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.

Except Ye Taste of Death

View of Rathcroghan ( Ráth Cruachan) mound from the south.  Near Tulsk in County Roscommon, Ireland, it is identified as the site of Cruachan, the traditional capital of the Connachta.
View of Rathcroghan (Ráth Cruachan) mound from the south. Near Tulsk in County Roscommon, Ireland, it is identified as the site of Cruachan, the traditional capital of the Connachta.

It appears that King Laoghaire had two daughters, named Ethne the fair, and Fedelm the ruddy. He had sent them, for what reason is not explained, to his relatives in Connaught, and placed them under the care of two Druids or magi, named Mael and Caplit. Patrick was at Crochan, or Cruachan, the royal cemetery of the kings of Ireland of the race of Herimon, and a very antient residence of the kings of Connaught, in the county of Roscommon. There was a well or fountain called Clebach, on the side of the fort, looking towards the east. There Patrick and his attendants assembled one morning at sunrise. He selected, perhaps, the place and hour with the hope of conciliating some Pagan superstitions. Tirechan says that the virgins found Patrick at the well with a synod of bishops, senodum sanctorum episcoporum; but it is probable that by this word our author means only an assembly or company, not a synod properly so called. It will be better, however, to tell the story in the exact words of that antient historian, translated as closely as possible : —

Then St. Patrick came to the well (ad fontem) which is called Clebach, on the sides of Crochan towards the east; and before sunrise they [i.e. Patrick and his followers] sat down near the well. And lo! the two daughters of King Laoghaire, Ethne the fair (alba), and Fedelm the ruddy (rufa), came early to the well, to wash, after the manner of women, and they found near the well a synod of holy Bishops with Patrick. And they knew not whence they were, or in what form, or from what people, or from what country; but they supposed them to be Duine Sidhe (viros Sidhe) or gods of the earth, or a phantasm.

And the virgins said unto them, “Where are ye? and whence come ye?”

And Patrick said unto them, “It were better for you to confess to our true God, than to enquire concerning our race.”

The first virgin said,

“Who is God?
“And where is God?
“And of what [nature] is God?
“And where is His dwelling-place?
“Has your God sons and daughters, gold and silver?
“Is He everliving?
“Is He beautiful?
“Did many foster His Son?
“Are His daughters dear and beauteous to men of the world?
“Is He in heaven or in earth?
“In the sea?
“In rivers?
“In mountainous places?
“In valleys?
“Declare unto us the knowledge of Him.
“How shall He be seen?
“How is He to be loved?
“How is He to be found?
“Is it in youth?
“Is it in old age, that He is to be found?”

But St. Patrick, full of the Holy Ghost, answered and said,

“Our God is the God of all men.
“The God of heaven and earth, of the sea and rivers.
“The God of the sun, the moon, and all stars.
“The God of the high mountains, and of the lowly valleys.
“The God who is above heaven, and in heaven, and under heaven.
“He hath a habitation in the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that are therein.
“He inspireth all things.
“He quickeneth all things.
“He is over all things.
“He sustaineth all things.
“He giveth light to the light of the sun.
“Lumen noctis et notitias valat.
“And He hath made springs in a dry ground,
“And dry islands in the sea,
“And hath appointed the stars to serve the greater lights.
“He hath a Son co-eternal and co-equal (consimilem) with Himself.
“The Son is not younger than the Father,
“Nor is the Father older than the Son,
“And the Holy Ghost breatheth in them (inflat in eis).
“The Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost are not divided (non separantur).
“But I desire to unite you to the Heavenly King, inasmuch as you are the daughters of an earthly King — to believe.”

And the virgins said, as with one mouth and one heart —

“Teach us most diligently how we may believe in the Heavenly King. Show us how we may see Him face to face, and whatsoever thou shalt say unto us, we will do.”

And Patrick said, “Believe ye that by baptism ye put off the sin of your father and your mother?” — They answered, “We believe.”

“Believe ye in repentance after sin?” — “We believe.”

“Believe ye in life after death? Believe ye the resurrection at the Day of Judgment?” — “We believe.”

“Believe ye the Unity of the Church?” — “We believe.”

And they were baptised; and a white garment put upon their heads.

And they asked to see the face of Christ. And the Saint said unto them, “Ye cannot see the face of Christ, except ye taste of death, and except ye receive the Sacrifice.”

And they answered, “Give us the Sacrifice, that we may behold the Son our Spouse.”

