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The Pipes of War
The Spirit of the MacCrimmons, By Fred T. MacLeod, FSA Scot


IT was the year 1626, a memorable year in the history of the Western Isles of Scotland, and singularly eventful in the history of Skye and of the Dunvegan family. Sir Rory Mor MacLeod, warrior and statesman, patron of Art, of Music and of Letters, and dispenser of lavish hospitality to rich and poor alike, had died in the Chanonry of Ross an event "greatly deplored among the Gael at that time" The ancient sea-gate of Dunvegan Castle was opened, and into a waiting boat stepped Patrick Mor MacCrimmon, the dead chief's hereditary piper, the representative of a line of pipers almost as long as the line of MacLeod chiefs. Swiftly, yet silently, the piper was rowed across Loch Dunvegan to Boreraig. MacCriminon stepped ashore and took from his servant the instrument which had on many occasions cheered his beloved master. His heart could no longer contain its pent-up emotion, and his frame shook with a violent outburst of grief. Then, with head erect and firm step, he walked the remaining distance to the renowned College of Pipers, the home of his family for many generations. The fingers of a master player lingered for a moment lovingly on the chanter. In swift succession there fell upon the ears of his pupils, themselves no mean players of ancient piobaireachd, the arresting, appealing, plaintive notes of "Cumha Ruaridh Mhoir," "Lament to Rory Mor."

To-day, cattle browse upon the site of the MacCriminon College, within whose walls instruction on the Piobnthor had been given by members of the MacCrimmon family to countless students from all parts. Thither too had come the best pipers of Scotland to receive the finishing touches to a piping education well-nigh perfect in itself, including representatives of the three well-known piping families, MacArthur, Mackay and Campbell. The musi of the pipes is now seldom, if ever, heard oil plateau upon which in former days many pipers were wont to assemble. Sassenach inhibitory legislation followed by the unsympathetic action of the Highland clergy combined in an attempt to stifle for ever the majestic notes of ancient piobaireachd, and the free, independent, social temperament of the Children of the Island. But, while the grass grows green on the spot where the college stood, the memory of these master musicians is enshrined in the ancient traditions of the island, in the MacCriininon compositions preserved and played to-day, and in the names of places in the vicinity of the MacCriinmon homeland. The ancient castle, dating from the ninth century, is occupied to-day by Norman Magnus MacLeod, the 23rd chief of his line, as it has been continuously occupied by his forefathers, and among the relics carefully preserved is an ancient set of MacCrimnmon pipes. One can still enjoy the shelter of "Slochd nam Piobairean" and he who desires to do so can honour the dust of several members of the MacCrimmon family in the little burying- ground at Kilinuir, overlooking Dunvegan Loch. Nay more, one may converse with living descendants of the family within a stone's throw of the home of their forefathers. The fame of the MacCrimnmons will never die so long as these features or the memory of them remains, and, when these are no longer remembered, the honour due to these Kings of Pipers will be enshrined in the music they have left behind them.

It is impossible in this article to do more than touch the fringe of an almost illimitable subject. There are many controversial points into which it is not desirable to enter, e.g., the origin of the family name, the exact period during which the MacCrimmons held their hereditary office, and the "Cainntaireachd" invented and used by them. The old papers in the castle are singularly silent in regard to time history of men so closely allied with the fortunes of the Dunvegan family. The only two documents among these papers, so far as I am aware, which bear upon the subject, are a lease of the lands of Galtrigal in Skye to the MacCrimmons in virtue of their hereditary office, and a rent-roll of the latter years of the eighteenth century, which contains entries of payments made by MacLeod tenants, in the form of a tax to assist a member of the MacCrimmon family in his declining years. But while contemporary documentary evidence is practically unavailable, tradition has preserved a great deal of interesting information. While it may not be advisable to accept as accurate many oral traditions of a country, we are entitled to rely to a considerable extent upon, and to accept as generally trustworthy, Highland oral tradition, which every student of highland history knows was the common mode of preserving what otherwise would have been long ago irretrievably lost. The office of "Seanachaidh" was recognized and honoured in leading Highland families and, subject to the legitimate criticism that a Seanachaidh was apt unduly to extol the virtues of those whose praises he sang and to decry the virtues of rival families, we are entitled to draw upon this source of information.

