Donald Morrison Archive: How ‘Donald, Willie and His Dog’ Got Its Name

This article from Donald’s archive is from the Oban Times newspaper. No date is given but it is believed to be from the 1970s.

A few weeks ago when reporting on the Northern Meeting competitions [writes their piping correspondent] I speculated on the name of Donald Morrison’s jig ‘Donald, Willie and His Dog’.

The name fascinated me in the same way as Willie Ross’s tune ‘The Old Ruins’ did after hearing that it commemorated a mouthful of rotten teeth possessed by an old man in Helmsdale.

I asked Donald to tell me about it and this he did in a letter as follows: ‘My family have a croft in Locheynort, South Uist, which adjoins that of Willie Morrison’s family. [Willie the champion piper and now senior adjudicator.]

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‘While on holiday there last summer a pet ewe, which never ventured far from the house, should have been sheared weeks before but every time an attempt was made to catch the pet it wandered miles away.

‘This strange instinct of the animal was of more interest to the neighbours than the rockets being blasted off by the Army a few miles away.’

[The rocket range referred to lies near West Geirinish, to the west of Loch Bee and Rueval on South Uist. Military testing is co-ordinated from headquarters at Balivanich Airport on Benbecula, the island between North and South Uist.]

Donald’s famous tune in his own hand

‘One day my brother and I planned a ‘military style’ operation to capture the ewe. With the assistance of his dog we managed to manouevre the animal on to a small peninsula jutting out to sea and from where there appeared to be no escape.

‘However, we hadn’t bargained for the speed and stamina of the cornered ewe and, with a startling dash, it made good its escape.

‘Of course the blame for this ignominious failure was placed squarely on the dog and it was instantly dismissed.

‘Just then in the distance I saw Willie Morrison with his dog, Finn, and called on his assistance. This time the pet was not so lucky and after an exhausting sprint, we captured the pet ewe.

‘I sat down to recuperate and what is now the third part of a jig I had been working on came to me. Later I thought an appropriate name for it would be ‘Donald (myself), Willie (Morrison) and his Dog (Finn)’

3 thoughts on “Donald Morrison Archive: How ‘Donald, Willie and His Dog’ Got Its Name

  1. I had a lesson on the tune from Sandy Jones at his summer school, the North American Academy of Piping more years ago than I care to think about. When he put it on tape, my own teacher, Hammy Workman, shouted in the background “Hey! What was his dog’s name?” Every time I played that tape it always heard that question.
    Fast forward many years to a lesson with Willie Morrison in the National Piping Centre and we both did what Les Durham (above) describes. Ending up with the D finger on high G and playing the grace notes with the thumb. When I told him that was my favourite slip jig he said he’d been out with the sheep and Donald had scratched out a part of the tune on the back of a packet of cigarettes. And then the penny dropped. “Donald? As in Donald Morrison is the eponymous Donald?” “Aye, that’s right.” “And you’re the Willie in Donald; Willie and his dog?” “Aye.” “I have to ask you this, – what was your dog’s name?” He looked at me rather quizzically and said “Nobody’s ever asked me that.” I explained the story of the tape. Willie looked rather wistful and said “Brilliant dog that. Brilliant dog, right enough. His name was Finn.” It was a brilliant lesson, too.

    1. Brilliant lesson, too, I’m sure. Lessons with Willie were a great treat and really got me back into proper piping after a long layoff. Willie has composed some really good tunes, too but was reluctant to even consider publishing them.

  2. Willie Morrison once ( on the PC) played me an amusing version of the first part of this, changing the starting note to one note higher each time – ie start on low A, B, C etc, – by actually moving the fingers up one hole in the chanter. changing the. I can’t remember how high you can go before you fall off the scale.

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