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.

Feadan Dubh

THE BLACK CHANTER OF CLAN CHATTAN.

AMONG the many interesting historical relics carefully treasured at Cluny Castle in Badenoch—the Seat of the Chief of Clan Chattan—is the Black Chanter or Feadan Dubh, of the Clan, on the possession of which the prosperity of the House of Cluny is supposed to depend. Of the many singular traditions regarding it, one is that its original fell from Heaven during the memorable Clan battle—rendered familiar to general readers through the pages of Scott’s “Fair Maid of Perth”—fought between the Macphersons and the Davidsons in presence of King Robert III., his Queen, and Nobles, on the North Inch of Perth, in 1396, and that being made of crystal it was broken by the fall and the existing one made in fac simile. Another tradition is to the effect that this is the genuine original, and that the cracks were occasioned by its violent contact with the ground. Be the origin of the Feadan Dubh what it may, it is a notable fact that whether in consequence of its possession, or of their own bravery, no battle at which the Macphersons were present with the Bratach Uaine, or green banner, of the Clan, and the Chief at their head, was ever lost.

The following lines are inscribed upon the Chanter:—

Feadan Dubh Chlann Chatain
‘S fad o chualas
‘S buan a mhaireas
‘S mor ‘àdh.

It is related that before the Battle of Culloden an old witch, or second seer, told the Duke of Cumberland that if he waited until the Bratach Uaine and the Feadan Dubh came up he would be defeated. Ewen of Cluny was present at the Battle of Prestonpans with six hundred of his Clan, and accompanied Prince Charlie into England. On the Prince’s retreat into Scotland, Cluny with his men put two regiments of Cumberland’s dragoons to flight at Clifton, fought afterwards at the Battle of Falkirk, and was on his way from Badenoch to Inverness with his Clan to join the Prince when flying fugitives from Culloden met him with the intelligence of that sad day’s disaster. As Colonel John Roy Stuart (Iain Ruadh Stiubhart) the famous warrior-poet of the ’45 has it in his Oran eile air latha Chuilodair:—

Clann-Mhuirich nam buadh,
Iad-san uile bhi bhuainn,
Gur h-e m’ iomadan truagh r’a leughadh

which may be freely translated:—

(Clan Vourich of might!
When dire was our plight,
Would you had been there to aid us!)

The celebrity of the Highland bagpipe and the part it has played—so to speak—in the history of the Highlands and of our Highland regiments are well known. “As others with the sound of trumpets, so those with the sound of the pipes are inspired with ardour for the fight.” The potency of bagpipe music on the hearts of all true Highlanders is universally acknowledged. As regards the Gathering it was the piobaireachd’s shrill summons thrilling in the ears of our forefathers “the sad tale of their devastated glens, and their houseless friends which gathered them for the war by notes which had often sounded to hard-earned victory; speaking in strains which made their blood boil with glowing emulation, as they marched to the foe, and which pealing to survivors of the battlefield in notes re-echoed by the frowning crags, drowning by its piercing tones the loud waitings of the bereaved, and the woful shrieks of the despairing women, called in a maddening voice for speedy and unsparing retribution.”

To those whose dearest associations are connected with the blue hills and rushing torrents of the Highlands there is something, on the other hand, singularly heart-stirring in the Failte, or Welcome, on the strains of the bagpipe, and something inexpressibly touching in the plaintive notes of the Cumhadh, or Lament, especially when heard in after years or in the exile of a distant land. According to tradition the Black Chanter of Clan Chattan is endowed with magical properties. Towards the end of the combat on the North Inch of Perth, we are told that there was seen an aerial minstrel hovering over the heads of the Macphersons, who after playing a few wild strains on the instrument let it drop from his hand. The Macpherson piper secured this enchanted pipe, and even though mortally wounded poured forth the pibroch of the Clan till death effectually silenced his music. The Black Chanter was ever after held to ensure success not only to the Macphersons, but also to its temporary possessors, whenever lent to other Clans by the generosity of the Chief of the time. The Grants of Strathspey having received an affront through the cowardice of some unworthy members of that Clan and being dejected beyond measure, borrowed this magical instrument. Its bold war-notes soon roused their drooping energies and stimulated them to such valour that from that time forth it passed into a proverb that “no enemy ever saw the back of a Grant.” The Grants of Glenmoriston afterwards borrowed it in the same way, and it was only restored to “old Cluny” in the early part of the present century.

Here are some spirited and appropriate lines on the Black Chanter composed by Mrs. D. Ogilvy about half-a-century ago, and worthy, I think, of a permanent place in the pages of the
Celtic Monthly:—

Black Chanter of Chattan, now hushed and exhausted,
Thy music was lost with the power of the Gael,
The dread inspiration Macpherson had boasted.
For ever expired in Drummossie’s* sad wail.