The first published account of the family known to me is Angus Mac- Kay's collection of Ancient Piobaircachacd, or Highland Pipe Music, published in 1838, which forms the basis of most, if not all, the subsequent published references to the family. Dr. Norman MacLeod's account (in Gaelic) of the MacCrimmons must also be mentioned, and of more modern date Dr. Fraser's interesting book on the Highland Bagpipe. The Rev. Archibald Clerk contributed an article worthy of notice in the New Statistical Account of Scotland, and Fionn's Martial music of the Gael contains some interesting notes.

I regard, however, as the most authoritative contribution a series of Gaelic articles contributed to the Celtic Monthly by the Rev. Neil Ross of Buccleuch Parish Church, Edinburgh. Mr. Ross is one of our ablest Gaelic scholars, and, having been born and brought up in the heart of the MacCrimmon country, he has had the peculiar advantage of obtaining the local traditions of the family at first hand, from old people practically all of whom have passed away.

I am inclined to place the commencement of the MacCrimmon era so far as their relationship with the Macleods of Dunvegan is concerned, approximately as 1500, and the termination thereof as 1822. My reasons for doing so are first that we find that in 1651 one of the family was publicly acknowledged as the King of Pipers. In the old chronicle detailing this incident the name of the piper upon whom this honour was bestowed is given as John Macgurmen (MacCrimmon) which I believe to be a mistake for Patrick MacCrimmon, he who composed the well-known port, I gave a kiss to the hand of the King." If the old adage is true that it took seven years of a man's life and seven generations of pipers before him to make a perfect piper, the date 1500 is by no means too remote. Further, the traditional list of MacCriminon pipers who held their hereditary office is sufficiently long to bridge that period. Dr. MacLeod enumerates seven successive members of the family, whereas Mr. Ross furnishes us with twelve names inclusive of those mentioned by Dr. MacLeod. The following is Mr. Ross' list

It is outwith the scope of this article to deal with the MacCrimmon genealogy, or to discuss in detail the different members of the family. Interesting notes might be furnished concerning most of the men whose names are enumerated above, and it might not be difficult for a skilled player of pibroch, by a careful analysis of the MacCrimmon compositions, to assign many of the extant compositions to the appropriate composers. I prefer to gather together from the available sources known to me a few incidents in the lives of three outstanding members of the family, Donald Mdr, Patrick Mór and Donald Ban.

DONALD MOR MACCRIMMON

We shall probably not be very far wrong if we regard the period during which this piper lived as that embracing the concluding years of the sixteenth century and the early years of the seventeenth. I realise that, in so placing him, I lay myself open to the criticism that I post-date the period of Patrick Mór's activities. Patrick Mór is regarded as the son of Donald Mór, and it is probable that both father and son were in the service of Sir Rory Mór. It is stated that, being a special favourite of his chief, Donald was sent to Ireland to complete his musical education. There can be little doubt that as Ireland was the early home of Celtic letters so she was the early home of musical culture, and that the high degree of efficiency attained by the MacCrimmons was, at least in part, due to the finishing touches obtained by them in the sister island. We learn that Donald Mór played before many of the nobility and gentry, of the country and greatly distinguished himself. Mr. Ross has an interesting note that Donald accompanied his chief to Ireland in the reign of James VI., on the occasions when MacLeod led his clan in battle, and that about that time Donald composed "The Lament to the Earl of Antrim." Among the compositions attributed to him are "The Macdonald Salute," "Welcome to Rory Mdr," and "The Salute of the Earl of Ross." Mr. Ross, whose knowledge of pibroch entitles him to speak with authority, states that close analysis of Donald Mór's compositions reveals the fact that he frequently used the lower notes of the chanter, and that there is internal evidence that he possessed great skill in changing from the low to the high notes.

