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Old and New World Highland Bagpiping

Old and New World Highland Bagpiping

John G. Gibson
Copyright Date: 2002
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Old and New World Highland Bagpiping
    Book Description:

    The work is the result of over thirty years of oral fieldwork among the last Gaels in Cape Breton, for whom piping fit unself-consciously into community life, as well as an exhaustive synthesis of Scottish archival and secondary sources. Reflecting the invaluable memories of now-deceased new world Gaelic lore-bearers, John Gibson shows that traditional community piping in both the old and new world Gàihealtachlan was, and for a long time remained, the same, exposing the distortions introduced by the tendency to interpret the written record from the perspective of modern, post-eighteenth-century bagpiping. Following up the argument in his previous book, Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping, 1745-1945, Gibson traces the shift from tradition to modernism in the old world through detailed genealogies, focusing on how the social function of the Scottish piper changed and step-dance piping progressively disappeared. Old and New World Highland Bagpiping will stir controversy and debate in the piping world while providing reminders of the value of oral history and the importance of describing cultural phenomena with great care and detail.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6979-9
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Charts and Table
    (pp. ix-ix)
  4. Preface
    (pp. x-xii)
  5. Illustrations and Maps
    (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 3-16)

    This second book of mine about bagpiping brings together information about Highland pipers and piping from a large number of communities in Gaelic Scotland and from several in the disappearing Nova Scotia Gàidhealtachd (and sometimes from other parts of the New World where Highlanders settled from the late eighteenth century onward). The work ranges from the 1740s in Gaelic Scotland to within living memory in rural Cape Breton. It is an extensive if not exhaustive collation of data that relies generally on two kinds of sources, the written record in the Old World and the memory and lore in the...


    • CHAPTER ONE The MacGregors and Piping in Glengarry
      (pp. 19-40)

      There were many pipers in the Jacobite army of 1745–46, and they obviously fascinated Prince Charles (1720–88), who was still practising on a set of pipes in Florence in 1784.¹ John William O’Sullivan (1700–60) mentioned pipers in the prince’s army in 1745–46 on several occasions. His “Narrative,” written for King James in Rome in 1747, was based on his personal experiences of the rising.² Both the Jacobite Miscellany and the “Woodhouselee ms” mention Highland pipers during the Jacobite army’s occupation of Edinburgh in 1745. There is a suggestion, however, that pipers were not uniformly distributed. When,...

    • CHAPTER TWO Keppoch, Clanranald, and Cameron Piping
      (pp. 41-66)

      The subject of piping and pipers in the Lochaber lands of the MacDonells of Keppoch (Mac Mhic Raghnaill)¹ after the Act of Indemnity in 1747 and during the period of military occupation (especially from late spring 1749) is more problematical than in Glengarry. This was a strongly Roman Catholic area and one of a number of target areas for strict treatment, including house destruction, immediately after Culloden until August 1746, perhaps extra-legally until later. The Maryburgh (Fort William) army base was very close to both Keppoch and Cameron country. The Jacobites had tried and failed to take it before Culloden....

    • CHAPTER THREE Piping in MacLean Country
      (pp. 67-85)

      In some contrast to the case of the Camerons, piping in Protestant MacLean country, particularly in the Inner Hebridean islands of Mull, Coll, and Muck and in mainland Ardgour, is quite well recorded, in the typically informal way, in the second half of the eighteenth century. Neither is there reason to think that Morvern did not contain pipers in the 1740s and ’50s, although an idea of them seems only to be deduceable from later records of the various Argyll-shire Fencible regiments that included Morvern people. To add to that, overall in MacLean country, the presence of the Conduiligh Rankins,...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Fraser, Farquharson, MacIntosh, Grant, Chisholm, and Barra MacNeil Pipers
      (pp. 86-107)

