Donald MacPhee Traces Family Bagpipe from South Uist to Glasgow

Big Donald with the Worlds trophy he won on many occasions with Field Marshal Montgomery
Big Donald with the Worlds trophy he won on many occasions with Field Marshal Montgomery

Professional piper, adjudicator and reedmaker Donald MacPhee has spoken about his quest to find out more about a bagpipe which belonged to his uncle Michael, a noted piper who served throughout WW1. Small world this piping fraternity: 100+ years on and we find that the pipes are in a  good home not a million miles from where Donald lives in the Vale of Leven west of Glasgow. Read on…..

Donald: ‘My grandfather was Donald MacPhee and he emigrated to the US from Garinish in South Uist in 1923. My grandfather’s brother, Michael MacPhee, joined the Army as a piper. I think he started in the Seaforths. There were a lot of losses in some regiments after particular battles and he got transferred to the Black Watch. He was Pipe Major of the 11th Black Watch during the remainder of WW1 and that was why I was asked to represent the regiment at the Scottish Pipers’ Association concert last year. Michael won the marches at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1911 I believe, so he must have been a very good player.

Michael MacPhee and pipes
Michael MacPhee and pipes

wilson-CD-cover‘The fellow that’s got Michael’s pipes is John Wilson [above], Strathclyde Police, the well-known senior adjudicator for solos and bands.  We don’t know who made them. I managed to trace them after John told my dad about them at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto in the 70s. My dad was judging and John was over there with the Strathclyde Police band. Graeme Richardson, who was a piper in the band, was a very good pal of my dad’s. It was Graeme who introduced him to John and John said ‘Oh I’ve got a fellow MacPhee’s pipes that you might know, Michael MacPhee from South Uist.’ ‘My dad said, ‘He’s my uncle and those are his pipes!’ John went on to say that Michael became piper to the Marquis of Bute and that’s how the pipes ended up near Campbeltown where John comes from.


‘Jeannie Campbell [piping historian and author] has now sent me a photograph from the Northern Meeting in 1910 [main picture, top] and there is Michael MacPhee sitting bottom left next to Angus MacPherson, Invershin. The caption states that he is piper to the Marquis of Bute, so at least there is some documentation on him. He spent a lot of time down in Wales where the Marquis of Bute had a big house and was his piper for over 22 years. He died in 1949 and is buried down there near Cardiff.’

Notice from Michael's funeral service
Notice from Michael’s funeral service

The individuals in the picture up top are identified in this message from Jeannie Campbell to Donald: ‘I was looking through old Northern Meeting photos in an attempt to identify some pipers in another photo and found this one from the Northern Meeting circa. 1910.
The names are, sitting: Michael MacPhee, Piper to the Marquis of Bute, Angus MacPherson, P/M James Sutherland, Edinburgh, James Gordon (dancer). Standing: Unknown, P/M James Taylor (probably), P/M Hayward, Seaforths (probably), P/M Murdo MacKenzie, Seaforths, James Campbell the Queen’s piper from 1891-1910, Andrew MacDonald, Scottish Horse, P/M Robert Meldrum, Dancer Beattie of the Camerons, unknown dancer.’

Learn more about John Wilson in his interesting interview with Piper’s Persuasion.

John Wilson leads the march to the games after winning the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1983
John Wilson leads the march to the games after winning the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1983. Others in the picture we can identify are Murray Henderson, Bill Livingstone, Gavin Stoddart, Derek Fraser and Roddy Livingstone. As far as we can ascertain, John is not playing Michael MacPhee’s pipes on this occasion