PATRICK MOR MACCRIMMON

It is generally agreed that Patrick succeeded Donald as hereditary piper to the MacLeeds of Dunvegan. He is generally admitted to have been the most distinguished member of his race. his life was spent in the service of Sir Rory Mór MacLeod, who succeeded to the chiefship in 1596, and who died as stated in 1626. Under the protection of this powerful chief the practice of Piobaireachd received an impetus which is bearing fruit to-day. The Scottish Privy Council, at a comparatively early date, struck a severe blow at what was regarded as the despotic power of the chiefs by limiting the number of the retinue each chief was entitled to gather round him. An important member of that retinue was the person who held the office of hereditary piper. In addition to the honour such an office carried, there were certain material advantages e.g. the freeholding of land and the right to certain dues and liberties which were not lightly esteemed. As indicating the dignified nature of the office, it may be mentioned that, included in the chief's retinue, was the piper's man, whose duty it was to act as servant to the piper and to carry his instrument for him when not in use.

To Patrick Mór MacCrimmon is assigned the honour of having composed the largest number of pipe tunes. In the plaintive lament "Cumnlia na Cloinne " (Lament to the Children) he gives expression to his deep grief caused by the visitation of one of the most poignant afflictions known to man—the deaths of his children. According to Dr. MacLeod he was the father of eight stalwart sons. Proudly one Sabbath morning he and they marched to the church in their native glen. Before the close of that year lie mourned the loss of all his sons who died in an epidemic of fever. Two other well-known laments, the composition of which is assigned to him, are, "The Lament to the only Son " and "The Lament to John Garbh MacGhille Chalum of Raasay," who was drowned in 1646 while crossing the Minch.

In 1651 Patrick Mór MacCrimmon was in all probability an old man, but not too old to accompany the clan in support of Charles II. At this time MacLeod of MacLeod was a minor, and the command of the clan devolved upon his uncles, Norman MacLeod of Bernera and Roderick MacLeod of Talisker. According to Angus Mackay's account, both these men were knighted by Charles II. before the battle of Worcester in 1651 and on that occasion, Patrick Mór having had the honour of playing before the King, and his performance having greatly pleased His Majesty, Patrick received the further honour of being allowed to kiss the King's hand. Mackay states that the well-known port, "Fhuaireas pog a spog an Righ," was composed by MacCrimnmnon in honour of the distinction then conferred upon him. Various accounts of this outstanding MacCrimmon honour have been published, no two of which entirely agree. Dr. William Mackay of Inverness has frequently rendered signal service in the department of Highland history, and I am indebted to his labours and scholarly research for what I regard as a complete elucidation of the circumstances surrounding the composition of this tune. Dr. Mackay edited The Chronicles of the Frasers, an old MS. of events embracing the period 1616-1674. There are many MS. histories bearing upon Highland matters, some of which have been fabricated, but no suggestion of falsification besmirches the reputation of this MS., which has been published under the auspices of The Scottish History Publication Society. Referring to the year 1651, the date of the battle of Worcester, the MS. states that at Stirling, in the month of May, "there was great competition betwixt the trumpets in the army; one Axell, the Earle of Hoome's trumpeter, carried it by the King's own decision. The next was anent the pipers; but the Earle of Sutherland's domes- tick carried it of all the camp, for non contended with him. All the pipers in the army gave John Macgurmen (MacCrimmon) the van, and acknowledged him for their patron in chief. It was pretty in a morning (the King) in parad viewing the regiments and bragads. He saw no less than eighty pipers in a crould, bare-headed, and John Macgurmen in the middle covered. fie asked what society that was ? It was told his Majesty—' Sir, yow are our King, and yonder old man in the middle is the Prince of Pipers.' He cald him by name and comeing to the king, kneeling, His Majesty reacht him his hand to kiss; and instantly played an extemporanean port, 'Fuoris Pooge i spoge i Rhi'—I got a kiss of the King's hand—of which lie and they were all vain." The writer of the manuscript has made an attempt to render the Gaelic phonetically, and Mr. Mackay in a footnote gives the correct Gaelic spelling "Fhuaireas pog o spog an Righ."

