Argyllshire Gathering 2015 – A Reprise

To the victor the spoils....2015 Gold Medallist John Angus Smith leads the march to the games as pipe major well supported by his fellow competitors and with the Duke of Argyll to the rear
To the victor the spoils….2015 Gold Medallist John Angus Smith leads the march to the games as pipe major well supported by his fellow competitors and with the Duke of Argyll to the rear

It is now just over a month since this year’s Argyllshire Gathering …. gone but not forgotten, certainly not by those who had a successful visit to Oban. In this report, the piping correspondent of the London Times, Angus Nicol, gives a comprehensive round up of all the winners and the background to the Gathering. His report also affords us the opportunity to run some photographs we missed first time round. Those wishing to read more on the piping at Oban should check out Dr Jack Taylor’s erudite article on the Gold Medal and other reports from editor Robert Wallace…

By Angus Nicol


The Argyllshire Gathering was founded in 1871, and began holding its piping competitions in 1873 when the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal for piobaireachd was first presented won by a  D. S. MacDonald. Three wars, the Boer War and the First and Second World Wars, provided interruptions of thirteen years in all, so that 2015 saw the 129th series of what, with the Northern Meeting, are the premier piping competitions in the world.

There was a large entry for the three ceòl mór events: 28 for the Gold Medal, 20 for the senior Piobaireachd, and 28 also for the Silver Medal. For the Gold Medal, competitors had to submit eight tunes of their own choice, and in the Silver Medal, six tunes of their own choice.  For the Senior Piobaireachd four from a list of eight formidable tunes set by the Piobaireachd Society, had to be submitted.

AG logoThere is a fourth ceòl mór event,  which is not strictly a part of the Argyllshire Gathering, but is run by the Highland Society of London and is held every year during the Gathering. This is the MacGregor Memorial Piobaireachd competition, named after John MacGregor, who was piper to Prince Charles Edward throughout the ’Forty-five.

Select your tune:

This year the Gold Medal was won by John Angus Smith who lives in London but hails from a family in which there were numerous pipers, originally from South Uist. He played the Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay. One of the judges said that John Angus had ‘played the tune of his life’. The winner of the Gold Medal also wins the Brigadier Lorne Campbell of Airds V.C. Trophy. Second prize was won by James Troy, from British Columbia, who played the Lament for the Laird of Anapool, Another Canadian, James McHattie, from Prince Edward Island, took third prize with MacNeil of Barra’s March.  Andrew Carlisle, from Pittsburgh, USA, came fourth, with the Lament for the Earl of Antrim  The only other Scottish piper among the winners, Alasdair Henderson, from Dunoon, came fifth  playing The Big Spree. The judges were Dr. Jack Taylor, William Morrison, and Bob Worrall.

Senior Piobaireachd winner Stuart Liddell and Gold Medallist John Angus Smith shortly after their victories were announced

In the Senior Piobaireachd event, the first prize, which includes the Glenfiddich Trophy and the Kilberry Cup presented by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was won by Stuart Liddell with an excellent performance of the Lament for the Earl of Antrim. The same tune was played by Finlay Johnston, who took fourth prize.  In second place, Iain Speirs, winner of this year’s Silver Chanter, played the Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon. The third prize was taken by Andrew Hayes, playing the Lament for the Duke of Hamilton.  Faye Henderson came fifth with Mrs. MacLeod of Talisker’s Salute. The judges were Iain MacFadyen, John Wilson and William Livingstone.

James MacHattie from PEI achieved third in the Gold Medal

Sandy Cameron, from Roy Bridge, continued his rapid rise among the ranks of players of ceòl mór by winning the Silver Medal together with the Lorne Cup. He played The Blind Piper’s Obstinacy. In second place, Sean McKeown played Isobel MacKay.Third prize was won by Ed Bush, who played The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute. In fourth place, Michael Fitzhenry played the Lament for Donald Duaghal MacKay. Sarah Muir, from Campbeltown, took fifth prize with an Argyll tune, theLament for Captain MacDougall. The judges were Ronald MacShannon, Patricia Henderson, and Alan Forbes.

