Memories of My Father, Donald Morrison

Our earlier articles on the renowned piper Donald Morrison led to contact with his daughter Sheona MacDonald, Aberdeen. Seona agreed to share with us her memories of her father and also his extensive archive of photographs, letters and newspaper clippings. We will publish what we can over the coming weeks. Sheona has also kindly given permission for her father’s book of tunes to be published for download. Again this will be available via the Piping Press Shop in due course.

Donald Morrison was born in Locheynort, South Uist, on 24th Oct 1927, the youngest child of Donald John and Mary Flora (MacKay). Both his parents came from piping families.

My grandfather taught many islanders including his sons. My father picked up the chanter at six years old and recalled he loved the sound he was able to make even from this early age. He did say that his chanter initially reached his knees! 

By Sheona MacDonald

Early tuition came from his father, the Smith family of Howmore, and also from Bob Nicol, Balmoral, who spent two winters teaching on the island. 

His father and mother used canntaireachd to pass on their knowledge too. Dad continued to use this method himself and I recall him explaining to me, as an inquisitive child, the notes these sounds related to.

After National Service as a wireless operator in the Royal Navy, dad joined the police force in Aberdeen and naturally their pipe band. He became pipe major in 1953, the band gaining many honours under his leadership.

Through their mutual interest, dad met mum (Jean), a drummer and founder member of Aberdeen Ladies Pipe Band and they married in 1959. Guests included Donald MacLeod, Bob Nicol and Bob Brown.

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Living and working in Aberdeen gave dad the opportunity to learn from the ‘two Bobs’. The three became firm friends. I occasionally travelled with dad to Bob Nicol’s on Deeside for his lesson and after eating the cake and tea prepared by Bob’s sister, I would look forward to seeing the deer.

They would come down towards the house attracted by the beautiful music being played. We always left with a jar of honey from Bob’s hives!

The chanter, goose and pipes were all utilised for many hours of practise at home by my father. This continued need to learn and improve led to success at many games and major competitions. We travelled as a family around the games circuit, my sister and I competing on the dancing boards. Dad, however, would ‘disappear’ into one of the tents after the competitions were over. He did enjoy a wee dram…or two!

Sifting through papers kept by both my parents, I have come across press cuttings and articles relating to dad’s competitive achievements, the names of his peers being familiar in my early years.

A young Donald at the books

Dad was not daunted by coming second or third to any of the great names of the time, and his cuttings include details of the success of these friends as well as his own. 

Dad’s proudest achievements in his impressive record at major competitions were the Gold Medal at Inverness in 1961 and the Silver Chanter and Bratach Gorm [pictured top] both in 1973. 

He also won the Dunvegan Medal in 1971, the piobaireachd at Braemar four times and also the Uist and Barra three times in succession. He was extremely proud of his own composition, Donald Willie and his Dog, gaining him first place in the Northern Meetings Jigs in 1971.

  • To be continued.

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