DONALD BAN MACCRIMMON

MacLeod of Dunvegan, when Prince Charles Edward made his romantic if impossible attempt to seize the crown of his forefathers, declined to lend his services to the Prince, and consequently incurred the deep displeasure of many of his clansmen. Had he remained simply neutral, the resentment which his refusal to follow the Prince aroused would have been less bitter, but he openly supported the reigning house. Opinions differ as to which of two men, Malcolm MacCrimmon and Donald Ban MacCrimmon, held the office of hereditary piper, but most authorities agree that Donald Ban performed the duties of the office when MacLeod led out his men against the Prince. Many of the MacLeod men refused to follow their chief, and preferred to follow the standard of the Prince, under the leadership of the heads of cadet families sprung from the Dunvegan line. MacLeod's position was a difficult one. Had the Prince landed in Moidart with sufficient money, equipment and arms, MacLeod would probably have given him all the support within his power. It is persistently stated that his was one of the signatures to the document inviting the Prince to raise his standard in Scotland. In these circumstances it was necessary for MacLeod, by some overt act, to give practical evidence to the Government of his non-adherence to the Stuart cause. He was in close correspondence with, and being actively advised by, President Forbes, who realised the importance of securing the services of MacLeod, thereby lessening the likelihood of the Macdonalds of Skye joining the Prince's forces. MacLeod gathered around him a substantial body of men who held the lands in the vicinity of the castle, and led them from the castle to the shore, where boats waited to convey them to the mainland, and thence to the east of Scotland.

We are constantly reminded of the romance of the Forty-Five. We too often forget the dark tragedies of those days. The spectre of looming disaster entered the home of the MacCrimnmons. Donald Ban MacCrimmon had heard the note of the Banshee presaging a journey from which for him there would be no returning. He was told to inspirit the men by the rousing strains of "MacLeod's March," but true to his hereditary instincts he could only play a port in harmony with the mood of the moment. In place of the March " his pipes attuned themselves to that most touching of all laments, " Cumha Mliic Cruirnein." The pages of the Brahan Seer do not contain any instance of second sight more circumstantially fulfilled than that concerning Donald Ban MacCrimmon. Contemporary history supplies us with the information. The scene is changed from Dunvegan Castle to Moy Flail, the residence of The Mackintosh, a few miles east of Inverness. In the absence of her husband, the wife of The Mackintosh, better known as Lady Anne," kept a watchful eye, in the interests of the Prince, on the movements of his enemies. The Prince had accepted the hospitality of Moy Hall for the night. News reached "I.ady Anne "that a body of men, under Lord Loudon, including MacLeod and his men, were to attempt to capture the Prince under the cover of night. Donald Fraser, a blacksmith, and other four with loaded muskets in their hands were keeping watch upon a muir out some distance from Moy towards Inverness. As they were walking up and down they happened to spy a body of men marching towards them, upon which the blacksmith fired his piece and the other four followed his example. The laird of MacLeod's piper (reputed the best at his business in all Scotland) was shot dead on the spot. Then the blacksmith (Fraser) and his trusty companions raised a cry (calling some particular regiments by their names) to the Prince's army to advance, as if they had been at hand, which so far imposed upon Lord Loudon and his command (a pretty considerable one) and struck them with such a panic, that instantly they beat a retreat and made their way back to Inverness in great disorder, imagining the Prince's whole army to be at their heels."

Tradition states that Donald Ban's body was buried not far from the spot where he received his fatal wound, and I am informed that a large stone on the moor marks the place of interment.

