and too audacious to care for suspicion of what he judged Government dared not resent, is traditionally said to have answered the demand in the following cavalier manner:— “My dear Lord, The money you mention, was given to purchase the peace of the Highlands. The money is spent—the Highlands are quiet, and this is the only way of accompting among friends.”

— Sir Walter Scott, Tales of a Grandfather, Second Series, Vol. I, 1842.

Description of Kilchurn Castle

Lintel above the entrance doorway of the tower-house of Kilchurn Castle, dated 1693 (when it replaced the original), and displaying the arms of John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane, along with his initials and those of his second wife, Countess Mary Campbell, daughter of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll and Lady Margaret Douglas.
Lintel above the entrance doorway of the tower-house of Kilchurn Castle, dated 1693 (when it replaced the original), and displaying the arms of John Campbell, 1st Earl of Breadalbane, along with his initials and those of his second wife, Countess Mary Campbell, daughter of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll and Lady Margaret Douglas.

Kilchurn castle is situated on a peninsula at the north end of Loch Awe, and is well protected by water and marsh, while the buildings stand on a rocky platform of irregular shape, but with perpendicular faces, about 15 feet high, on three of its sides.

The plan of this keep has some peculiarities. The entrance door is in the north-east wall on the ground floor, and the stair to the upper floors starts from the opposite corner of that floor. The stair is unusually easy, being a square stair, so arranged that small vaulted rooms are provided on each side of it at the east end of the keep. The exterior is of the usual plain style and is built with granite rubble-work. The corbels carrying the corner bartizans are all cut out of the hardest gneiss or granite.

The additions were built in 1693, this date being carved on the work in two places, viz., the entrance door and the door to the stair turret on the south side of the keep. The first of these inscriptions is rather remarkable, and might be misleading. The original lintel of the entrance door of the keep has been removed, and a new lintel inserted, bearing the date 1693, and the initials and arms of John, first Earl of Breadalbane, and of his second wife, Countess Mary Stewart1 or Campbell.

Plan of Kilchurn Castle from <em>The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal</em>, Vol. XII, No. 70, February, 1913; reproduced from David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, <em>Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland</em>, 1887.
Plan of Kilchurn Castle from The Scottish Mountaineering Club Journal, Vol. XII, No. 70, February, 1913; reproduced from David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, 1887.

Another curious circumstance connected with this door is, that it is the only entrance to the castle, so that to get into the quadrangle one has to pass through the narrow entrance door and cross the ground floor of the keep.

The additions made in 1693 convert this keep into a castle surrounding an irregular quadrangle.

The additional buildings have been very extensive, and would accommodate a large garrison, but they are not built with a view to resist a siege. The round towers at the angles and the numerous square loopholes on the ground floor would, however, suffice to defend the garrison against a sudden attack by Highlanders, which was probably what was to be chiefly apprehended in that inaccessible situation. Although this castle presents a striking and imposing appearance at a distance, it is somewhat disappointing on closer inspection. The interior walls are much destroyed, and the internal arrangements of the plan can scarcely be made out. The buildings have more the appearance of modern barracks than of an old castle. There are two kitchen fireplaces, and probably there were officers’ quarters and men’s quarters, while the keep and some additional accommodation adjoining would be set apart for the lord and his family.

— David MacGibbon and Thomas Ross, Castellated and Domestic Architecture of Scotland, 1887.

1 The identification with Stewart would appear to be an error. Lady Mary Campbell was born after 1634. She was the daughter of Archibald Campbell1st Marquess of Argyll and Lady Margaret Douglas. She married, firstly, George Sinclair6th Earl of Caithness, son of John SinclairMaster of Berriedale and Lady Jean Mackenzie, on 22 September 1657 at Roseneath, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. She married, secondly, John Campbell of Glenorchy, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and Holland, son of Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy, 4th Bt.and Lady Mary Graham, on 7 April 1678. She died on 4 February 1690/91.

Little Wat Ye Wha’s Coming

The Gathering Stone, which tradition variously holds as the location of the Jacobite clans' standard on the field at Sheriffmuir, or the spot where John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, and commander of the Government forces, watched the battle.
The Gathering Stone, which tradition variously holds as the location of the Jacobite clans’ standard on the field at Sheriffmuir, or the spot where John Campbell, Duke of Argyll, and commander of the Government forces, watched the battle.

Little wat ye wha’s coming,
Little wat ye wha’s coming,
Little wat ye wha’s coming,

Jock and Tam and a’s coming.

Duncan’s coming, Donald’s coming,
Colin’s coming, Ronald’s coming,
Dougald’s coming, Lauchlan’s coming,
Alaster and a’s coming.

Borland and his men’s coming,
Cameron and M’Lean’s coming,
Gordon and M’Gregor’s coming,
Ilka Dunywastle’s coming.
Little wat ye wha’s coming (ter).
M’Gillavry o’ Drumglass is coming.

Wigton’s coming, Nithsdale’s coming,
Carnwath’s coming. Kenmure’s coming,
Derwentwater and Foster’s coming,
Withrington and Nairn’s coming.
Little wat ye wha’s coming (ter),
Blythe Cowhill and a’ coming.

The laird of McIntosh is coming,
McRabie and McDonald’s coming,
McKenzie and McPherson’s coming,
And the wild McCraw’s coming.
Little wat ye wha’s coming (ter),
Donald Gun and a’s coming.

They gloom, they glour, they look sae big,
At ilka stroke they’ll fell a Whig:
They’ll fright the fuds of the Pockpuds,
For mony a buttock bare’s coming.
Little wat ye wha’s coming (ter),
Jock and Tam and a’s coming.

— The Chevalier’s Muster-Roll, from David Herd’s “Ancient and Modern Scotish Songs,” Volume I, page 117, 1769, and James Hogg’s “Jacobite Relics,” Vol. I, N°90, 1819.