More on the Rankin Family of Pipers and their Piping College on the Island of Mull

Regarding the recent article about the Rankin family of pipers, we actually know as much if not more about that family than many other piping families, the only mystery being where they came from. 

The earliest record of any of that family name on Mull comes from the Breadalbane papers when in 1697 John MacIntyre the son of the Breadalbane’s piper Donald Roy was sent to first Condullie Rankin for tuition, before then going onto MacCrimmon on Skye.

By Keith Sanger, piping historian

We also know from other record material that there were a number of pipers on Mull both before, contemporary with, and after the Rankins, which poses many questions regarding the Rankin family. 

In terms of piping we also know from the 1716 arms list that Condullie was not in the Jacobite rebellion but his sons Hector and John were, and that the latter who would have been still a youth, was listed as absent probably having yet to return from an event noted in a contemporary Gaelic poem.

John seems to have been acting as servant/pipe carrier for his older brother who in keeping with the custom of the times handed his pipes to the young man to hold while Hector drew arms and charged with the rest of the army at the Battle of Sheriffmuir.

The boy took fright and ran away taking the bagpipe with him, which, if he had not yet returned when that arms list was made, probably explains why neither Condullie nor Hector are described as ‘pipers’ when other people in the list are noted as pipers and in one case a harper. 

The island of Mull with the township of Aros circled right and the site of the Rankin college at Kilbreanan left

Young John Rankin seems to have been the family member who stuck to piping as his profession and in the 1745 event he was piper to the Glenaray Company of the Argyle Militia. The bills for his pipes, clothes and other necessaries are in the archives at Inveraray.

He next appears in 1752 when he took a new nine-year lease on the change house (inn) at Aintorran. Further more we also know what happened to his bagpipe after his death when in 1776 ‘MacLaine of Lochbuy’ gave an instruction that John Rankin’s pipes were to be given to young Neil Gillis alias MacLean who was going as piper with Captain Murdoch MacLean to the 84th Royal Emigrants in Nova Scotia. 

This also means that the former Rankin bagpipipe was to ‘fly’ the most elaborate piper banner [top] ever made which included a complete Gaelic poem.

But to return to where Condullie Rankin came from, along with a connection to Aros. In 1690 an instruction was issued to the Governor of Aros Castle garrison that he at least one piper, and if possible a drummer, were to be kept in the garrison.

An account from 1690 to 1691 shows that the piper, unfortunately un-named, was paid £112 compared to the Ensign who got £126 and the ordinary soldiers at £28. The garrison were mostly from Argyles [sic] regiment and records also show that in previous years, from the 1660s onward, a number of regimental drummers, at a time when drummers and pipers were often lumped together under the heading of drummer, were called Rankin.

My original work on the Rankins was published in June 1990, but things have moved on a lot since then. The last thing that Roddy Cannon and I published was our re-transcription and evaluation of the 84th Pipe Banner [top]. As you can see from just the central portion with the Gaelic verse it was quite something. 

  • More to follow on this interesting history. Read more on the Rankins and their connection with Canada here.

4 thoughts on “More on the Rankin Family of Pipers and their Piping College on the Island of Mull

  1. Hello Keith [Sanger],

    My name is Lee Rankin, Cleveland, Ohio, USA…now 71 yrs old.

    My direct ancestors emigrated from Ireland in mid 1700s from near Londonderry, as I am told in the Rankin Family Bible, handed down to me, with all previous generations members, burial sites, some military history, education, etc.

    My grandfather was very active in Rankin genealogy and told us we originally came from the isle of Mull and were ‘posterbearers, or pipers for the Clan MacLean’. I have his handwritten work.

    His daughter, my aunt, passed at 96 about 10 years back. She visited Duart Castle with my cousin tracing our heritage throughout Scotland and Ireland. She confirmed this association with the Clan MacLean. Apparently the Rankins I claim my bloodline from moved from Mull to Ireland, perhaps for reasons mentioned in your work here.

    The roots here in the USA were taken up by a William and Mary Rankin who farmed nearly 600 acres of farmland, deeded in 1794, near present day Pittsburgh. William fought in the American Revolution. A presbyterian, his lineage fought in the war of 1812, and The American Civil War. They also may have been distillers involved in the Whiskey Rebellion which included Gen. Geo. Washington, pressing an excise tax on Scots and Irish whiskey – now being distilled again near Donegal, Pennsylvania.

    I am, as I write this to you, am watching a Netflix series called ‘Outlander’, about the early Scots, the Stuart’s, the Scot’s tangles with England,etc, which brought me to my iPad tonight, and remarkably to your stories of my family, completing a circle for me. I only wished my grandfather, father, aunts and uncles could have read this history. They would be so appreciative, as I am, to have seen this, and the history with my own eyes!

    I have a Coat of Arms, with the Rankin name on it with 3 Boars Heads, on it and in the lower banner it says ‘Fortier et Recte’, My aunt laughed saying the Rankin’s were ‘pig Headed’. Proud we remain, here in the USA.

    At my aunt’s son’s funeral, a lone piper played as he was lowered into his resting spot in Scotland dress, kilted. The Laurel Highlands, near Donegal PA, annually celebrates our Scotland and Ireland heritage, with a parade and pipers. It’s in a couple of weeks and will have more meaning for me now thanks to you Keith.

    Best, Lee Rankin

    1. Hello sir, ought I say cousin? Unsure. As you see a spelling variation with a silent ‘e’ added. I am none the wiser as to why or when this happened. (My grandfather Weir Rankin was a professional Scottish boxer.) My father owns a rare ebony, ivory and solid silver bagpipe. But what drew me to make a comment here was the story of a piper being heard across the way. It was almost exactly like a story about my father that reached the local newspaper here in Nottingham. Dad would play the pipes at a local recreation field, and, low and behold, he was heard miles away. People reported a ghostly sound of a piper and no one could gather from where. He was known locally as ‘The Ghost Piper’. There’s a ancestral coincidence here..and I believe in the recurrance of ancient legends.
      Isabel Alexandria Rankine

    2. Lee, thanks for posting this! Is there any chance you’d be willing to reach out to me directly at I’m one of the Rankin project site administrators. We have tested the Y-DNA of many Rankin men, and have identified 8 distinct lineages of Rankins, 4 of which are of Celtic origin. We are actively looking for the descendants of the Mull and Coll pipers. I’ve seen the biography that traces Neil’s third son Condullie Rankin to PEI Canada. He had 12 children, but so far I have not found any proven living descendants. The more Rankins we can get to Y-DNA test, the more likely we are to find the true line.

    3. Hi Lee, I am one of your group of Rankins, Adam Rankin, and am descended from the brothers who emigrated to the States from Londonderry. Off the top of my head, I think the brothers were William, John, and, Adam. Maybe it was three brothers and a father; I can’t recall. But my father, Douglas Rankin, and my mother, travelled to Mull and signed the register at Duart, as well, sometime in the 2010s. My understanding is that they did not spend much time in Londonderry before moving on to the States.

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