By Kevin McGlynn
A chanter is the only playable part that is left of an instrument known to folklorists as the ‘Faery Pipes of Kinlochmoidart’. It is normally kept in a special case in the West Highland Museum in Fort William in Lochaber. The ‘enchanted’ chanter, reputedly played at Bannockburn in 1314, made a rare appearance at a clan gathering this summer, the World Gathering of MacIntyres. It took place in Oban and Taynuilt, Argyll, in July.
It is said that the chanter has never been played in a battle which has been lost. It is believed to be the oldest Highland pipe chanter in existence, hand-made by a MacIntyre piper more than 800 years ago. A further distinction which is claimed on its behalf is that it is the first chanter ever to be made with sound holes.
The story goes that the MacIntyre’s piper had just made his own new chanter when in a dream a fairy came to him and said: ‘Heat up your poker until it’s white hot and pierce the bottom of your chanter side to side and it will make the sweetest sound in all Scotland.’
These days, the chanter is the only part left of the original Faery Pipes and having looked closely at it I have to say the holes look as though they were burned by a poker.
It was played by Andrew MacIntyre from Edinburgh at the clan’s banquet in the Argyllshire Gathering Halls in July and later by Ruaraidh Petre, nephew of Archie McIntyre, a descendant of the MacIntyres, who formerly possessed it.
On this second occasion the performance was in Glenoe, the ancestral lands of MacIntyres at Loch Etive between Oban and Taynuilt. There a ceremony was held at a cairn to commemorate the chiefs of Clan MacIntyre. It was attended by the current chief’s son, the first time the family had returned to Scotland since emigrating to the US in 1822.
‘The West Highland Museum was very gracious in letting us use the chanter from the Faery Pipes. Legend says they were enchanted pipes and we were really excited to have them at the banquet and at the cairn. It was a great few days for the MacIntyres.’
All that remains of the pipes is the chanter, a drone top and a mouthpiece. The inscription plaque is a later addition. How the pipes came to be known as ‘of Kinlochmoidart’ is not clear.