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Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping, 1745-1945

Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping, 1745-1945

Copyright Date: 1998
Pages: 425
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  • Book Info
    Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping, 1745-1945
    Book Description:

    Pulling together what is known of eighteenth-century West Highland piping and pipers and relating this to the effects of changing social conditions on traditional Scottish Gaelic piping since the suppression of the last Jacobite rebellion, Gibson presents a new interpretation of the decline of Gaelic piping and a new view of Gaelic society prior to the Highland diaspora. Refuting widely accepted opinions that after Culloden pipes and pipers were effectively banned in Scotland by the Disarming Act (1746), Gibson reveals that traditional dance bagpiping continued at least to the mid-nineteenth century. He argues that the dramatic depopulation of the Highlands in the nineteenth century was one of the main reasons for the decline of piping.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6890-7
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Illustrations
    (pp. xiii-xviii)

    • 1 Introduction
      (pp. 3-13)

      Gaelic-speaking Scots began emigrating to Nova Scotia by the shipload in early 1770s, when the rotting oldHectorfrom Loch Broom put in at Pictou Roads and disgorged its cargo into the forest. About a decade later, from c.1783 on, these first arrivals were joined by significant numbers of Highland and other Loyalists; there were similar influxes to what later became New Brunswick (in 1784) and to the future province of Ontario. The early emigration to Nova Scotia in 1773 marked the beginning of a long period of British civilian immigration to North America and laid the foundations of what the...

    • 2 The Roots of Jacobitism and the Disarming Act
      (pp. 14-35)

      In 1755 Dr Alexander Webster calculated the population of Scotland to be over 1,265,000. From Webster, according to T.C. Smout, in that year “just over half the people had lived north of a line from the Firth of Tay to the Firth of Clyde.”¹ Allowing for the small but growing towns of Aberdeen and Inverness and the rest of the mostly English-speaking eastern fringe from the Tay to Inverness and further north in Caithness, we are left to assume that Gaelic-speaking population of Scotland was about half a million people, most of them unilingual.

      Gaelic society was a class society...

    • 3 Policing the Gaelic Highlands after Culloden
      (pp. 36-56)

      The myth that the bagpipe was proscribed under the Disarming Act is attended by another fanciful notion: that the last Jacobite loss at Culloden (16 April 1746) and the occupation that followed caused a profound, chronic, and irreparable “crisis” in Gaelic culture in general and community bagpiping in particular. To dispel this idea it is necessary to consider 1) the influence of military law in the period from April 1746 till c. 1747; 2) the post-based efforts at stopping impoverished Jacobite Gaels from stealing cattle 1747-48); and 3) the post-based efforts to enforce the three major elements of the Disarming...

    • 4 Postscript on the Disarming Act
      (pp. 57-64)

      The last real scare of another Jacobite rising in Gaelic Scotland began in 1756 when Britain and France found each other on opposite sides in what was to become the Seven Years’ War. It was typically a time of some Hanoverian nervousness, but more important, in retrospect, it clearly marked the turning point in Gaelic Scotland. The voluntary formation of several Gaelic regiments, all of which admittedly were raised by non-Catholic colonels, marks a trend to general Gaelic acceptance of the House of Hanover (and a diminishment of English unease over Jacobite Scotland) because many Catholic ex-Jacobites were involved. The...


    • 5 Military Piping in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
      (pp. 67-77)

      An early instance of piping in a body of Scottish soldiers focuses attention on Argyll-shire, although as yet without the pre-eminent family of Argyll Campbells. In 1627 a contingent of two hundred Scotch bowmen was sent, along with “a number of the MacKinnon clan,” to defend Protestantism in France by order of Charles I. They were led by Alexander MacNaughton and their number included pipers and harpers.¹ Nothing is known about the private soldiers or musicians and the piper would have gone totally unremarked had he not rallied spirits during a dangerous confrontation with a French warship on the high...

