The Demise of P/M GS McLennan as Reported in a Canadian Newspaper

We are grateful to reader Robin McPhee from, Wellington, New Zealand, for forwarding this cutting concerning the demise of the great George S. McLennan. Robin writes: ‘I enjoy Piping Press and thought this article, that I discovered while doing some family history research, might be of passing interest.

‘The original newspaper can be found online at the Glengarry County Archives Website.’

The article is from the Glengarry News, Ontario, Canada, and is dated 28 February, 1930. It reads: ‘Man Dies Playing Bagpipes. As death crept upon Pipe Major George S McLennan of Aberdeen, Scotland, claimed to be the champion piper of the world, he played his own lament on the bagpipes.

‘Feeling himself, as he said, ‘slippin’ awa’, he asked his elder son to play on the pipes. The boy did so and the aged man then asked him to fill the pipes with wind and give them to him.

‘With shaking hands the dying man fingered out the notes of the last lament. Death was fast approaching and the notes became slower and slower, until they died away as the pipe major fell back on his pillow.

‘At nine [years of age] McLennan won a special medal for his playing in his first competition at Paisley.

‘The following year he played before Queen Victoria, the first piper to appear before royalty since 1626, when Patrick Mor MacCrimmon played before Charles 1 [sic].

‘McLennan won more than 2,000 prizes in bagpipe competition.’

The newspaper clipping

The reference to playing before royalty is clearly erroneous. From Angus MacKay onwards many pipers received royal patronage and audience.

Of GS, the College of Piping’s ‘Masters of Piping’ book by Seumas MacNeill records: ‘George had the greatest fingers ever known in the history of piping.

‘Under his father’s tuition he was an infant prodigy, and at the age of nine he competed for the first time in Paisley. The special medal awarded to him on that occasion remained his most cherished memento throughout his life.

GS in his Gordon’s P/M uniform

‘Queen Victoria on hearing of ‘this marvellous boy’ asked that he come to Balmoral and play for her, which he did in 1894. The Queen gave him a silver plaid brooch as a memento of the occasion but the young George was more interested in the cakes he was given for his tea.’

GS McLennan went on to become a great genius of bagpipe music writing, his compositions covering every class of pipe music. Many of his tunes have gone on to become classics: Inveran, P/M John Stewart, Lochaber Gathering, Mrs MacPherson of Inveran, the Jig of Slurs, Kilworth Hills, Little Cascade.

A young GS wearing the silver plaid brooch he received from Queen Victoria

P/M William Gray, Glasgow Police: ‘George’s playing gave me the impression of the supernatural and kept one spellbound.’

John MacDonald, Inverness: ‘His fingering in march, strathspey and reels was brilliant. He was a master of this type of music and we shall probably never hear his like again.’

His half brother Captain DR MacLennan: ‘He was my hero and I can say that he was the finest player that ever I heard or ever have heard since. He had a certain charm about his playing, something that the rest of us just did not have.’

Angus MacPherson, Invershin: ‘To hear George play was something never to be forgotten.’

The reel Mrs MacPherson of Inveran was named for Angus’s wife and the story goes that GS was so ill when he played it at Inveran someone else had to blow the pipe whilst GS fingered the chanter.

Jim Gilchrist records on the Scottish Traditional Music Hall of Fame website: ‘Like many veterans of the First World War, he [GS] finally succumbed to lung cancer.

‘He died on 1st June 1929, having lapsed into a terminal coma while supervising his sons’ chanter practise from his bed. His funeral prompted extraordinary scenes, some 20,000 people lining the route from his home to Aberdeen station, whence his body was taken to Edinburgh for burial.

‘The gun carriage bearing his coffin was escorted by pipe bands from the Gordons and the British Legion, with another formed by Highland games competitors, and the lament Lochaber No More was aired. At Echo Bank (now Newington) cemetery in Edinburgh, his old friend Pipe Major Robert Reid played GS’s favourite piobaireachd, The Lament for the Children.’

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2 thoughts on “The Demise of P/M GS McLennan as Reported in a Canadian Newspaper

  1. Dear Robert,

    Thank you for including that unmistakable photograph of GS playing in the service dress uniform of the Gordon Highlanders. For years now several certain senior pipers and once myself over the telephone have tried to tell the kindly old staff at the College of Piping who have mislabeled it as Willie Gray and that wonderful author Jeannie Campbell who includes the photo in her book indeed as the William Gray, our advice was not accepted. He’s not William Gray.

    There are no two ways about it. And I think if it must be finally settled, then I am sure that representatives of the McLennan family who currently own GS’s bagpipe would be glad to confirm.

    Lastly thanks for last Murray article. Keep it coming.

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