THE HOMELAND OF THE MACCRIMMONS

Pipers throughout the world will probably welcome a short description of that part of Skye which will for all time be associated with the MacCrimmon family. We may safely assume that the lands of Galtrigal and Boreraig have undergone little physical change during the last 300 years. Standing on a lofty plateau, the MacCrimmon practice ground, we find ourselves in the centre of a district possessing great natural charm and an unparalled sea view. Dunvegan's ancient towers are a prominent landmark reminiscent of bloody feuds, when Macdonald and MacLeod, though connected by marriage, were continually at one anothers throats. Johnson, Boswell, Pennant and Sir Walter Scott all testify to the hospitality they received within its walls. Dun Boreraig, to the east, one of many interesting brochson the island—silent witnesses to the strength and ingenuity of a past race—still keeps its sentinel watch. To the west stand out in strong relief the rocky cliffs of Dunvegan Head, and in the south are the marvellous Coolins with their ever-changing aspects. At the time when Angus Mackay's publication appeared in 1838, the ruins of the "college " remained in situ, disclosing thick walls, massive cabers or rafters, and other characteristics of old Highland habitations. Mackay says that the building was divided into two parts, one forming the class-room and the other the sleeping apartments.

It was the practice of the MacCrimmons to enter into formal indentures of apprenticeship with their pupils, one of which has been published in the Inverness Gaelic Society's Transactions. So many years of study were prescribed, regular lessons were given out, and certain periods for receiving the instructions of the master were fixed. The Rev. Archibald Clerk, son-in-law of Dr. Norman MacLeod (Caraid nan Gaidheal), writing in 1845 states, that the whole tuition "was carried on systematically as in any of our modern academies; and the names of some of the caves and knolls in the vicinity still point out the spots where the scholars used to practice respectively the Piob Mlior or large bagpipe, before exhibiting in presence of the master. MacLeod endowed this school by granting the farm of Borreraig to it, and it is no longer than seventy years since the endowment was withdrawn. The farm had originally been given only during the pleasure of the proprietor. For many ages the grant was undisturbed, but when the value of land had risen to six or seven times what it was when the school was founded, MacLeod very reasonably proposed to resume one half of the farm, offering at the same time to MacCrimmon a free lease of the other half in Peypetuam but MacCrimmon, indignant that his emoluments should be curtailed, resigned the whole farm and broke up his establishment, which has never been restored."

Any description of the home of the MacCrimmons would be incomplete without referring to Clach MacCrimmon, a stone which is almost as well- known as the MacCrimmons themselves. Although the account of this matter savours of exaggeration, there can be little doubt that the incident is believed in firmly by the people of the district. The incident as narrated to me was as follows: One of the MacCriinmons was in the habit of tethering his horse, in accordance with the custom of the country, by a rope attached to a cipean driven into the ground. Some maliciously disposed persons removed the cipean from its place on more than one occasion, thus causing MacCrimmons horse to roam and to do damage to the surrounding crops. In exasperation, MacCrimmon vowed that he would so fix the cipean that no mortal man would ever remove it again. He thereupon looked about for a stone sufficiently large to suit his purpose, and, observing one about 200 yards distant, he immediately proceeded, unaided, to lift it, carried it that distance and placed it upon the top of the cipean. The spot from which MacCrimmon removed the stone, and the spot upon which he placed it, were both pointed out to me. The stone is about 3 feet long by 21 feet broad, and 2 feet high. I endeavoured to lift the stone an inch or two from the ground and failed to do so. To satisfy certain south-country sceptics, not very long ago, several men, including Murdoch MacLeod (who accompanied me upon the occasion to which I have been referring), succeeded in removing the stone from the bed in which it had lain so long, and by using a wall as a lever, rolled it down a gradient of several yards to the spot where it at present lies. A most remarkable sequel followed. It was stated to me, in all seriousness, that underneath the stone when it was removed, was found an ancient rusty cipean touch worn away. Murdoch Macleod stated to me that he not only saw it, but handled it,