    • 6 Piping in Four Eighteenth-Century Regiments
      (pp. 78-94)

      The regiment now best known as the Black Watch began in the seventeenth century as a police force for the Highlands, became the Independent Companies in c. 1729, and was embodied as a regiment of the line in 1739 under the earl of Crawfurd, a Gaelic-speaking Lowlander and protégé of John, of Argyll. It is nowhere reported that these Independent Companies had pipers, but given the aristocratic nature of even the private men in these groups in the 1730s, and given the importance to a chief or chieftain’s dignity of having a piper, it almost goes without saying that there...

    • 7 Highland Pipers in the American Revolutionary War and in India
      (pp. 95-104)

      The York judge’s remark in 1746 at James Reid’s trial that a Highland regiment never marched without a piper must be adjusted to read “a Highland company in the service of King George never fought without a piper or pipers.” There is no reason to believe that this ceased to be true in the old traditional sense throughout the eighteenth century when pipers were still intimately associated with their companies. Although pipers are seldom mentioned in America and India, at least in the Highland regiments this is because they were commonplace rather than the opposite.

      The following nine Highland regiments,...


    • 8 Exclusivity of Repertoire: The Evidence Against
      (pp. 107-124)

      Since, as shown in Part One, the bagpipes were never proscribed, it is not surprising that the literate record of civilian pipers in Gaelic Scotland during period 1746-83 is extensive. Chiefly and gentlemanly patronage of piping was very common in the Highlands.¹ The classical form of piping may lost some of its value as a statement of social status in some parts of Gaelic Scotland. But piping was still widely popular on the whole, and both its primary forms, dance and classical, were being composed — the best sign of living tradition. As shown in Part Two, piping was also putting...

    • 9 The “Revival” of Ceòl Mór
      (pp. 125-132)

      Despite the fact thatceòl mórcontinued to be transmitted in the traditional way through song until the late nineteenth century in theGàidhealtachd,many Highlanders, including Joseph MacDonald,¹ believed that classical piping was an endangered species, and the closure of the colleges suggests there were grounds for apprehension. Whether or notceòl mórwas moribund, it was to stop its anticipated extinction that the Highland Society of London competitions were begun in 1781 in Falkirk.² About a decade into competitions the Society’s drive to set up Lieutenant MacCrimmon as professor in a new college indicates a nostalgic revivalism using...

    • 10 Ceòl Beag and Dance-Music Piping
      (pp. 133-154)

      Faujas de Saint Fond and theScots Magazinereported on two of the earliest Highland Societyceòl mórpiping competitions in Edinburgh and both discussed dancing. The magazine commented on dancing at the 1783 competition noting that this addition to the program was “so much to the satisfaction the company, that we hear it is requested that premiums may be devised... upon the next occasion of competition.”¹ J.F. and T.M. Flett include in article “Early Highland Dancing Competitions” the following quotation pertaining to the 1783 competition: “Several of the pipers afforded no small entertainment by giving a specimen of their...

    • 11 The Small-Pipe, the Quickstep, and the College
      (pp. 155-164)

      Francis Collinson, who discovered in Gilbert Askew’s “The Origins of the Northumbrian Bagpipe”¹ a set of small-pipes that had belonged to some person or persons in Montgomerie’s Highlanders (1757-63), was surprised to realize that a member of the regiment would have deigned to play “this set miniature bagpipes.” He reasoned that since the army piper was at liberty to playa’phìob mhór(the great pipe), he would find it demeaning to play small-pipe. Collinson’s surprise is founded on two misleading assumptions: first, that Joseph MacDonald had written that Scottish Gaels had a specific dance-music bagpipe in the 1750s, the small-pipe;...


    • 12 The Turning Point, 1790—1850: Innovation and Conservatism in Scotland
      (pp. 167-185)

      The critical time for the traditionally minded Gaelic-speaking population the Highlands was the period 1790-1850, especially after the end of Napoleonic Wars and the collapse of the kelping business in the 1820s. It became increasingly obvious to Scotch Gaels, from the Chisholm Sutherland clearances, from the expulsions and leavings of Gaels North Uist, Moidart, North and South Morar, South Uist, Eigg, Raasay, Knoydart, Skye, Assynt, from Barra, the Breadalbane lands in Argyll and Perthshire, Strathglass, and from many other places, that Gaelic traditional life must be replanted or adapt itself painfully to new utilitarian profit-oriented priorities, letting cultural elements live...

