Piping historian Iain Duncan has compiled a neat booklet on the history of the Clan MacRae Society Pipe Band. It is based on the series of five articles published in Piping Press and contains lots of photos and facts all readily accessible, writes the Editor.
Not in the book is the photograph above. It was published in ‘Pipe Band’ magazine in the early 1980s and accompanied a letter. The writer, Tom Pringle, wrote: ‘I joined the Clan MacRae under P/M Hamish MacColl MM, my tutor, and I represented the MacRae at the initial meeting when the SPBA [Scottish Pipe Band Association] was launched by Willie Sloan and Donald McIntosh.
‘Jock Nicoll followed Hamish as Pipe Major. Jock, now 93 years old is still living in Maryhill, Glasgow, and regularly phones me. I was playing with the MacRae in the halcyon days, competing against the MacLean, Millhall, Dalziel, Shotts, Anchor Mills and Glasgow City Police – all great sportsmen and equally great performers.
‘I am now 83 years old and I had a wee blow at Hogmanay so…….. good luck to the RSPBA.’
The letter continues. ‘The then P/M of the MacRae, Willie Fergusson is seated directly behind the Argyll Shield, the Champions Trophy at Cowal. To Willie’s right hand is Jock Nicoll. Standing at Willie’s left hand side and slightly behind is Hamish MacColl, with Donald McIntosh seated on the other side of the drums from Willie.
‘In front of John Nicoll is tenor drummer Charlie McIntosh, a legend in his own lifetime, one of the greatest tenor drummers ever. [Excellence in tenor drumming is clearly not a modern phenomenon.] Back row, left hand side, with moustache is the ‘paradiddle king’, Danny Paterson.
‘As one reads through these names one cannot help but be struck by the outstanding abilities of these fellows. Willie and his Australian Ladies spring to mind, and Hamish MacColl and all his wonderful 6/8 marches, and then there is Donald McIntosh, the first secretary of the Association.’
Back to the book….There are several pieces of material which have not appeared on Piping Press in detail. One is the newspaper note of the death of P/M Farquhar MacRae from the Oban Times, 14th October, 1916: ‘It was with much regret that the Celtic community in Glasgow learned last week of the accidental death by drowning of P/M MacRae in the Forth and Clyde Canal near Port Dundas.
‘There were few pipers better known or more widely respected than Farquhar MacRae. A native of Skye he spent the most part of his life in Glasgow and was a familiar figure in the Garb of Old Gaul at Highland gatherings….His knowledge of music and his many successes such as winning the Highland Society of London Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering brought him into prominence.
‘The great improvement in pipe band performance in Glasgow is due in no small measure to Mr MacRae’s painstaking system of imparting instruction.
‘The remains were interred at Craigton Cemetery, Glasgow…. at the graveside Pipe Majors John MacColl and John MacDougall Gillies played MacCrimmon’s Lament.’
An addendum notes Farquhar MacRae (right) as being born in Portree, Skye, on 23rd April 1859. His main piping tutor was Sandy Cameron, which, given that Cameron was based in the east Highlands would have meant considerable travel for lessons.
The notes tell us that Farquhar was second in the Medal in 1885, second equal two years later and third equal in 1890. He was second equal again in 1893, second in 1894 and third equal in 1896
This ‘equals’ carry-on indicates the level of judging around at the time with the untutored lairds on the bench unable to discern differences in pipers’ abilities.
Another addendum notes Farquhar as being the second famous piper to drown in the canal, that fate befalling P/M Archibald Ferguson of the Argylls in 1907. He is the reputed composer of the 2/4 march, MacLean of Pennycross.
Also from the Oban Times is a note, dated October 28th, 1916, recording a meeting to decide on a memorial for P/M MacRae. It was decided that a suitable trophy should be presented for annual competition and this is still awarded each year at the Scottish Pipers’ Association’s junior competition.
- Copies of the book are limited but if you would like one you can contact Iain here and he may be able to help you.