MACCRIMMON PUPILS

If the genius of a master can be measured by the success of his pupils, then, apart from other considerations, the MacCrimmons of Boreraig must truly be regarded as kings among pipers. The fame of their college, long recognised throughout the Isles, spread to the mainland, and pupils from all parts of Scotland eagerly travelled long distances to avail themselves of the tuition the college afforded. No piper's education was regarded as complete until he had passed through the hands of the masters at Boreraig. Rival chiefs buried for a time their jealousies, and sent their pipers to the college on MacLeod's lands. The method usually adopted was to apprentice the young pipers to the MacCrimmons for a period of years, and, in the case of those men who had already otherwise been trained, to send them to Skye for a short period. In a series of articles upon the History of the Parish of Kiltarlity, written by the Rev. Archibald Macdonald, I find the following:

"There is an indenture drawn up at Beaufort on 9th March, 1743, in which William Fraser, tacksman, Beauly, is described as his Lordship's (Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat) musician. The brother of this William—David Fraser —had been educated by David Macgregor, his Lordship's piper. His Lordship, however, was now to send David to the Isle of Skye to have him perfected as a Highland piper by the famous Malcolm MacCrimnmon, whom his Lordship was to reward for educating the said David for a year."

It in no sense belittles the importance of the MacArthurs, who, as a family of pipers, were second only in excellence to the MacCrimmons of Boreraig, to state that the musical education of a member of this family, Charles, was perfected by Patrick Og MacCrimmon. The MacArthurs were hereditary pipers to the MacDonalds of the Isles and, like the MacCrimmons, had a school for instruction in pipe music. Pennant, who visited the Hebrides in 1774, was hospitably entertained in this building and listened to the playing of many pibrochs. He describes the building as consisting of four apartments, one of which formed the hail set apart for students. Of Charles MacArthur the following interesting incident is told. Sir Alexander Macdonald, being at Dunvegan on a visit to the laird of MacLeod, heard the performance of Patrick Og MacCrimmon with great delight, and desirous if possible to have a piper of equal merit, he said to MacCrimmon one day that there was a young man whom he was anxious to place under his tuition, on condition that he should not be allowed to return until such time as he could play equal to his master. "When this is the case," said MacDonald, "you will bring him home and I will give you ample satisfaction for your trouble." ' Sir Alexander," said Patrick, "if you will be pleased to send him to me I will do all that I am able to do for him." Charles was accordingly sent to Boreraig where he remained for eleven years, when MacCrimmon, considering him as perfect as he could be made, proceeded to Mugstad to deliver his charge to Sir Alexander, who was then residing there, and, where lain Dali Mackay, Gairloch's blind piper, happened also to be. Macdonald hearing of their arrival, thought it a good opportunity to determine the merit of his own piper by the judgment of the blind man, whose knowledge of pipe music was unexceptionable. lie therefore enjoined Patrick Og and MacArthur not to speak a word to betray who they were, and, addressing Mackay, he told him he had a young man learning the pipes for some years and was glad that he was present to say whether he thought him worth the money which his instruction had cost. Mackay said if he heard him play he would give his opinion freely, and he requested to be informed previously with whom the piper had been studying. Sir Alexander told him he had been with Patrick Og MacCrimmon. Then Mackay exclaimed, "He could never have been with a better master" The young man was ordered to play, and when lie was finished Sir Alexander asked the other for his opinion. "I think a great deal of him," replied lain. "He is a good piper; he gives the notes correctly, and if he takes care he will excel in his profession." Sir Alexander was pleased with so flattering an opinion, and observed that he had been at the trouble of sending two persons to the college that he might retain the best, and that now the second man would play, so that an opinion on his merits might also be given. Mackay observed that he must be a very excellent performer to surpass the first, or even to compare with him. When Patrick Og (who acted as the second pupil) had finished playing, Sir Alexander asked the umpire what he thought of his performance. Indeed, Sir, no one need try rue in that manner," returned the blind man. "Although I have lost the eyes of my human body, I have not lost the eyes of my understanding; and if all the pipers in Scotland were present I would not find it a difficult task to distinguish the last player from them all." " You surprise me, Mackay, who is lie ? " "WTho but Patrick Og MacCrimmon," promptly rejoined Mackay, and, turning to where Patrick was sitting, he observed, "It was quite needless, my good sir, to think you would deceive me in that way, for you could not but know that I should have recognised your performance among a thousand." Sir Alexander then asked Mackay himself to play, and afterwards he called for a bottle of whisky, drank to their healths, and remarked that he had that night under his roof the three best pipers in Britain. So much admired was Charles MacArthur for his musical taste, that a gentleman in MacLeod's country prevailed on Malcolm MacCrimmon to send his son Donald for six months to reside with MacArthur, not with the idea of adding to his musical knowledge, but in order that he might be improved by studying MacArthur's particular graces.