Charles MacDonald receives his awards from the writer

For the last three years, the Highland Society of London’s MacGregor Memorial Piobaireachd competition has been divided into two heats, each judged by two judges, with a final of four from each heat who play a second tune, heard by all four judges. The winner was Charles Macdonald, from Inverness, whose first tune was The End of the Great Bridge, which took him into the final. His second tune was The Old Men of the Shells. These two tunes won him the first prize.  This includes the College of Piping Salver, and a bursary from the Highland Society to assist him with his studies of ceòl mór. This year, in addition, Alasdair Dunn presented the winner with a Hardie practice chanter.   As winner, Charles Macdonald also becomes eligible to compete, next year, in the Silver Medal

In second place, John Dew, from Crieff, played, first, Rory MacLoude’s Lament, and in the final, Lachlan MacNeill Campbell of Kintarbert’s Fancy. Third prize was taken by Calum Watson, from Lasswade; in the heat, he played the Binneas is Boreraig setting of The MacKays’ Banner, and in the final, Hector MacLean’s Warning. The judges have a discretion to award a fourth prize if they consider this to be deserved.  This year they awarded the fourth prize to Ross Miller, from Linlithgow.  He played, first, Tulloch Ard, and in the final, MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute. [All prizewinners in the MacGregor are pictured up top].

The decision to accept all entrants to the MacGregor was so that it became unnecessary to limit the numbers and to inform a number of perfectly competent pipers that they may not compete. One or two people have criticised the competition, over the years, for being too exacting a test for such young pipers.  But no complaint of that kind has ever been heard from the competitors or from their tutors, and they continue to enter in very good numbers.  The decision to require the winners to play two tunes was based on the form of the original competition at Falkirk in 1781. In the 33 years of this event, there have been only three really badly played tunes.  This year, the judges’ view was that the winners had well deserved their prize, though not all the other competitors were significantly above average.

The judges of the MacGregor competition were Robert Wallace, Bill Wotherspoon, Malcolm McRae, and Andrew Wright.

The Former Winners March, Strathspey and Reel was won with a brilliant display of piping by Angus MacColl, with Stuart Liddell coming a close second. William McCallum took third prize, Alastair Lee fourth, and Gordon McCready fifth. The judges were Ian McLellan, James Banks, and Stuart Sampson.

Supreme at the Games....Argyll's Alasdair Henderson
Supreme at the Games….Argyll’s Alasdair Henderson with Gathering  officials Torquil Telfer and Jamie Mellor

Alasdair Henderson, from Dunoon, won first prize in both the March and the Strathspey and Reel in A Grade.   The judges were Barry Donaldson, Stuart Sampson, and Iain MacFadyen for the March, and Ronald MacShannon, B ill Livingstone, and Jimmy Banks for the Strathspey and Reel.

In B grade, Angus John MacColl took first prize in the March, and Sarah Muir, from Campbeltown came first in the Strathspey and Reel. The judges were William Morrison, John Wilson, and Robert Wallace for the March, and Ian McLellan, Andrew Wright, and Andrew Frater for the Strathspey and Reel.

The Open Jig competition was won by Fred Morrison. This event was judged by Bob Worrall, Patricia Henderson, and Alan Forbes. The Junior March, Strathspey and Reel, for the Duke of Argyll’s Medal and a bursary, was won by Ross Connor.

In the Local March, Ronald Telfer took first prize.  Donald MacDougall won first prize in the Local Strathspey and Reel. The judges for all the Local and Junior events were Bill Wotherspoon, Dr Jack Taylor, and Malcolm McRae.


A Grade March: 1. Alasdair Henderson; 2. Callum Beaumont; 3. James Troy; 4. Dr Innes Smith; 5. Peter Hunt; 6. Euan MacCrimmon.

A Grade Strathspey and Reel: 1. Alasdair Henderson; 2. Iain Speirs; 3. Michael Fitzhenry; 4. Gordon McCready; 5. Sean McKeown; 6. James Troy.

B Grade March: 1. Angus John MacColl; 2. Andrew Lee; 3. Liam Kernaghan; 4. Greig Wilson; 5. George Stewart

Sarah Muir, winner of the ‘B’ S&R

B Grade Strathspey and Reel: 1. Sarah Muir; 2. Ben Duncan; 3. James MacHattie; 4. Decker Forrest; 5. Liam Kernaghan

Jigs: 1. Fred Morrison; 2. Alasdair Henderson; 3. Jenny Hazzard; 4. Sarah Muir; 5. James McHattie

Local March: 1. Ronald Telfer; 2. Donald  MacDougall; 3. Aaron Hossain; 4. Jamie Baxter

Local Strathspey and Reel: 1. Donald MacDougall; 2. Alastair MacLean; 3. Jamie Baxter; 4. Ronald Telfer

Junior March, Strathspey and Reel (The Duke of Argyll’s Medal):
1. Ross Connor; 2. Gregor MacDonald; 3. Kate Macpherson

[wds id=”3″]