    • 13 Influences on Piping in Nineteenth-Century Nova Scotia: The Middle Class, the Church, and Temperance
      (pp. 186-205)

      The community rather than the individualistic nature of the emigrations from Gaelic Scotland to Canada, particularly to Nova Scotia, in the first half the nineteenth century is more significant for the study of traditional piping (and fiddling and step-dancing) than the actual numbers of emigrants. By the middle of the nineteenth century when Scottish Gaelic emigration to Canada was drying to a trickle and thousands of Gaels were moving and being systematically cleared to Australia¹ and New Zealand (and to central Canada), new piping ideas — learning through musical literacy and non-functional competition piping the most radical of them — often within...

    • 14 The Transition to Modern Piping in Scotland and Nova Scotia
      (pp. 206-222)

      It is generally held in Nova Scotia that the only piping of any significance in province began at about the time of the First World War. The argument, quite a powerful one when one listens to old tapes of traditional bagpiping Cape Breton, is that superior modern Scottish piping began about then to make its way into the rural piping scene. It came through various avenues, from immigrant Scots pipers and through contact in Europe between Gaels from rural Nova Scotia and modern Scottish pipers in the British army. Many rural pipers learned to denigrate their talent from a technical...

    • 15 Highland Games and Competition Piping
      (pp. 223-238)

      In the non-military sphere in late-nineteenth-century Scotland, other forces be identified that detraditionalized Gaelic piping, particularly the emergence of competitive ballet-inspired “Highland” dancing. These dances were done to bagpiping, but a different notion of dancing grace evoked a different of timing and speed of playing, at least of specific tunes. A second influential phenomenon of the rural popular scene was the expansion of nonclassical competition piping in mid-century. Competition piping and new forms of dancing comprise part of what is known as the Highland gathering, or games, which with one exception spread north and west from the Lowland/Highland fringe in...

    • 16 Traditional Pipers in Nova Scotia
      (pp. 239-250)

      Although the forces for change from traditional to modern literately learned were strong, even within the Nova ScotiaGàidhealtachd,old-style thrived in the rural environment until well within living memory. The modernist, although often a Highlander, was typically English speaking, or least bilingual Gaelic-English, and operated through the medium of English. The places where modern ways were promoted were the towns. Yet even in places like Sydney and Antigonish (and, to a lesser extent, New Glasgow), and especially at the country borders, the barrier of language was to ensure confident cultural retention. Within walking distance of the of Antigonish’s Highland...

    • 17 The Survival of Tradition in Nova Scotia
      (pp. 251-257)

      The Scottish piping world of 1900-20 was not one that found the ideas of John Johnston, Coll, the least attractive; nor would it stop to consider the Old and New WorldGàidhealtachdsstill existed and harboured irreplaceable links with the older piping functions and tradition. It would have a deep breath and raised a querulous eyebrow had it seen and heard Angus MacDonald of Mount Young or Allan MacFarlane piping for one of the Gillis step-dancers at an Inverness County picnic. It appears that New World Gaeldom, through neglect and isolation, was truer to tradition for longer, but even so...


    • APPENDIX ONE The Disarming Act, 1746
      (pp. 258-270)
    • APPENDIX TWO An Act to amend and enforce so much of an Act made in the nineteenth Year of his Majesty’s Reign, as relates to the more effectual disarming the Highlands in Scotland...
      (pp. 271-272)
    • APPENDIX THREE Letter from William MacKenzie, Piper, Second Battalion, 71st Regiment
      (pp. 273-274)
    • APPENDIX FOUR Other Immigrant Ceòl mór Pipers
      (pp. 275-280)
  10. Notes
    (pp. 281-352)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 353-386)
  12. Index
    (pp. 387-406)