Review: Donald MacLeod Memorial Senior and Junior Competitions

Top honours at the P/M Donald MacLeod MBE Memorial, held in the Caladh Inn, Stornoway, last Friday, were taken by Dollar Academy piping instructor Callum Beaumont. Callum was first overall and won both the ceòl mòr and MSR events, writes Katie Laing.

James Duncan Mackenzie, a piping instructor in Lewis and Harris schools, was second overall and second in both these categories. He was the first Lewis piper to qualify for the invitational competition since its inception in 1994. James and Callum are pictured above. 

Barra teenager Eosaph Gailbraith was the third major winner, coming first in the Junior Competition for youngsters from the Western Isles – held for the first time this year on the Thursday before the main event. Eosaph is Pipe Major of the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band.

The town of Stornoway was singing to the tune of the pipes all day Thursday and Friday. While the junior competition was underway, the Lewis and Harris Youth Pipe Band were at the airport to pipe the arriving pipers and judges off the plane. 

Whilst Callum was a previous winner in 2013, it was a very successful debut for James who qualified after winning the Duvegan Medal at the Skye Gathering in 2022. James’s performance of Lament for the Iolaire was considered one of the most poignant moments of the day.

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James said: ‘I grew up learning Donald’s music through the teaching of the late Pipe Major Iain Murdo Morrison. He was a pupil of Donald MacLeod’s, so it’s nice to carry on with that tradition. 

‘I first attended the competition as an audience member when I was about eight years old and back then I was really inspired. I was just delighted to even feature in the prize list.’

Now working towards the Gold Medal competitions at Oban and Inverness, James said competitive solo piping was ‘a different discipline’ to playing on the folk scene where he featured with the group ‘Breabach’.

‘When I was younger I did a lot of solo piping competitions and then moved away from it. But I’ve not been doing as much on the folk scene lately. It’s great to get back to the solo piping side of things.’ 

The other pipers who took part were Angus MacColl, Connor Sinclair, William McCallum, Glenn Brown and Finlay Johnston. Fred Morrison was also due to participate but had to withdraw. Judges were Murray Henderson, Iain MacCrimmon, Colin MacLellan and William Morrison. 

The competitions were also attended by P/M Donald MacLeod’s daughters, Susan Millar and Fiona MacLeod. 

Callum Beaumont receives his prize from Susan

Ceòl Mòr: 1 Callum Beaumont 2 James Duncan Mackenzie 3 Glenn Brown 4 William McCallum

MSR: 1 Callum Beaumont  2 James Duncan Mackenzie 3 Angus MacColl 4 Finlay Johnston

H&J: 1 Angus MacColl 2 William McCallum 3 Callum Beaumont 4 James Duncan Mackenzie

In the junior competition, Eosaph Gailbraith, 17, won the Norman S Morrison trophy, to be retained for a year, and a silver, long practice chanter donated by McCallum Bagpipes.

Chairman Dr Smith said: ‘It is hugely encouraging for us that there are youngsters the length and breadth of the Western Isles taking advantage of the opportunities to learn to play the pipes. 

‘We have been talking about staging a junior version of the Donald MacLeod for some time and we are delighted that it finally came to fruition. It reflects the aims and objectives of the Piping Society.’

Junior Champion Eosaph Gailbraith and sister Mairead, also a prizewinner, with proud dad Donny

Dr Smith said some members of the audience had travelled far for the main competition. ‘There were visitors from Ness to Barra in the Western Isles, from Skye and Inverness, from the Central Belt in Ayrshire, and three visitors from Germany who had come specifically for the competition,’ he said.

‘We are extremely grateful to our main sponsor Point and Sandwick Trust and its general manager Donald John MacSween for their continuing support of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society and the Donald MacLeod competition in particular.’

John Wilson, Fear an Taighe, said, ‘The standard of playing was high, especially in the March, Strathspey and Reel. On another day, any one of those competitors would have been capable of winning the competition.’

He also mentioned the impromptu extra competition category – Gaelic Airs and a 6/8 March, judged by the audience and won by local Lewis piper James Duncan Mackenzie. ‘When it came to the audience voting on James’s performance, all the hands shot up!’

Junior players (l-r): Eosaph Gailbraith, Padruig MacMillan, Mairead Gailbraith, Eilidh MacDonald, Ruairidh MacDonald, Innes Begg

Ashley MacDonald, Comhaire nan Eilean Siar Piping Instructor and the Lewis and Harris Piping Society Piping Secretary, said the junior competition recognised the ‘growth in youth piping across the islands’. 

She said: ‘The six youngsters all played very well and the standard was very high and they all conducted themselves with dignity and decorum. I believe P/M Donald MacLeod would have been just as proud of them as we were.’ 

The Piping Society had specially made P/M Donald MacLeod Junior medals for the juniors. McCallum Bagpipes donated chanters for each player, and the Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust donated six books. The event was sponsored by David Wood of Woody’s Express. Junior results:

Ceòl Mòr: 1 Eosaph Gailbraith, Barra 2 Eilidh MacDonald, Harris 3 Innes Begg, Lewis 4 Mairead Gailbraith, Barra 5 Ruairidh MacDonald, Lewis

MSR: 1 Eosaph Gailbraith 2 Ruairidh MacDonald 3 Padruig MacMillan, South Uist 4 Eilidh MacDonald 5 Mairead Gailbraith 6 Innes Begg

H&J: 1 Padruig MacMillan 2 Innes Begg 3 Ruairidh MacDonald 4 Mairead Gailbraith 5 Eilidh MacDonald 6 Eosaph Gailbraith

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