Reminiscences and the Bagpipe Chapter X — An Interesting Byway
Every science has its
byways as well as its highways.
It is along an interesting byway that this book invites the student to
THE Rev. James B.
Johnston, B.D., minister of St. Andrew’s Church, Falkirk, opens up a
charming introduction to his “Place Names of Scotland” with the above
The science of music,
like the science of language of which Mr Johnston speaks, has also its
The History of the
Bagpipe is one of those interesting byways, if only a short one and a
narrow. So little trod now-a-days, there is small wonder that the track
has become moss-grown, or that it is for the greater part of the way
And if a rare traveller
like myself, along this narrow and little explored pathway, often
stumbles and at times wanders off the track altogether it is not to be
With no library at hand
for reference when in a difficulty ; without time to refer to books,
even it the library were within reach, I write under some disadvantage.
However, as but little notice of the Bagpipe has been taken by writers
of any note in the past, and as modern writers have stuck to the
well-trodden highway, where facts are few and fallacies numerous, and
missed, or at any rate neglected the little used byways, where hidden
lies an occasional golden grain of truth, this disadvantage is not so
great as it would otherwise have been.
Is the Bagpipe a Scottish
Is it a Highland instrument?
Is it a Celtic instrument?
In answering these and
such like questions most recent writers are but echoes, the one of the
other. They have been content to take their opinions at second hand; to
copy one another slavishly, asking not for proof; shutting their eyes
indeed to facts which lay patent under their very noses, but which,
perhaps, contradicted some pet theory, borrowed at some time by some
one, from some other one whose reputation as a scholar in Celtic, or in
other paths of learning, gave the worthless dictum an undue weight.
If, then, some well-known
facts, and many better known fallacies, are conspicuous by their
absence, and, like familiar faces that are gone, are missed by the
reader in this book, I hope the deficiencies, if such, will be more than
compensated for, by a display of greater originality, in my treatment of
this very interesting subject : originality being hitherto the one
element most awanting in lectures or writings on the Bagpipe.
I cannot remember the
time when I did not love the Bagpipe and take great “delight in its
noises,” and I offer no apologies to-day for saying a word or two in its
It has been my good
fortune to have heard only good piping in my youth.
When I think over the old
days—days that now, ah kindly, tricky memory ! seem all play and
sunshine, and piping—two names leap to my pen, the names of Colin
M‘Lauchlin and Dugald M‘Farlane.
Colin M‘Lauchlin among
the amateurs stood head and shoulders above his fellows. He was “clever
at the Pipe ” from his earliest years, and while still only a schoolboy
could hold his own with most professionals. He and one or two others,
scarcely inferior, kept the spirit of piping alive in my native village.
His brother—this by the way—could make the most marvellous imitations of
Bagpipe tunes with his voice, so absolutely real did they sound, and
often have I marched home from school to his piping. Now what Colin was
among amateurs in the village, Dugald M‘Farlane was among his brother
professionals in the county.
He was a giant among big
men. Not only was he a player unmatched in reels and strathspeys, but he
was learned in all things concerning the piobaireachd ; and in short
Dugald was one of the best exponents of Pipe music, not forgetting the
Leachs of Glendaruel, that Argyleshire has ever produced.
Dugald attended all the
social functions in the district. His services were in large request
where-ever there was merry-making, whether at feast or funeral, so that
the Lochgilphead people had many opportunities of hearing him pipe.
It was from the playing
of these two masters that I learned what a wonderful old instrument the
Bagpipe in capable hands becomes.
Of course, we
occasionally heard piping of a different order.
I remember well, when a
boy of only some six summers, playing the truant from school for the
first and almost the last time, having allowed myself to be charmed away
from the delights of sing-song spelling by the witchery of an old wheezy
Bagpiper, whose career came to a somewhat inglorious termination at a
public-house near the end of the village—the eighth or ninth “pub.”
visited on that memorable morning—but not, alas ! in time to let me get
back to school, for morning lessons.
If the piper had kept
sober, and had gone on playing, I do not know where we—for I had
companions in evil-doing—would have stopped.
Like the children in the
“Pied Piper of Hamel,” we might still be marching along to the fairy
music of that most unfairy-like, red-nosed, blear-eyed anatomy of a
An Old Print :
Published by the Art Union of Scotland in 1857, shewing a blind piper
performing- upon the Irish Bagpipe.
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