PP Editor’s Blog: Highland Games/ Scottish & Worlds/Ulva and MacArthur Pipers

I am not sure the prestige of Inveraray Games is helped by the pipers being given their piobaireachd a week before the contest. It makes things easier all round for the competitors but is much less of a test.

Compare it with Braemar where it’s eight tunes, the chosen piece given at the bench. Promoters often justify the ‘early tune’ decision by saying it cuts down the number of breakdowns. In a premier grade contest this should not be an issue. These pipers are all skilled exponents with many tunes in their repertoire.

Over on Benbecula we had the Young Piper of the Year. The age  limit on this contest seems to have increased over the years and it is now 30 and under. Thirty is young when you are in your 60s, but I would have thought ‘Young’ should mean, say 21 and under, or maybe 25.

The promoters will want to attract top pipers out to the isles right enough and may have had to push the age bar to do so. It certainly allows local players hear some of our top ‘young’ pipers of today, men of the calibre of Alasdair Henderson, this year’s winner.

Still with the games and my unashamed promotion thereof, the above picture comes courtesy Peter McCalister and shows Graham Mulholland playing for adjudicators Malcolm McRae and John Ross at Lochearnhead.

tobe-benchJudging at Tobermory with John Wilson (above) was, as ever, a pleasure. John tells me he is on duty at the Scottish Championships tomorrow at Dumbarton where he is doing Grade 2. Also on the judges roster are Australia-based adjudicators Sam Young and Nat Russell.

I admire the passion these gents have for the pipe band art, travelling all that way every year at their own expense. We shouldn’t forget either Greg Dinsdale and Ken Eller who will be coming from Canada and Terry Lee who flies in from Vancouver for the Worlds.

Reasonably priced air fares have made pipe bands (and solo piping) a truly international endeavour these days and we are all the better for it – but the fervent committment of all enthusiasts is not something you can put a price on.

The weather forecast for Dumbarton is semi-favourable: 17 degs., chance of rain.

Apropos the Worlds, the Grade 4b band Clan MacPherson from the US have sent this: ‘Rob, It is President Jack from the Clan MacPherson Pipes & Drums in North Andover, Mass. We may need another snare drummer for our competition at the Worlds. We went from five down to maybe only two snares.

Do you know someone in Scotland who maybe interested in playing with us? Of course he/she would need to learn our scores fast, and we will start with offering free board from 8/4 – thru 8/13. I know, just crazy; we lost three snares leading up to this two-year quest. Your friend from Boston. John F. Shattuck cell 978-479-6438; John_F_Shattuck@raytheon.com

Can anyone help this band? My understanding was that the minimum number of sides in 4b was two so maybe the band will be OK anyway.

Lachlan MacQuarrie
Lachlan MacQuarrie

Travelling to Tobermory we took the opportunity to visit Ulva, the small island nestling within Mull’s northern and southern arms. The name comes from the Norse ‘Ulffur’, meaning Wolf’s Island. Ulva’s main claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Major General Lachlan MacQuarrie, Governor of New South Wales (1762 -1824), and widely considered the ‘father’ of modern Australia. On the wall of a small exhibition on the island are his famous words, ‘I do not think because I come from a small and desolate island my ideas are as limited in extent. It is the man who is born in a city on an island who seldom gets himself and his country into true perspective with the rest of the universe. But when a man of ideas, like myself, emerges from a mere speck in the ocean, he becomes a citizen of the world.’

Ulva is notable  too for the piping school established there in the village of Ormaig by Charles MacArthur after he returned from his time with the MacCrimmons. (A sailing friend tells me that getting to and from Ulva to Borreraig would have been no bother to the mariners of the day). Hard to think that such a small island would have been able to sustain such a school, but at one time Ulva was a thriving community of an estimated 500 people with the full range of skills necessary for 18th century living.

mull2The piper would have been an important person in such a Gaelic -based society, playing for the people as well as his clan chief (the MacArthurs were pipers to MacDonald of the Isles). According to Angus MacKay and his literary assistant, ‘The MacArthurs were esteemed next to the MacCrimmons, and like them kept a seminary for instruction of pipe music…..Pennant who visited the Hebrides in 1774 eulogises Sir Alexander MacDonald’s piper in whose house or college he was very hospitably entertained, and was gratified by the performance of many piobaireachds. He describes the building as being divided into four apartments, the outer being the shelter for cattle during winter; another formed the hall where the students appear to have practised; a third was set apart for strangers and the fourth was reserved for the family.’

Time constraints – the ferry goes off at 5pm – meant we couldn’t make it to Ormaig but here is the exhibition’s drawing of the ruins of what was possibly the MacArthur college:


Read the full account from Angus MacKay’s book here:
The MacArthurs

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1 thought on “PP Editor’s Blog: Highland Games/ Scottish & Worlds/Ulva and MacArthur Pipers

  1. Hi Rab,

    You might be interested to know that there is a solo piping contest commemorating Governor Lachlan MacQuarrie held each February in Sydney.

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