About the same time one of the MacCrimmons, better known as Padruig Caogach (obviously not the Patrick Caogach No. 3 on Mr. Ross' list, if Mr. Ross' order is correct), because of his habit of frequently winking, was endeavouring to compose a tune. Two years had passed since the first two measures of it had become known, and still the tune remained half finished. Poor Patrick utterly failed in his frequent attempts to finish what he had begun so well. Mackay succeeded where Patrick failed, finished the tune and called it "Lasan Phadruig Chaogaich."' Annoyed because of Mackay's success, or perhaps because of the perpetuation of his physical weakness, Patrick bribed the other apprentices to hurl the blind lain from a height of twenty- four feet. lain, however, landed on his feet without injury. The place in question was thereafter known as " Leum an Doill." ' It is said that the completion by lain Dali of Patrick's unfinished tune resulted in great praise being bestowed upon the former, and gave rise to the saying, "Chaidh an flioghluim osceann Mhic Cruiinein," i.e., "the apprentice outstrips the master."

MACCRIMMON LEGENDS

The legends associated with the MacCrimmons are numerous and interesting, but I can only refer to one or two of them. The "Cave" legend is well-known, and I make no further reference to it except to say that variations of it are to be met with wherever piping has been practised.

Neil Munro, whose stories of the Hebrides are redolent of peat reek and quaint Gaelic idioms, has used the following Breadalbane legend to excellent purpose in his story of the Red Hand: Ross, an old Breadalbane piper, in a fit of jealous rage, forced the right hand of his brother into the fire until it became a charred lump, to prevent him becoming a better piper than himself. Somewhat akin to this old tale is one concerning the MacCrimmons. Although proud of the state of perfection to which they had brought the art of piping, and while encouraging the dissemination of their art by returning young men to their homes from the college at Boreraig trained to a high degree of efficiency, they nevertheless retained among the members of their own family certain movements known only to themselves. They were rightly proud of the position they occupied, and were jealous lest they lost it, even though the honour were to descend upon a pupil of their own training. The story goes that a girl, friendly with the MacCrimmons, acquired the knowledge of how a certain hitherto secret combination of notes was accomplished and imparted the information to her sweetheart, who was not of the MacCrimmon family. Upon this fact reaching the ears of her family the drastic step was adopted of instantly cutting off her fingers so as to prevent possible leakage of information in the future.