And they received the Eucharist of God, and they slept in death (dormierunt in morte).

And they were laid out on one bed, covered with garments: and [their friends] made great lamentation and weeping for them.

And the Magus Caplit, who had fostered one of them, came and wept, and Patrick preached unto him, and he believed, and the hairs of his head were taken off.

And his brother Mael came and said, “My brother hath believed in Patrick, but it shall not be so [with me]; yea, I shall bring him back to Paganism, and to Milthous.”

And he spake harsh words to Patrick, and Patrick spake to him and preached to him, and converted him to the repentance of God: and the hairs of his head were taken off — that is, the magical rule [which] was seen on his head, as is said, air bacc giunnæ†.

It was of him was spoken that most celebrated of all Scotic proverbs, “Calvus is become like Caplit.”

And they believed in God. And the days of mourning (ululationis) for the king’s daughters were accomplished, and they buried them near the well Clebach; and they made a circular ditch, like to a Ferta‡; because so the Scotic people and gentiles were used to do; but with us it is called Reliquiæ, that is, the remains of the virgins. And this Ferta was granted (immolata est) with the bones of the holy virgins to Patrick and to his heirs (heredibus) after him for ever. And he made a Church of earth in that place.

— An account from the Book of Armagh, as recounted in Dr. James Henthorn Todd’s St. Patrick Apostle of Ireland: A Memoir of His Life and Mission (1864).

Irish, “as a band (bond) of Gehenna (Hell)”
‡ a sepulchral mound of clay covered with grass

Ora nam Buadh

I bathe thy palms
In showers of wine,
In the lustral fire,
In the seven elements,
In the juice of the rasps,
In the milk of honey,
And I place the nine pure choice graces
In thy fair fond face,
The grace of form,
The grace of voice,
The grace of fortune,
The grace of goodness,
The grace of wisdom,
The grace of charity,
The grace of choice maidenliness,
The grace of whole-souled loveliness,
The grace of goodly speech.

Dark is yonder town,
Dark are those therein,
Thou art the brown swan,
Going in among them.
Their hearts are under thy control,
Their tongues are beneath thy sole,
Nor will they ever utter a word
To give thee offence.

A shade art thou in the heat,
A shelter art thou in the cold,
Eyes art thou to the blind,
A staff art thou to the pilgrim,
An island art thou at sea,
A fortress art thou on land,
A well art thou in the desert,
Health art thou to the ailing.

Thine is the skill of the Fairy Woman,
Thine is the virtue of Bride the calm,
Thine is the faith of Mary the mild,
Thine is the tact of the woman of Greece,
Thine is the beauty of Emir the lovely,
Thine is the tenderness of Darthula delightful,
Thine is the courage of Maebh the strong,
Thine is the charm of Binne-bheul.

Thou art the joy of all joyous things,
Thou art the light of the beam of the sun,
Thou art the door of the chief of hospitality,
Thou art the surpassing star of guidance,
Thou art the step of the deer of the hill,
Thou art the step of the steed of the plain,
Thou art the grace of the swan of swimming,
Thou art the loveliness of all lovely desires.

The lovely likeness of the Lord
Is in thy pure face,
The loveliest likeness that
Was upon earth.

The best hour of the day be thine,
The best day of the week be thine,
The best week of the year be thine,
The best year in the Son of God’s domain be thine.

Peter has come and Paul has come,
James has come and John has come,
Muriel and Mary Virgin have come,
Uriel the all-beneficent has come,
Ariel the beauteousness of the young has come,
Gabriel the seer of the Virgin has come,
Raphael the prince of the valiant has come,
And Michael the chief of the hosts has come,
And Jesus Christ the mild has come,
And the Spirit of true guidance has come,
And the King of kings has come on the helm,
To bestow on thee their affection and their love,
To bestow on thee their affection and their love.

Carmina Gadelica, Achaine 3.

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Beannaich, a Thriath

Bless, O Chief of generous chiefs
Myself and everything anear me,
Bless me in all my actions,
Make Thou me safe for ever,
Make Thou me safe for ever.

From every brownie and ban-shee,
From every evil wish and sorrow,
From every nymph and water-wraith,
From every fairy-mouse and grass-mouse,
From every fairy-mouse and grass-mouse.

From every troll among the hills,
From every siren hard pressing me,
From every ghoul within the glens,
Oh ! save me till the end of my day.
Oh! save me till the end of my day.

Carmina Gadelica, Achaine 10.

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