Donald Morrison Archive: Notes on the Introduction of Teaching of Piping to South Uist

This very interesting, but unattributed article is from the archive of Donald Morrison. It gives an insight into the history of piping in the Outer Isles and in particular South Uist. It is not by Donald himself but mentions his father Donald John Morrison.

Canon Alexander MacDougall was a native of Morar and died there on 10th December, 1944, at the age of 85 years. His first parish in the islands was Benbecula and he was later at Daliburgh and Castlebay.

He was a genuine highlander, a man of wide experience. His farther had been a butler with Lovat and no doubt he had some experience in that line of work.

He was a piper, keen on all music, with a wide and deep knowledge of Gaelic – his sermons were always informative and to the point.

The beginning of the hand-written article

During his time in Benbecula he made efforts to provide teaching for the local pipers; and for at least two spells Pipe Major Lawrie (the composer of tunes)[Willie Lawrie, Ballachulish] gave instructions in Benbecula.

P/M Angus MacAulay told me he had not been taught by Lawrie – probably he was too young at the time. Many of those who attended were later killed in the First World War, e.g. the Wilsons.

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At the time Archibald MacLean (‘Blowhard’) had Creagorry Hotel – was there until 1919 – and at least two of his sons were in the class, William and Lachlan.

William had also been taught by Calum Piobaire (MacPherson, Badenoch). It was while he was a squlag [?] at Creagorry that Donald John Morrison (Locheynort) picked up his knowledge of piping – he had it one step down from Calum Piobaire, hence his feeling of loftiness regarding the basis of his learning.

Pipe Major William MacLean became a great piper and recorded about 100 ceòl mòr melodies for the School of Scottish Studies.

Creagorry Hotel in the early 1900s….a hotbed of piping

Canon MacDougall came to Daliburgh in early 1900s. He baptized me there in Jan. 1907. He found many who were keen on piping and some who were regular players at weddings and dances etc., for example – Donald MacDonald, Daliburgh (Roidein), Alexander Campbell, North Boisdale, Alasdair MacNeill, Donald MacDonald, North Boisdale, Domhnuill MacFheargluis (father of Angus who lived and died at Milton). There were many others as well.

The trouble was that few of these had an acceptable standard of fingering. Lachlan MacCormick, Creagorry, (Lachluin Ban) was a good piper in his day; he could teach and conduct a pipe band, but I am told he had faults in fingering.

Anyway he was a player of merit and a composer of tunes and Canon MacDougall got him to come to Daliburgh. I think he gave some assistance to Seonaidh Roidein as a youngster. [This is P/M John MacDonald, Glasgow Police; the pipe major is pictured on his native South Uist at the head of this article.]

Lachlan was an albino with poor eyesight and a crusty temper and he thought rightly or wrongly that some of the local pipers were making fun of him, so he packed his pipe and returned to Creagorry and would not budge.

Consequently the chances of getting adequate teaching facilities were disappeared.

  • To be concluded.

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