My Father, Double Gold Medallist William M. MacDonald

A new book has been published featuring the compositions of the late William M. MacDonald, Inverness, and his son Brian. In his Foreword, Brian gives illuminating insight into his father’s life and career….

My father was born in Kingussie on 6th August 1918 and inherited his musical talent from his mother who was a Munro from Sutherland.

As a boy he was first taught piping in Kingussie by Captain Norman MacDonald and then by John ‘Jockan’ MacPherson, son of Calum Piobair. At the age of 12 he won the Under 17 Badenoch & Strathspey Cup against 21 competitors.

By Brian W. MacDonald

In 1935 my father joined the 4th Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and went with the regiment to France in 1939. He was among those captured at St Valery-en-Caux in 1940 and subsequently spent five years in a POW camp. Escaping on three occasions, he suffered cruel punishment each time he was re-captured.


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After returning to civilian life he was tutored in piobaireachd by the great John MacDonald of Inverness from 1947 until 1953 – the last of John’s illustrious pupils. In 1955 my father won both the Highland Society of London Gold Medals. The following year he went on to win the Gold Clasp, his most notable achievement.

My father was not only a world class piper but a noted shinty player, regarded by many as the best of his generation. He captained the Inverness team to winning the Camanachd Cup in 1956, the only time to date that Inverness have won this trophy, the pinnacle of the shinty world.

Shinty put his hands in danger and he broke his fingers more than once. In fact one year he broke his little finger the weekend before the Clasp competition. He still managed to achieve a second place to P/M Donald MacLeod.

Willie M sporting his two Gold Medals and the Dunvegan Medal

My father was passionate about piping and was always willing to share his knowledge and to teach and inspire others. Whilst a full-time civil engineer, he gave up many evenings teaching young pipers in two schools in the Highlands.

He was also a founder member of Inverness Piping Society and co-founded the Drumnadrochit Piping Society with his lifelong friend, Major Hugo MacDonald-Haig.

After retiring from competitive pipe my father became a respected Piobaireachd Society judge, recognised as a leading authority on piobaireachd.

In his 60s and early 70s he recorded about 125 piobaireachd on a simple Grundig recording machine. In 2006, with the help pf Alex and Bridget MacKenzie, we were able to extract 29 of the tunes and the result was five CDs. Sadly my father wasn’t able to see them as he had passed away on November 1, 2002.

During the covid lockdown I played through all of my father’s compositions in the two volumes his ‘Glencoe Collection’ of music. I was astounded at the quality of the musical writing and was inspired to have his hand written music digitally reproduced.

I discovered that in a few cases he had used different titles for some of the tunes, something that he later regretted. To this end I have re-named several of these tunes as he would have wished.

My mother, who sadly passed away in April 2022 aged 97, remembered him deliberating about these titles and we both agreed to make these changes.

Whilst researching his tunes I was surprised to discover he had never had a tune composed for himself. I have therefore composed a 2/4 march in his name. I hope he approves! Some of my other compositions are also included in the book.

As for me, my only claim to fame is winning the Northern Meeting Junior Competition in 1967 and various other competitions in the 1960s. I also played with the amazing Invergordon Distillery Pipe Band.

Huge thanks must go to Kyle Warren for his help in covering the tunes into a clear, digital format.

  • The book, priced £17, is available from Brian directly by telephoning 07980 999114 or email rugmac50@hotmail.com. It has 67 tunes by William M. MacDonald, and 20 new compositions by Brian himself.

6 thoughts on “My Father, Double Gold Medallist William M. MacDonald

    1. Hello Len.
      I have a small selection of my late father’s piobaireachd CDs nos. 1,2,3 and 5. Sadly, I don’t have any of no.4 left but you might be able to obtain this one from The Old School in Beauly.
      I can let you have 1,2,3 & 5 at the discounted price of £8 plus postage if that helps.
      Regards,
      Brian.

      1. Thanks. I’d like to get them. I don’t know if you’re able to put your contact details in a posting on here but if you can let me have them somehow and we’ll take it from there.

        Willie had an ardent following in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe at the time that I was living in S Africa and I heard him playing there.

  1. Thank you for your kind words, Niall. It was a great challenge to have all my father’s hand-written tunes digitalised by Kyle Warren during the covid lockdown period and so satisfying to play all his tunes over and over again and realise how good they were!
    Thank you Robert, for giving the book a plug. Much appreciated.
    Brian.

  2. Well done Brian, I’m lucky enough to have these recordings of your father and they are excellent. I’d imagine Dr Angus MacDonald would have them as well. As you have said both book are great and have plenty great music in them.

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