Piping in the ’45 – the Year of the Piper


• This article first appeared in the Piping Times, June 1983.

By Bruce Campbell

On the 11th of August, 1745 Prince Charles Edward Stuart stepped ashore at Kinlochmoidart on the west coast of Scotland in a bid to restore his family’s right to the ancient Kingdom of Scotland. John Maclntyre, of the Rannoch family of pipers, celebrated the event with the composition of a bold piobaireachd, Thainig Mo Righ Air Tir Am Muiderat – My King Has Landed in Moidart. Amongst the highland chiefs that came to pledge their support to the Stuart cause was Alexander MacDonald of Glenalladale. As was the custom, Glenalladale took his family piper, Donald Campbell, with him. Campbell was only 17-years-old and must have felt very proud when his Prince asked him to play his pipes. It is said that Prince Charles was so pleased with Donald’s piping that he gave the young piper three guineas.

Prince Charles himself was a keen musician and a performer on the smallpipes so it is no surprise that throughout the ’45, pipers were very much to the fore. The effect that these pipers had on the highlanders morale was obvious and no doubt the Prince used this advantage to great effect. But piping was not confined to the Jacobite army, for the pipes also sounded in the Hanoverian army in the companies of Lord Loudon’s New Highland Regiment and the Highland lndependent Companies as well as the Argyll Militia.

Fyffe painting
This section of Fyffe Christie’s painting from 1954 depicts the tune, Lament for Donald Bàn MacCrimmon and was displayed at the College of Piping since then. It remains at Otago Street today.

Loudon’s Regiment had been raised in April 1745, originally intended for service in Flanders, but it had been caught up in the troubles in Scotland. A famous recruit in the Company of Captain John MacLeod (Younger of MacLeod) was Donald Bàn MacCrimmon, the celebrated piper. It is said that prior to his departure with his Company, Donald Bàn had a dream in which he had a premonition of his own death and, as MacLeod’s Company sailed from Dunvegan, a despondent Donald Bàn piped the lament Cha Till Mi Till – I Will Never Return. Whether or not this did actually happen is uncertain but the legend has created a fallacy concerning the tune itself. Today, the tune is widely known as ‘MacCrimmon Will Never Return’ and Donald Bàn accredited with its composition in 1745, but this could not be as the tune was a popular piece for at least half a century prior to 1745.

There were also pipers in the other companies of Loudon‘s Regiment but they were listed on the muster roll as drummers, a practice that continued in the British army until 1845. Two of these that we know of were Kenneth MacKenzie (piper to Lord Fortrose) and John McIlrodich (piper to Duncan Campbell of Lochnell). The Independent Companies also boasted of a famous piper in Malcolm MacCrimmon, the elder brother of Donald Bàn, who was piper in the company of his clan chief Norman MacLeod of MacLeod. Another famous Skye piper, John MacArthur, was piper in the company of Captain John MacDonald of Aird. The MacArthurs were second in importance only to the MacCrimmons and were hereditary pipers to the MacDonalds. Aird’s piper could have either been John Bàn or the man who later became known as Professor John. It is more likely to have been John Bàn, however, as Professor John became piper to the Highland Society of Scotland and had he served at all in the ‘45 it would probably been recorded somewhere as there has been much written about this man. Aird‘s piper then was probably John Bàn MacArthur, brother of Charles who was himself piper to Sir Alexander MacDonald of Sleat.

Highbridge today.

One of the earliest incidents in the ‘45 was the skirmish at High Bridge [pictured above; near Spean Bridge, Lochaber]. Two companies of the Royal Scots under the command of Captain Scott were en route to Fort William to reinforce the garrison there when they were intercepted by a band of 12 MacDonalds led by Donald MacDonald of Tirnadris, a Major in Keppoch’s Regiment. Tirnadris positioned his men in hiding behind the inn and then waited for the unsuspecting troops to enter the ambush. When the Royal Scots had entered the ‘killing zone’ the MacDonald piper struck up with his clan charge while the rest of the little band raced down the hillside brandishing Claymore and targe. This proved too much for the raw troops who broke and fled. This event inspired the composition of the piobaireachd, The End of the High Bridge. Another piobaireachd composed to honour this first victory is The Rout of the Lowland Captain.

A few days later the clan pipers were playing their favourite salutes and gatherings as the Prince raised his standard at Glenfinnan. A piobaireachd which has come to be associated with this first Glenfinnan Highland Gathering is the Stewart’s White Banner. But this is another example of piping legend being untrue. The banner unfurled that day was made of red silk, possibly edged in blue and with a white space in the centre, so the tune and the incident are quite unconnected. The tune itself is known by other different titles and is first entitled under its present name in Angus MacKay‘s manuscript. MacKay is guilty of giving many other tunes incorrect titles.

Another early Jacobite success was at the Battle of Gladsmuir. The name of this battle was later changed to Prestonpans at the insistence of the local townsfolk who were keen to have their town better known. To commemorate this victory Finlay Dubh MacRae wrote The Duke of Perth’s March for his master who commanded the right wing in the battle. The battle itself was unusual in that the pipes were silent. No salutes. No wild charges were heard as the Jacobites advanced into position under the secrecy of darkness. The battle was little more than a rout and amongst the many Hanoverian troops captured were several pipers in Loudon’s Regiment who were part of a detail guarding the baggage. They were imprisoned, probably at Perth, until January when they were paroled. Alexander Skirving wrote the popular satirical ballad, Hey Johnnie Cope in which he reviled the commander of the Government troops. This same tune has since become the Reveille of every Scottish regiment, and no doubt the first Pipe Major to include it on the duty roster did so with tongue in cheek.

