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.

Highland Wit and Humour

Cartoon c. 1940s.
Cartoon c. 1940s.

HIGHLAND WIT AND HUMOUR.
By “Fionn.”

A HIGHLAND boy went with his mother to Inverness to get his first pair of boots. Returning home with his boots slung round his neck, and feeling as proud as a chief, he paid little attention to his steps. Suddenly he struck his big toe against a stone with a terrible shock. Stooping down he began to hold his toe in his hand, while with a rueful countenance he allowed the pain he was suffering. Brightening up suddenly he turned to his mother and exclaimed — “Taing do ‘n Fhreasdal nach i a’ bhròg ùr a fhuair siud,” (Providence be thanked that it was not the new shoes that got yon.)

A deer-stalker after a series of inexcusable misses, remarked to his gillie— “Well, Donald, whose fault was it that time?” Quoth Donald — “Well, he wasn’t more than a hundred yards, and it’s not my fault you missed him; and it’s not the fault of the stag, for he stood still enough; and it’s not the fault of the rifle, for I ken well it’s a right good one; so I’ll just leave it to you to think it over, and find out whose fault it was.”

This reminds one of the Highland lady who sent her son — the young laird — for the first time to the shooting, under the charge of old Sandy the gamekeeper. On their return in the evening with rather a light bag the fond mother asked Sandy how the laird got on in the hill — and if he was a good shot. “He shot real pretty,” was Sandy’s reply, “but Providence was kind to the birds.”

Two Highlanders were benighted, and lay down to sleep on the side of a mountain. After they had lain a little one of them got up, but soon returned again. The other asked him—”What’s this, Donald? What have you been about?” Donald replied — “I was only bringing a stane to put under my head.” Duncan started up and cried — “Man, but you’re unco pernickety! Canna ye sleep without a stane aneath your head?”

Gaelic epitaphs are but seldom met with, but some of the English attempts to convey to the reader an idea of the virtues of departed Celts, are very funny. Take the following for example —

Here lies Andrew MacPherson
Who was a peculiar person,
He stood six foot two
Without his shoe,
And was slew at Waterloo.

It is not every epitaph that is so painfully true as the following:—

Here lies interred a man o’ micht,
His name was Malcom Downie;
He lost his life ae market nicht
By fa-in’ aff his pownie. Aged 37.

On a stone not far from Rob Roy’s grave at Balquhidder, the following ludicrous inscription may be seen —

Beneath this stane lies Seonaid Roy,
Shon Roy’s reputed mother,
In a’ her life, save this Shon Roy,
She never had another.
‘Tis here, or hereabout, they say—
The place no one can tell;
But when she’ll rise at the last day
She’ll ken the stane hersel.

The fact of a man being a good shot is not usually included among “tombstone virtues,” but in the churchyard of Fort-William we find the following —

“Sacred to the memory of Captain Patrick Campbell, late of the 42nd regiment. He died on the 13th of December 1816. A true Highlander, a sincere friend, and the best deerstalker of his day.”

In a churchyard not far from Glasgow there is a stone evidently erected by a Highlander — The confusion of ideas in the epitaph is rather extraordinary — Erected by Hugh MacMillan in memory of his father Donald MacMillan who died, etc., then we have this line from Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard” —

“He gave to misery (all he had) a tear,” followed by this extraordinary coda —

Also my son Hugh.

It reminds one of the inscription over some youth who was “shot by a blunderbuss, one of the old brass kind — “For of such is the Kingdom of Heaven”!

It is wonderful what havoc the misplacing of part of a sentence, or even a comma makes on the sense, as will be seen from the following — “Erected to the memory of John MacDonald who was shot by his brother as a mark of respect.” The members of this family must have had rather a peculiar way of showing their respect for one another.

A certain Captain MacPherson was about to proceed on a long voyage, and his wife sent a request to the church to which they belonged desiring an interest in their prayers. Poor body, she doubtless wrote — “Captain MacPherson going to sea, his wife requests the prayers of the congregation.” The announcement made to the congregation was — “Captain MacPherson going to see his wife, requests the prayers of the congregation.” If Mrs. MacPherson was present her feelings may be easier imagined than described.

The Celtic Monthly, June 1894.

The Lad with the Curly Black Hair

LITTLE MARY OF LOCHOW.

It is a tale of true love that I am going to tell this time. You know what that means. A man and a maid, with trystings in the gloaming, and a breaking heart at every good-bye. If that was the whole of it, the tale would have an easy telling. But in this adventure of hearts there were three and not two who tried to strike the holy bargain—and when a third creeps in there is sure to be hatred and curses and a clenching of fists, with weeping for the maid before the end. It is hard for the Highland heart to love lightly, and when the other fellow comes between, the fire of hate leaps up in a moment, and the blows are struck before ever the one knows what he is doing or the other knows what he has done. Which shows, I am thinking, that a comely maid is held in great esteem among the hills and by the side of the sea lochs. For the measure of our love for a lass is the selfsame as our hate for the man who tries to steal her love from us.

It was in the Campbell country that it all happened, a good handful of days before the red-haired Lord of Argyle with his jury of Campbells sent James of the Glen to the hanging for the murder of Glenure. That would be a diverting theme to argue over, and it will come to the tip of my pen before long to tell you who killed the Red Fox—but not now. Oh no! this is a love tale. Like all our love tiles, it may be splashed here and there with blood and dool; for though Argyle had by this time taken philabeg and dirk from us, it will not be a thing to wonder at, I am sure, when I tell you that in Argyle’s own countryside there never was any scarcity of steel or tartan all through the time of proscribing. What was sin in Appin and Lochiel was aye God’s own truth in Inneraora. But to my tale.

The three of them were Campbells, which made the matter woree and worse. Little Mary Campbell of Lochow, Nial Campbell of Barbreck, and Colin Campbell of Innismore each of whom was own cousin by, I cannot mind how many removes, to Argyle himself. That is small matter of import, however, for when it comes to cousinship among the clans you may marry us and move us and mix us as you please, yet are we cousins still with no confusion of sentiment or forgetting of our proper lineage.

Little Mary was the sweetest of all the gentlewomen who were staying at the castle of Argyle. She had a head of hair that made envy loup in the heart of all the women—so thick and glossy and long was it, that the waitingmaids used to say it swept the floor of her retiring room like a shower of russet leaves in Autumn when she let it down. It was the real red hair of the Campbells—and when it was coiled on the top of her head it made an aureole of golden glory round the winsomest face that at that time was to be seen at the Court of Inneraora. Her cheeks minded one of a blush rose. Her neck was as white as the swan’s. Her eyes had in them the depths of the blue sea with its lights and shadows and all its mystery. And when she smiled, a pretty pair of dimples appeared from Heaven only knows where, and gave the bonny blushing face that witching power which made men quarrel to the death for very passion in their love of her. She was little and quick witted and mischievous. When she took the floor to tread a minuet she danced with the nimbleness and grace of a fairy queen. And when she laughed—it minded one most irresistibly of the ripple of waves along the sand on a fair sunlit day of Spring. This was Little Mary of Lochow.

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