Of old on St. Johnstone’s† dark meadow of slaughter
Thy cadences hurried the piper’s last breath;
The vanquished escaped amid Tay’s rolling water,
The conqueror’s pibroch was silenced by death.

That piper is nameless, and lost in like manner,
The tribes are forgotten of mighty Clan Quhele;
While Chattan, that bears the hill cat on his banner,
No time can extinguish, no ruin assail.

From the hand of a cloud-cleaving bard thou wert given
To lips that embraced thee till moveless and dead;
Since then never idly Macpherson hath striven,
Nor trust in his fortune been shaken by dread.

O mouth piece of conquest! who heard thee and trembled?
Who followed thy call, and despaired of the fight?
Availed not that foemen before thee dissembled,
For quenched was their ardour and nerveless their might.

The blast of thy pibroch, the flaunt of thy streamer,
Lent hope to each spirit and strength to each arm;
While the Saxon confronting was scared like the dreamer
Whose sleep is of peril, of grief, and alarm.

Led on by thy promise, what Chieftain e’er sallied,
Nor proved in his venture how just was thy vaunt?
At the spell of thy summons exultingly rallied
The faltering pulse of dispirited Grant.

Forerunner of victory! why didst thou tarry?
Thy voice on Drummossie an empire had changed;
We then had not seen our last efforts miscarry,
The Stuart had triumphed, the Gael been avenged.

Ah, fatal Drummosie—sad field of the flying!
The Gathering sank in the hopeless Lament;
What pibroch could stanch the wide wounds of the dying?
What magic rekindle the fire that was spent?

Proud music! by shame or dishonour ne’er daunted,
By murmur of orphan, by widowed despair.
The fall of thy country thy spell disenchanted,
With the last of the Stuarts it vanished in air.

Yet rouse thee from slumber. Black Chanter of Chattan,
Send forth a strong blast of defiance once more;
On the flesh of thy children the vulture doth batten,
And sodden with blood are the sands of Lahore.

As fierce as the tiger that prowls in their forest,
Those sons of the Orient leap to the plain;
But the blade striketh vainly wherever thou warrest,–
Black Chanter of Chattan, bestir thee again!

* Another name for Culloden.
In olden times the City of Perth was sometimes so-called from its patron, Saint John.

A. MACPHERSON.

Unfurling the Standard

1000px-Jacobite_Standard_(1745).svg

The Marquis of Tullibardine accompanied Charles in his progress until the Prince landed at Glenfinnin [sic], which is situated about twenty miles from Fort William, and forms the outlet from Moidart to Lochaber; here the standard of Charles Edward was unfurled. The scene in which this ill-omened ceremonial took place is a deep and narrow valley, in which the river Finnin runs between high and craggy mountains, which are inaccessible to every species of carriage, and only to be surmounted by travellers on foot. At each end of the vale is a lake of about twelve miles in length, and behind the stern mountains which enclose the glen, are salt-water lakes, one of them an arm of the sea. The river Finnin empties itself into the Lake of Glenshiel, at the extremity of the glen. On the eighteenth of August Prince Charles crossed this lake, slept at Glensiarick, and on the nineteenth proceeded to Glenfinnin.

When Charles landed in the glen, he gazed around anxiously for Cameron of Lochiel, the younger, whom he expected to have joined him. He looked for some time in vain; that faithful adherent was not then in sight, nor was the glen, as the Prince had expected, peopled by any of the clansmen whose gathering he had expected. A few poor people from the little knot of hovels, which was called the village, alone greeted the ill-starred adventurer. Disconcerted, Prince Charles entered one of the hovels, which are still standing, and waited there for about two hours. At the end of that time, the notes of the pibroch were heard, and presently, descending from the summit of a hill, appeared the Camerons, advancing in two lines, each of them three men deep. Between the lines walked the prisoners of war, who had been taken some days previously near Loch Lochiel [sic].

The Prince, exhilarated by the sight of six or seven hundred brave Highlanders, immediately gave orders for the standard to be unfurled.

The office of honour was entrusted to the Marquis of Tullibardine, on account of his high rank and importance to the cause. The spot chosen for the ceremony was a knoll in the centre of the vale. Upon this little eminence the Marquis stood, supported on either side by men, for his health was infirm, and what we should now call a premature old age was fast approaching. The banner which it was his lot to unfurl displayed no motto, nor was there inscribed upon it the coffin and the crown which the vulgar notion in England assigned to it. It was simply a large banner of red silk, with a white space in the middle. The Marquis held the staff until the Manifesto of the Chevalier and the Commission of Regency had been read. In a few hours the glen in which this solemnity had been performed, was filled not only with Highlanders, but with ladies and gentlemen to admire the spectacle.

— Memoirs of the Jacobites of 1715 and 1745, Volume II.

Glenfinnan