      The Frasers to the northwest and the southeast of the Great Glen and the Farquharsons in the Braes o’ Mar in Aberdeenshire were both active Jacobite clans during the ’45 and both paid for it. Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat, was beheaded for his part in Prince Charles’s adventures, and many gentlemen of the Fraser clan were among those named to continue to be attainted after 1747’s Act of Indemnity.¹ Fraser country had every right to sense the disapprobation of the British government, and Fort George was dangerously close to Fraser lands. The Farquharsons were numerically of little significance compared to...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Raasay MacLeods, Glencoe MacDonalds, Appin Stewarts, and Cluny MacPhersons
      (pp. 108-124)

      The MacKay pipers from Raasay, particularly in the person of Angus (c. 1813–59), son of John (c. 1767–1848), son of Rory of the family known as Clann mhic Ruairidh (the family of Rory, or the Rories), have had a profound impact on modern bagpiping, classical and light music. John MacKay, however, was firmly in the Gaelic piping tradition, and the family thus presents piping scholarship with a fascinating, but very speculative, study in the shift to modern literate bagpiping.

      Angus MacKay’s Collection (1838) defined modern classical piping for generations and is still a source of discussion and dispute....


    • CHAPTER SIX Piping in MacCrimmon and MacDonald Skye and in Strathspey (Grants)
      (pp. 127-148)

      The MacLeods in Skye retained, for an unknown number of generations, the most famous name in Scotch bagpiping, the MacCrimmons,¹ although how justified or unjustified the elevated MacCrimmon piping reputation is is debatable. Joseph MacDonald never mentioned any MacCrimmon and put Skye second in the two piping centres that he did mention.² He was probably also not deluded in thinking that his Reay country was very significant to Gaelic bagpiping. On the other hand, Aeneas Mackintosh of Mackintosh in Notes Descriptive, while not mentioning the MacCrimmons either, made Skye the epicentre of all Scottish bagpiping in or after 1773.


    • CHAPTER SEVEN Piping in Glenorchy/Breadalbane, in Islay, and in MacDougall and MacIntyre Territory
      (pp. 149-168)

      While Skye has received repeated attention as a centre of piping, Breadalbane has seldom been considered in the same detail or at the same length. This is a critical oversight in any overall study of Highland piping, since various Glenorchy and Breadalbane Campbells were important patrons of bagpiping, particularly various earls of Breadalbane from the late seventeenth century.¹ The recorded piping names connected with the estate, chronologically, are McIndeor, MacIntyre, Campbell, MacGregor, and Mac-Dougall. Highland Society competition records from the later eighteenth century show that Breadalbane at times kept two pipers, perhaps reflecting older and separate traditions in the western...

    • CHAPTER EIGHT Sutherland and Gairloch, Seaforth, and Gordon Piping
      (pp. 169-190)

      Sutherland and Ross were both Gaelic shires included in the list to be disarmed after the last Jacobite war, and that there was piping during the weapons provision of the Act in both places is irrefutable. Beginning with Sutherland, Joseph MacDonald and his brother Patrick, minister’s sons, were both raised there, in Durness, and both were thoroughly steeped in Gaelic traditional piping and fiddling. Their most receptive years were in the late 1740s and early 1750s. The Reverend Angus MacKay, writing in 1906, said that Reverend Murdo MacDonald (1696–1763) taught music at the manse in Durness (where he ministered...


    • CHAPTER NINE The East Bay Area of Cape Breton and the MacLean Pipers in Washabuck
      (pp. 193-217)

      As I have written elsewhere, in the Old World Gàidhealtachd, tradition, where it was confident and defiant, ignored and/or struggled against forces of change. In instrumental and vocal music, this change – call it improvement if you like – expressed itself as changing perceptions of the importance of literacy and the tempered scale.¹ In dance, the introduction of outsiders’ dances was combined with the invention of refined variations of once-traditional dances.² Where piping is concerned, competition and monetary reward were intruded as incentives from the time of the 1795 Edinburgh piping competition. Similar competitions spread through the Highland Games phenomenon...

