THE year 1898 brought me good tidings and
many successive years of happiness and useful experience. Hitherto, my
life was rather unsettled, doing the best I could whatever duty called,
doing the round of the annual Highland Games, and endeavouring to
maintain the reputation of my ancestors in the arts of piping and
dancing. But this pursuit had now to stop as I was offered a permanent
calling, the fulfilment of my dreams of ten years previously.
Mr and Mrs Carnegie could no longer have Cluny Castle as their permanent
home, and as a daughter had been born to them in March of the previous
year it was now more than ever necessary to get settled in the
Highlands, which were so dear to their hearts. At Cluny and throughout
my native Laggan, this birth was hailed with great joy and celebrated in
true Highland fashion. Bonfires were blazing on the surrounding
hill-tops, and music and dancing carried on until the early hours of the
Little Miss Margaret Carnegie spent her first summer in Cluny near to
where, by the mountain streams that flowed from the Monaliadh Mountains,
that great woman, Mrs Grant, of Laggan. wrote her imperishable poems and
her “Letters from the Mountains”. Margaret Carnegie, now Mrs R. Miller
and the Lady of Skibo, was therefore early nourished in one of the most
romantic and historic parts of the Scottish Highlands.
In 1898, Skibo Castle, situated on the Dornoch Firth between
Bonar-Bridge and the Royal Burgh of Dornoch, was recommended and leased
with a view to buying. Meantime, my brother John had left the Carnegie
service and joined up with the Earl of Ancaster at Drummond Castle,
Crieff. A piper for Skibo must be got, and Mrs Carnegie did not forget
the boy she knew at Cluny Castle, and so I was written to and offered
the situation, and proudly did I accept. By coincidence, almost to a day
from the day the Carnegie four-in-hand coach arrived at Cluny Castle ten
years before, I was on the lawn at Skibo Castle, with my bagpipes
welcoming Mr and Mrs Carnegie and their daughter, Margaret, to what was
to become their permanent Highland home.
Skibo in those days bore no comparison to the Skibo it became in the
lifetime of Mr and Mrs Carnegie. The man who could always see wherein
lay potentiality had already well-laid schemes for improvement, and
instead of it being, as it was then, a ground for thousands of
pheasants, it became a place for much needed work and prosperity for
hundreds of workmen with improved houses and new modern homes.
The present massive castle with the exception of a very small part of
the old building was built; roads and bridges too, and all that was
needed for the good of a Highland estate. A golf course too, with
democratic rules that did not confine its benefits to the Castle guests
only. This can also be said of the magnificent swimming pool, and also
the wonderful construction of trout lochs and hatcheries, and a salmon
loch connected to the Dornoch Firth, which from results proved a
far-sighted and prolific undertaking.
My duties besides those of piper were also those of groom of the
chambers, and accompanying Mr Carnegie when he went fishing. It was then
I got my first introduction to the Shin river, little knowing that in
years to come I would be in possession of the Inveran Hotel and farm,
and catering for the Shin angling tenants, to which I refer in my
My seven years in the service of Mr and Mrs Carnegie were indeed happy
years. It was a great privilege to be in the environment of such a home
both from the spiritual and material point of view. There I met some of
the greatest men, in all walks of life, of that generation. In 1903 I
had the honour of playing the bagpipes to that great and good man His
Majesty King Edward the Seventh when he made his delightfully informal
visit to Skibo Castle. This was indeed a great occasion, and although
the intimation of the King’s visit was only made half an hour or so
before His Majesty’s arrival, I believe everything passed off better
than if months of preparation had been made.
I used to dance before many of the distinguished guests. A piper would
be engaged for the evening, and I would do as many as five
dances—Highland Fling, Sword Dance, Sheann Truibhs, Hornpipe and Jig,
and each in the appropriate costume. This gave great pleasure to the
American guests, and Mr Carnegie in his own kindly way never forgot to
say something nice about the performer.
When I would be playing my pipes round the Castle in the morning, Miss
Margaret would have her pretty, fair head well out of the nursery window
watching my every step until the last note died away round the corner,
and the love for our Highland music has never left her.
In the winter months I accompanied the family to New York, America,
another great experience. Even in those far off days it could be seen
that America was destined to become the great nation, she now is.
In 1905 I took the notion of striking out in business on my own account.
With a good deal of trepidation, and although Mr and Mrs Carnegie wanted
me to stay on, I took the plunge. I said goodbye to Skibo where I had
spent so many happy days. In parting, Mr and Mrs Carnegie saw to it that
I had more than would buy me a new set of bagpipes, as they wanted the
set bought for me in 1898 for a family set. So with a present and two
autographed photographs on which Mr Carnegie wrote the following
words:—“To Angus Mac-pherson. With best wishes My Dear Angus wherever
you go,” I took my leave of him, and in shaking hands he said: “We will
not lose sight of you”.
Nor did they, as will be noted later.