THE 19th June, 1949,
brought me much sorrow. I lost heirlooms and trophies which cannot be
replaced. The old family bagpipe, made in 1800 by Donald Macdonald, an
Isle of Skye man then a bagpipe maker in Edinburgh, was saved from the
flames, and thus I have still a treasured link with the past. In
contrast to the 19th June, 1949, the 19th December, 1950, brought me
unspeakable satisfaction and modest pride, for what can a man feel more
proud of than being honoured by his fellowmen. At a luncheon purveyed by
Mr and Mrs Black, of the Invershin Station Hotel, served in excellent
style, I was presented with a beautiful 18 ct. gold watch and chain,
double-cased, with monogram and inscription as follows:—“To Angus
Macpherson from the tenants of the River Shin and their friends in
appreciation of the many happy days spent in his company on the banks of
the River Shin."
My wife was presented with a magnificent silver tea-set, of George III
reign with inscription couched in words of affection and appreciation,
and Joy our daughter-in-law was presented with a beautiful pair of gold
and diamond earrings. There could be no happier company than sat down to
luncheon that day after which Mr Seton Gordon, who had travelled all the
way from Duntulm, Isle of Skye, on icebound roads, made the presentation
in words and in a manner by which I must confess I was almost overcome,
and to which I found it very difficult to respond.
From far and near friends came to honour the occasion; many with regret
had to cancel their company on account of the very severe storm then
prevailing. Colonel Walter Macfarlane, of Glasgow, a Shin tenant, a
first class angler, and a good friend, came all the way from Glasgow,
representing Mr Norman P. Donaldson, who by years of tenancy is the
oldest Shin tenant, but could not attend on account of ill-health. Mr
Victor Cumming came from Glasgow and arranged everything, and acted as
chairman in a most delightful manner. Mr J. P. Whittet, factor for the
Skibo estates, was present. Our connection as factor and tenant was now
ended, as it began, on the best of terms. Other Sutherland friends with
whom I have spent many happy hours were also present and by their
presence added much joy to an occasion that will live very dear to my
And nearly five years later another presentation was to be made to me
In my boyhood days in the environment of my Highland home, the glory of
the Northern Meeting was often spoken of, and how I longed for the day
to come when I too could take part in the competitions, with which my
family was so long associated.
The day eventually came in September, 1894, when in the company of my
brother, John, I attended this renowned Gathering for the first time.
Previous to this I was simply a competitor at local Games. At this time
my father was teaching me the classic music of the bagpipes (Ceol Mor or
piobaireachd) and my brother had been teaching me the art of dancing
prior to my going to that great artist, the late John MacNeill, of
In those far off days the Meeting was held in the Northern Meeting Park;
there were usually large crowds of enthusiastic spectators around the
arena, and the grandstands filled to capacity with a very select
company, to which only those of high credentials were admitted; the
scene was indeed imposing and a test to the nerves of any young
competitor from the quiet serenity of the glen and the heather braes.
The competition in the piping and dancing events was keen and large, and
the names of some of those who competed in the piping at that time may
be of interest:—John McCall, Oban; Angus Macrae, Callander; John
Macdougall Gillies, Glasgow; John Macdonald, Glentromie (later
Inverness); Danny Campbell, Skye; D. C. Mather, Lochcarron; Alick
Mackenzie, Resolis; Gavin MacDougall, Aberfeldy; Pipe-Major Robert
Meldrum, Pipe-Major Robb, Pipe-Major Cameron, and Murdo Mackenzie,
Inverness; and others whose names for the moment evade me.
On the morning of the Gathering all assembled at the Northern Meeting
Rooms, Church Street. The roll was called at 9 o’clock sharp, and woe
betide anyone who was late: he was subject to censure or
disqualification. Rigid rules were laid down, and a piper was expected
to have from his employer or some other qualified person a certificate
as to his qualification for competition and must be dressed in full
Highland dress to the satisfaction of the judges or Games Committee.