In the beautiful Gaelic song, said to have been composed by Donald Ban MacCrimmon's sweetheart at Dunvegan, one of the lines refers to the wailing of the fairies when they heard that their friend was leaving to return no more. These little people play no small part in Highland legends generally, and we are therefore not surprised to learn of the existence of the following MacCrimmon fairy legend. On one occasion, when Dunvegan's chief was entertaining within his hospitable walls a goodly company, including many representatives of the leading clans, accompanied by their pipers, it was agreed that the pipers should compete for the post of honour. MacLeod, as a good host, naturally left his piper to come last. The competition went on, piper succeeding piper, until there remained two, including MacLeod's piper, MacCrimmon, to compete. MacLeod glanced in the direction where he expected to see MacCrimmon preparing to acquit himself bravely, but to his annoyance there was no sign of him. Calling a boy, a young MacCrimmon, to him, he bade him search for and bring back MacCrimmon. In a short time the boy returned with the tidings that MacCrimn1on was hopelessly drunk. The chief was plunged into the depths of despair with the certainty staring him in the face of being disgraced in front of his guests in his own castle. Seizing the boy by the hand, he whispered in his ear as the eleventh piper stepped forward, "You are the twelfth piper from your chef." Realizing the impossibility of the task imposed upon him the poor lad fled from the hall and threw himself down upon the hillside bitterly bewailing the helplessness of his condition. Suddenly there arose out of an adjacent hillock a beautiful little fairy, who, doubtless realizing the importance of time, handed to the lad a silver chanter and bade him play upon it. He did so, and through the silent glen there floated music the like of which had never before been heard by human ears. With a radiant countenance the lad immediately returned to the hall and, as he entered, the last notes of the eleventh piper were dying away. Proudly the little fellow lifted his master's pipes, and to the surprise and merriment of the great gathering, took the place just vacated by the previous piper. The virtues of the silver chanter stood him in good stead and the looks of amusement quickly turned into admiration, as there came from the pipes the notes of a master player.

In my own youthful days I heard the following MacCrimmon story. On the occasion of a great competition among the pipers held at Dunvegan Castle, the leading AlacCrirnmon of the day and his nephew, to whom MacCrimmon had imparted his whole store of knowledge, save one particular tune, resolved to compete. The old master had specially refrained from communicating this particular composition to his pupil in order that, while priding himself upon the accomplishments of his own pupil, he might yet retain one item, the knowledge and playing of which would secure for him the coveted honour at the coming competition. On the night before the great event master and pupil slept together at a certain inn. Believing his companion to be sleeping, the old man conned over to himself the air by which he hoped to distinguish himself on the morrow. The arm of the apparently sleeping lad was lying stretched across the bed, and the old piper's hands, mechanically searching for something upon which to finger the tune, seized upon his pupil's arm. Time and again the old man practised the notes, at the same time quietly humming the notes, ignorant of the fact that his pupil, though feigning sleep, was very wide awake, and gradually becoming the possessor of the coveted port. On the morrow the pupil entered the lists before his master, and to the mortification of the latter, carried off the leading honour by reason of his manner of playing the time of which MacCrimmnon believed himself at that time to be the sole possessor.

* * * * *

Once again, I find myself in "Eilean a' chcó." Six weeks of almost constant rain, disappointing to others who are not accustomed to the vagaries of the weather, have not chilled the affectionate ardour which contact with the island and its people invariably inspires in me. The mists have ever hung heavy on the hills in times of deep, heart-breaking sorrow, and the present tempestuous weather is but in keeping with the sad aftermath of War.

To-day, there came from a distant part of the Island one who served his country well in the late war and who was sorely wounded in that service. To the home of Pibroch he brought his pipes, and in the seclusion of the Pipers Cave in Galtrigal he played two well-known MacCrimmon ports Cuinha Ruari Mhor," and 'Tog orm mo phiob." An ardent student of MacCrimmon Pibroch, and a cultured exponent of their art, he came to do honour at their shrine. It was fitting that one of those who heard the haunting notes as they welled forth across the loch was Sir Rory's lineal descendant Macleod of Macleod.

There are many pipers who look hopefully for the day when the memory of the MacCrimmons and of their immortal genius shall be enshrined in a College of Piping, where pupils from far and near may receive instruction in all that is noblest and best in the art of bag-pipe playing.


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