    • CHAPTER TEN Piping and Tradition in the Margarees, Inverness County
      (pp. 218-236)

      An anonymous Antigonish Casket writer noted of South West Margaree in 1896 that “[t]here was never any scarcity of musicians here. Violinists and bagpipe players could be counted by the dozen, and many of them excellent performers at that. I have often seen as many as eight, ten and twelve musicians at a wedding.”¹ The article lists the fiddlers and pipers, dividing them by instrument and into earlier and later categories (including some in the later period who played both instruments). The earlier pipers named are “Donald McDougall, Hugh Gillis, his brother Donald Gillis, Ranald McLellan, Neil Jamieson, Duncan Gillis,...

    • CHAPTER ELEVEN Piping in the Glendale Area, River Denys Mountain, Melford, Big Marsh, Orangedale, and Valley Mills
      (pp. 237-252)

      Most of the information that I gathered on pipers and piping in Catholic Glendale and River Denys Mountain and in the Protestant communities in the River Denys watershed represents the earliest research work I did. While it was collected from 1976 to 1978, however, important additions and corroborations were made as late as 1998. Once I’d grasped the probable significance of Gaelic Cape Breton piping, my task became to broaden the fieldwork. The underlying problem was how to present the information most convincingly to Scottish readers, especially to scholars.

      During the greater part of my lifetime, people interested in piping...

    • CHAPTER TWELVE Pipers, Piping, and Cultural Glimpses of West Lake Ainslie
      (pp. 253-266)

      West Lake Ainslie Gaelic-speaking society in the nineteenth century, although smaller numerically,¹ compares better with South West Margaree’s and Mabou’s than with Glendale’s inasmuch as it contained a strong, low-level, British-army-officer presence (one possibly soi-disant) from the earliest days of Highland immigration. Those military families along with others of some distinction in the nineteenth century appear, typically, to have endorsed Gaelic folk culture, joining in and taking it quite for granted.

      There were several bagpipers in West Lake, one of whom, the immigrant Allan MacCormack from Ormacleit in South Uist via Prince Edward Island, has been mentioned elsewhere.² Others, to...

    • CHAPTER THIRTEEN Reverend Archibald Campbell’s Observations of Piping in Judique
      (pp. 267-279)

      The Reverend Archibald Campbell (c. 1849–1921) was a snuff-using Scottish Jesuit priest who made an extensive mission in Gaelic Nova Scotia in 1907. His writings about his travels and parish work there offer some tantalizing glimpses of piping. He wrote two articles in Gaelic in 1908 under the titles “Dùthaich na Saorsa” (Land of Freedom) and “Tìr an Aigh” (Land of Joy),¹ not many pages, simple, often gratefully flattering, and untranslated; in fact, the articles are seldom read these days, although echoes of the stories still are heard, in English.

      Though perhaps not of great significance, the articles do...

    • CHAPTER FOURTEEN Some Pipers in Northern Cape Breton
      (pp. 280-298)

      Dan Rory (1885–1957) and his father, Rory MacDougall (c. 1853–1936),¹ were both Gaelic-speaking pipers and well-known characters in northern Cape Breton, from Lowland Cove and Meat Cove in the north of Inverness County to Ingonish Ferry in the southeast in Victoria County on the Atlantic. Both men were also fiddlers, and Dan Rory step-danced and made songs. Both were bilingual Gaelic-English and Roman Catholic. Mike MacDougall (1928–81), Dan Rory’s son by his second wife, Mary Ann Whittey,² was the most recent prominent musician in the family. Mike lived in Ingonish and earned an enviable reputation far and...

  10. Conclusion
    (pp. 299-300)

    This work on piping in both Scotland and Cape Breton, long as it is, is obviously incomplete. It does, however, state that piping in the Gaelic communities on both sides of the Atlantic was much the same at the times when piping was an integral part of Gaelic-speaking communities. While the terms “dancing” and “step-dancing” were synonymous, as they still are in the post-Gaelic Scotch communities in Cape Breton, the music was the same in certain identifiable ways, no matter the instrument. A large amount of work remains to be done in Scotland to discover just what happened to step-dancing...

  11. Glossary
    (pp. 301-302)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 303-388)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 389-416)
  14. Index
    (pp. 417-424)