Leading on from yesterday’s contest (new pic of the junior winners added by the way) we had a ceilidh in the Old Inn, Gairloch, with plentiful food and comfortable accommodation provided by sponsor/proprietor Alastair Pearson, writes Robert Wallace.
The music was sustained by the hugely talented MacGillivray family with Iain on fiddle and bodhran, Anya on clarsach and songs (beautiful voice), and dad Duncan on guitar, pipes, low whistle and mouthie.
In the morning Duncan had time to show me the great pipe he was currently playing: a set made by P/M Robert Reid in 1935. The projecting mounts were solid ivory and reminiscent of Robertson’s big mounts. I thought they had a marvellous tone with a deep, resonant bass.
Duncan likes his pipes to have a bit of heritage. His other set is that played and owned by John MacDonald, Inverness, and given to his father Donald P. MacGillivray, by the great man, master to pupil. It was on this set Duncan won his Gold Medal at Inverness playing Menzies Salute in 1997. Thus he followed his father in winning the coveted award, Donald securing his in 1948 with Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay.
Late morning saw us convene in the car park of the inn for the march to the site of the Iain Dall MacKay Memorial led by Duncan, son Iain – on pipes this time – and youngest son Gregory. The riverside walk itself has been spoiled by another of these so-called unobtrusive small hydro schemes that are currently littering the Highlands; soon there will hardly be a fast-flowing low-level river or stream that runs free as nature intended.
But the music was good and soon we were at the memorial, the idea of the late Bridget and Alex MacKenzie and instituted some 12 years ago. Proceedings began with the ground of the Unjust Incarceration from Duncan, an explanation on the construction of the tune from myself, and a poem in praise of Iain Dall by organiser Ian Blake entitled ‘Coming Home’. Ian is a gifted writer as you will read:
‘Does it remember them, this ragged ridge above us,
holding in its elbow this unfrequented glen?
Have they been locked here – notes he first fingered here –
Unjustly incarcerated three hundred years?
Thoughtlessly in childhood, before his sight was taken,
He would have lifted his eyes up to these hills each day
for seven years.
When fever blinded them, his fingers saw for him, fingers and ears,
Fingers making music, marches, reels and pibroch,
Many now forgotten, known only to these stones.
Today, like blown cumulus, they stream across the firmament,
Notes he first wove together here,
At last come home.’
Anya then played an ancient harp tune ‘Spanish Canaries’ and sang a Gaelic song she had learned from Ishbel MacAskill. Iain MacG completed the music with another plaintive melody on his highly expressive fiddle.
Drams then, and one for Iain Dall dashed onto the stones of his memorial. We waited a while, absorbing the atmosphere, and then it was back to the hotel for lunch led all the way by Duncan playing the remaining variations of Iain Dall’s ceol mor masterpiece.