The Heroes of St Valery/ The Piper’s Stones, County Wicklow

Poppy Scotland have sent this: ‘Whether you’re a passionate piper, masterful musician or simply want to stand proud and shine a light of remembrance on the brave men who gave their lives or were captured and taken thousands of miles across to Eastern Europe where they remained until the end of the War, join us as we commemorate the 80th anniversary of the ‘other Dunkirk’, the Battle of St Valery-en-Caux,

‘By supporting this event, you can pay respect and help raise awareness of the three charities involved; Poppyscotland, Legion Scotland and RCET: Scotland’s Armed Forces Children’s Charity.

‘With your help we hope that at 10am on the 12th of June pipers, and other musicians, across the world will take to their doorsteps to play the retreat: The Heroes of St Valery.’

Put the date in your diary, it’s a week tomorrow. Here’s the Army’s P/M Ben Duncan playing the eponymous tune:

Famous pipers caught up in the debacle were William MacDonald, Inverness, P/M Donald MacLeod, who escaped and returned to fight at the front once more, and P/M Donald MacLean the composer of the eponymous tune. It can be found in the excellent ‘Cabar Feidh Collection – Music of the Queen’s Own Highlanders’. More information on this important endeavour here. Get the book here.

Reader Brigid Flannery from Connecticut has sent these submissions for our Lockdown painting and essay challenge……

The Piper’s Stones……My husband and I were on a epic tour that took us from Ireland to Scotland, to England. We drove more than one thousand miles and stayed in over twenty B&Bs. I was researching World Heritage sites and the stories that went along with them for a story writing unit I would be teaching.

We visited castles, churches, forts, and the like. One spot I was eager to see was a 3000 year old stone circle in County Wicklow, Ireland. Called ‘The Piper’s Stones’, it was a small group of boulders atop a hill in Hollywood.

The name came from a large outlier that was, according to local legend, the piper. The story goes that there was a ceilidh on a Sunday. Of course, dancing on the holy day was not to be done and the dancers were turned to stone for defying the Sabbath rule.

When I visited, among the stones there was also a wind blown and contorted whitethorn tree where offerings and petitions were left. Woe to anyone who interfered with the tree thought to be an outpost for the faerie folk.

Brigid at the Piper’s Stones, Co Wicklow

The year was 2011, the summer after I got my bagpipes. I had brought along the pipes on our trip to play at my great grandmother’s grave when we got to Motherwell, Scotland. So it seemed to be a grand idea to climb the hill in Wicklow, Ireland, minding the sheep, to see the Piper’s Stones and play a tune there as well.

It was a beautiful day and I did my best; at the time I could just play Amazing Grace. Taking a moment at the end of the tune to appreciate the view, I thought I heard voices. Little teeny voices seeming to say ‘Play More!’

Could it be the faeries from under the tree? The stones themselves pleading for more? Again came the voices, ‘Play More!’ Looking far down the hill and across the road my eye caught movement. Two young men waving and yelling, ‘Play More!’ My first audience! And yes, I’ve continued since then and will keep playing more and more.

  • More on the stones here.

3 thoughts on “The Heroes of St Valery/ The Piper’s Stones, County Wicklow

  1. Two other pipers of some note not listed were also captured at St. Valery and were incarcerated for the war in Germany. John Wilson (Edinburgh & Toronto) and Ian Lawrie, the son of William Lawrie (Ballachulish). John Wilson composes and published in his second book the hornpipe “St. Valery”.

    Dale Brown
    Troy, MI

  2. I trust the Cabar Feidh Collection honoured the anacrusis in the notation of the famous tune.

  3. I am glad that Brigid enjoyed her trip to County Wicklow rightly known as the garden of Ireland.

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