The MacIntyre's Mysterious Chanter and Other Tales

We continue with the article by noted writer Seton Gordon first published in the London Times in the 1960s….

Another family of pipers celebrated at one time in Perthshire were the MacIntyres, for a period pipers to the chiefs of the Clan Menzies. They were not, like the MacGregors, natives of the county but came traditionally from the Isles. The first of whom we have read is Donald Mor. He is said to have studied under the MacCrimmons before 1650.

Donald Mor’s son, John, was a most distinguished composer of piobaireachd. Among his masterpieces are The Battle of Sheriffmuir, The Prince’s Salute, and that beautiful tune My King has Landed at Moidart, commemorating Prince Charles Edward in 1745. John’s son, Donald Ban, is described as ‘the last of a long line of hereditary pipers to Menzies’.

Many years ago, my friend Francis Cameron-Head of Inverailort and I, when on a visit to Eilean Shona in Moidart, saw a very old bagpipe which had belonged to this family. The pipe was given to Donald MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart by the last representative of the MacIntyres before emigrating to America in 1790.

The chanter [pictured top] has an extra hole in it, below the ‘low G’ hole. While he slept, MacIntyre said, he was told by a fairy who appeared to him that if the extra hole was bored in the chanter it would play music the like of which had not been heard. It is claimed that this bagpipe was played at the Battle of Bannockburn and that it has brought victory to the clan down the centuries wherever it has been played in battle.

In olden days, it would seem that the bagpipe had the uncanny power of conveying without words the player’s message. Many of us know the story of the piper of Duntroon warning his master, who was unsuspectingly approaching in his galley from the open sea, that the castle was in enemy hands and that he, the piper, was prisoner. All this was conveyed by the tune he played.

Then there is the strong tradition of the nameless piper of Glencoe who, by his playing, warned the women of the glen of the impending massacre. A third story, which may not have appeared in print, may be set down here. Four men of Loch Treig were sentenced to death for the murder of a travelling packman near Loch Oisein on the boundary between Lochaber and Rannoch.

MacIntyres and MacDougalls feature in this poster from the Edinburgh competition in 1785

It was suspected that only one man was guilty of the murder, but all were to be executed unless the guilty person confessed. On the eve of the day of the execution, one man asked for his pipes. He then played a tune which those who listened knew was his confession and repentance for the deed, and could hear his very words transmitted by music. He was, accord­ingly, executed, and the others spared.

Like the MacIntyres, another cele­brated piping family, the MacDougalls, have connections with Perth­shire although coming originally from the west. Duncan MacDougall of Tay­mount and Aberfeldy in 1873 won the gold medal at the Northern Meeting. In 1876 he was awarded that rare dis­tinction ‘Champion of Champions’. There have been only four Champions of Champions in the history of the piping world.

  • To be continued. Seton Gordon’s MacIntyre chanter tale is slightly at odds with another fairy story tradition. The MacIntyre chanter was the first, we read, to have two holes bored below the low A to produce a more accurate low G. The instruction came to the clan piper in a dream. In the morning a red hot poker was called for and low G has been where it is ever since. The MacIntyre Chanter is now in the West Highland Museum in Fort William. A more recent story about the MacIntyre pipers can be found here. Read Seton Gordon’s first excerpt here.
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