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A Highlander Looks Back
A Philanthropist comes to My Parish


IN the month of June, 1888, Mr Andrew Carnegie and Mrs Carnegie, with a large party, arrived by four-in-hand coach at Cluny Castle after completing a journey of 700 miles, from the Hotel Metropole, London.

The previous year Mr and Mrs Carnegie arrived in Scotland from America, having been married shortly before coming across. In that year (1887) Mr Carnegie laid the foundation stone of the Edinburgh Carnegie Free Library, his gift to the city. After the Memorial Ceremony, the Lord Provost and Town Council entertained Mr and Mrs Carnegie to dinner, at which in their honour the Lord Provost had a Pipe Band playing. Mrs Carnegie was captivated, and fell in love with the music of the Gael. Having in view a house in Scotland for the season, she expressed the wish to Mr Carnegie to have a Piper, without which she thought Scotland could not be fully represented.

No sooner said than done, an advertisement was duly inserted in the newspapers for a piper for Kilgraston House, Bridge-of-Earn, the home already chosen for the Carnegies. There were applicants galore, among whom was my brother John. Several were interviewed, and their credentials examined. In his interview my brother produced a certificate of character from Cluny Macpherson, on seeing which Mr Carnegie at once said: “What is good enough for Cluny Macpherson is surely good enough for Andrew Carnegie”, and my brother was duly appointed, proceeding to Kilgraston House to be in readiness to welcome Mr and Mrs Carnegie to their first home in Scotland.

There, however, though they liked their surroundings, they found it too small for their requirements and so, on the recommendation of my brother, Cluny Castle was suggested, and leased the following year. Here from 1888 to 1898 Mr and Mrs Carnegie spent ten consecutive seasons, and in her own words Mrs Carnegie describes this decade as the golden period of her married life.

Of their arrival at Cluny I have vivid and undying memories. I was there as a boy among a large crowd of people from all over the Parish who had gathered to welcome a real live millionaire and his Lady. Mr Carnegie, in his own delightful way, made a speech which at once made him a free man of the Parish, and he was received with true Highland loyalty and affection. The scene was a memorable one as the bagpipes played and volleys of welcome poured out from the cannon on the terraces of historic Cluny Castle. Surely another glorious day in its ancient glory of which, alas, few now survive to tell the story.

In the evening I used to steal across from Catlodge, on the opposite side of the Spey, and concealing myself under the rhododendron bushes listen to the bagpipes playing, wishing that it were me who was playing and little dreaming that one day I would do so. Mr and Mrs Carnegie left a fragrant memory behind them in my native parish, which will be spoken of with affection for many years to come. They offered to buy Cluny at any reasonable price, but in those days Cluny was not for sale—death duties and high taxation had not yet reached their onward march of plunder.

But I was not able to get my wish of being piper to Mr Carnegie for some time. First I was to be piper to Mr Charles Murray and Lady Ann Murray of Lochcarron, at Courthill, on the shores of the Bay of Kishorn, succeeding that champion piper D. C. Mather, a great player and composer. In those beautiful surroundings nestling in the shelter of the hills of Applecross, I spent three happy seasons. ,

The Murrays of Lochcarron were a family beloved by their tenants, and countless deeds of kindness could be recorded of Lady Ann to those deserving. The Murrays of Lochcarron owned a very fine yacht on which I played many a time with my bagpipe whilst going on trips around the coast and visiting neighbouring proprietors. Several times we called at Applecross, the seat of Lord Middleton. His Lordship had then a piper named John MacBain, and many a pleasant hour I had in his company; being much older than I was, he could tell me many stories of other days and the pipers whom he had heard and met in his day.

Writing of Lochcarron brings memories. There I met a wonderful and interesting family of dwarfs; their parents I was told were normal, hefty people. There were two sons and a daughter, and what a joy it was to me to visit those delightful little people in their charming little abode. The conversation was, of course, in Gaelic. They were then, I would say, bordering on the alloted span. One thing that struck me very forcibly was how they deplored the depopulation of their native glens and the stories they could tell of their younger days.

Everything in their home was spick and span and within reach of their limited height. On one occasion, I was told, the lady of the house had to have recourse to the meal chest; the precious stuff was then nearing the bottom and when balancing she fell in head first; her brother failing to lift her out, the neighbours were called in and the little lady was extricated from her perilous position little the worse.

Lochcarron had its worthies and surely Donald Ruadh Mac-Lennan (Red Donald), the deer stalker, was one. Donald, in his own way, could play the bagpipe and to me was a most sincere friend. The day for leaving for home at the end of the season arrived and I was departing by mail gig to Strathcarron, a distance of nine miles. Nothing would do but Donald must see me off at the station. He duly took his seat in the rickety conveyance in which there was already seated a very sanctimonious minister.

Donald proposed a tune on the bagpipe, the minister very vigorously protesting that such behaviour on his return from Church Communion would be most unseemly and would never do. What would the good folks of Lochcarron think of it? This mattered little to Donald and with the acquiescence of the driver, I blew up the bagpipe with the big drone humming beautifully into the minister’s ear. “Now,” says Donald, “the one who cannot stand this can get out and walk.” The response was: “go on with the music” from all but the lone parson.

In this way we drove through the village of Lochcarron, and I veritably believe that when he could not be seen, the minister was marking time with his toes. As the train moved off I got a farewell from dear old Donald that I shall never forget. Alas, it was our last parting, but, I ask, could there be a better? And I am certain that-the kindly folks of Lochcarron enjoyed the scene to the full.

In my day the Murrays of Lochcarron entertained very large, distinguished parties. The late Lord Dunmore was a frequent visitor and a great lover of the bagpipes. Every Friday evening there was a-dance held at which their house party and staff took part and mingled together. My services in teaching the intricate steps of the Highland and ballroom dancing were often in demand and at the end of the season there was the Grand Ball to which tenants and other friends were invited.

My memory clings to those happy days but no doubt, like so many other places, the scene is now greatly altered. In my wandering thoughts, I hope yet to visit that spot which gave so much pleasure to all who had the privilege of knowing it.


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