The March of the massed band of competing pipers round the town square
en route to the field was indeed picturesque, with most of the Highland
lairds in the company. Arriving at the field numbers were put in the
Glengarry bonnet of one of the pipers and lots drawn for order of
competition. A list of six tunes had to be submitted for the judges to
select from. The piobaireachd selected for me was “My King has Landed in
I shall never forget it, and must confess that I felt like a person
landing his first salmon. I was not in the prize list, but was comforted
later on when that perfect gentleman, Alick Cameron, son of old Donald
Cameron of piping fame, congratulated me on my performance. I told him
that my fingers were cold, and to this he replied: “My boy, you should
have heard your old father play the same tune as you did when he won the
gold medal here. It was snowing, but och, och, it made no difference to
My ambition to win the coveted gold medal was now fixed. On several
occasions I missed the mark by one or two points but, undaunted, I
persevered with the handicap of private service and a business career to
contend with until at last my name was placed on the honoured list of
previous winners. I little thought then that for me there still awaited
an even greater honour from the Northern Meeting than any medal or
clasp, not for any spectacular record in piping, but for an unbroken
attendance of sixty years at the Northern Meeting, surely a unique
record, and in September of this year, 1954, the Executive presented me
with my Clan Crest with an inscription to mark the occasion.
I was deeply touched by this generous gesture, and especially proud when
the gift was handed to me by that gallant gentleman, Cameron of Lochiel,
who spoke of the occasion in such terms that no response from me could
ever fully express my inward feelings. In token of remembrance I wore by
my side the first-prize dirk won by my grandfather at the Northern
Meeting in September, 1854, exactly one hundred years ago to that day,
and a strange coincidence on this occasion was that a worthy Clansman,
Donald Macpherson, of Clydebank, Glasgow, should be the premier
In olden times and in my earlier years the Northern Meeting Balls were
held on the two nights following the Games, Thursday and Friday, and the
piper who won the medal was expected to play for the Highland Reels. The
ballroom was a brilliant scene, and the dancing done with conspicuous
deportment and etiquette.
The full length of Church Street on both sides would be lined with a
throng of spectators watching the horse-drawn buses taking the parties
to the ball from the various hotels. It was the custom for families to
come to town on the Wednesday, and stay in hotels until the Saturday.
The advent of the motor car, not to mention the aeroplane, has changed
this as it has many other fine old customs.
Competitors, especially the pipers and dancers, usually put up at the
Volunteer Arms Hotel, Church Street, now non-existent. There I saw many
jovial nights fit for any Tam O’Shanter, or Souter Johnnie, culminating
in the time-honoured Pipers’ Ceilidh on the Friday night, when in the
early hours of the morning the last toast would be pledged: “Here’s to
our Meeting next year”. Everything was delightful and orderly, though
perhaps to a few the stairway to the bedroom seemed a little crooked and
out of focus.
I am glad to say that the Pipers’ Ceilidh still survives, and this year
a most delightful evening was spent in Cumming’s Hotel, where could be
heard the very best of bagpipe music, Gaelic and Scots songs, with the
Gaelic motto “Lean gu dluth ri cliu do shinnsear” (“Stand firm to the
reputation of your ancestors”). Could there be any more appropriate
motto for pipers?
The competition is no longer held out of doors, and pipers have not to
suffer the agony of cold, torrential rain, and sometimes frost and snow.
Pipers and spectators have all the comforts of the Northern Meeting
Rooms, and a welcome is given to all who have the heart to pay a very
nominal fee in support of a very great heritage.
There are two good reasons why a man should retire from active life, and
to ward them off should be the aim of every man, for leisure can never
make up for the joys of activity. Infirmity and old age are the bogies;
so far as the former is concerned I am thankful to say I am still
enjoying good health, and can enjoy a day’s fishing on the river amongst
its most rugged paths when invited to do so by gentlemen with whom I
have spent so many former days.
I still like to feel that I am as young as when I could run 100 yards in
11 seconds, but I find that I can no longer travel in top gear or even
in the lower if unduly hurried. I am reminded that I have a heart that
talks to me, and brakes must be applied, a recent experience.
It is no little achievement, however, when I can take up my bagpipe and
from beginning to end play “Donald Ban MacCrimmon’s Lament” which
requires, to do it justice, the better part of twenty minutes, not to
mention the necessary tuning time required to get my instrument settled
down to stand the test.
Last summer some sprightly youths called upon me to see whether I would
give them a brush-up in Highland dancing preparatory to a competition.
Theory and lectures are all very good, but nothing can achieve the
objective save the practical. I was tempted to put on my old dancing
pumps and once again, like an old duck taking the water, I tripped the
light fantastic toe, to the enjoyment of my young friends who told me
afterwards how much it meant to their winning in the competition.