The pipes sounded throughout the triumphant march to Derby and the subsequent withdrawal north. Amongst the prisoners taken after the fall of Carlisle were several Jacobite pipers. John Ballantine (Murray’s), Nicholas Carr (Glenbucket’s) and Robert Jamieson (Perth’s) were all later released but one. James Reid, a piper in Ogilvy’s, was not so fortunate. At his trial his prosecutor pointed out that the bagpipes were an instrument of war, and, despite the jury’s recommendation of clemency, Reid was found guilty of treason and executed at York on December 15, 1746. Another piper sentenced to death was James MacGregor, alias Campbell, who served in Glengyle’s Regiment. At his trial he had pled guilty and was duly sentenced to death. His resulted in the same end, but the night before he was due to be shipped he escaped from his jail. MacGregor was later re-captured and finally in November 1748 transported.

The most celebrated piping prisoner was undoubtedly Malcolm MacCrimmon. He was amongst those captured when seven companies under the command of Norman MacLeod were defeated by the Jacobites at the skirmish of lnverurie on December 23, 1745. Despite being on the opposing side the Jacobite pipers, many of whom had studied under the MacCrimmons at their college in Skye, were angry at the confinement of their master piper and it is said that they would not play until his release. Regardless of their actual feelings, this is not so. Malcolm was taken to Stirling and was not paroled until March but only a few weeks after his capture, on January 17 the pipes were again rousing the Highlanders to a frenzy at the Battle of Falkirk. Perhaps Allan Dàll MacDougall, the blind piper in Lord Nairn’s, later wished that this modern sentiment was true for during the battle he was to wander into the Hanoverian lines and from there to his imprisonment in Leith Jail until his release in 1747 under the terms of the General Pardon.

Moy Hall near Inverness.
Moy Hall near Inverness.

The other MacCrimmon participant in the ’45 – Donald Bàn – suffered a worse fate. Lord Loudon had command of a force of some 1,500 men which had marched on Moy Hall in an attempt to effect the surprise capture of Prince Charles who was (lining with Lady MacKintosh. However, an outlying piquet had surprised the column and in the ensuing confusion Donald Bàn was struck with a wild shot.

MacCrimmon was the only casualty at the Rout of Moy and Lament for Donald Bàn MacCrimmon was composed by his grief-stricken brother who at the time was languishing in jail at Stirling.

Culloden was to be the final scene in the Jacobite struggle. As the Prince’s regiments formed up in order of battle their pipers played the tunes favoured by the tired and hungry clansmen. In the centre of the front line Ewen MacGregor piped for the Frasers, while his kinsman, John MacGregor and Alexander Munro, who were Prince Charles’ personal pipers, played at the rear. Another piper of the Fraser Regiment was young David Fraser who only three years previously had gone to Boreraig to study under Malcolm MacCrimmon. The day was bitterly cold as the wind, which blew in their faces, was chilled by rain and sleet. lf it was cold for the soldiers then it was worse for the pipers whose fingers were frozen.

As the Hanoverian artillery decimated the Jacobite front line with barrage after barrage of grape shot – which would mutilate a man rather than kill him – the Jacobite army stood its ground. Throughout this mayhem the clan pipers sounded the wild notes of piobaireachd, which spoke of ancient clan feuds and battles. Finally, the Jacobite Centre advanced, then the right wing, and then the left wing of the great MacDonald clan regiments. The left was to suffer terrible casualties.

Keppoch himself fell. Clanranald was wounded and so was Glenalladale. Glenalladale had brought 150 of his name from their rich lands surrounding Loch Shiel and throughout their exploits they had been heartened by the piping of Donald Campbell. But on Culloden’s sodden fields Donald also proved his great courage. Glenalladale lay wounded and had it not been for his piper he would have been slaughtered in the aftermath of the battle as Cumberland’s troops went about their business of earning him his name of Butcher. Campbell forsook his pipes and picked up his master and then carried him over a hundred miles to the safety of his own glen.

During one of the artillery barrages Prince Charles’ horse was shot out from under him, and at the same time his servant was killed and his piper, John MacGregor, was wounded in the thigh. MacGregor managed to escape and lived to tell of his adventures in the Prince’s army. His four sons all became great pipers, each of them winning the Prize Pipe. He himself competed at the first Falkirk Tryst in 178l at the age of 73 and won the third prize. The two-droned bagpipe which John MacGregor played at Culloden is at present owned by the Duke of Atholl the Blair Castle Charitable Trust.

Another famous bagpipe played that day was that belonging to the Chisholm’s piper, lain Beag. Legend has it that his pipe chanter, The Maiden of the Sandal, was brought from Rome and if any Siosalach was about to die the then it could not be played. The Captain of the Chisholm Regiment at Culloden was Ronald Òg, youngest son of the old chief. Ronald Òg was struck down as lain Beag piped his men from Strathglass into action against the Royal Scots. His mutilated body was later found on the battlefield by two of his brothers. John and James, both of who fought that day as captains in the Royal Scots.

If nothing else then the ‘45 has left us with a legacy of poetry and music and piping in particular has benefitted. Other than the tunes previously mentioned we have been left with tunes such as:

  • MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart’s Lament, composed in honour of the Prince’s Aide-de-camp who was unfortunate enough to have been captured while on messenger duty. Kinlochmoidart was tried and found guilty of treason. After having been hanged his severed head was spiked on the English gate outside Carlisle.
  • Lord Lovat’s Lament, composed by David Fraser for the ‘Old Fox’ who after having eventually come out for his Prince was captured while hiding in a tree trunk. Lovat was beheaded at Towerhill on the 9th of April, I747, but unlike Kinlochmoidart or Tirnadris his passing was lamented by very few.
  • Prince Charles’ Lament, composed by Malcolm MacLeod, who had aided the Prince during his flight into exile, on the departure of the Prince from Scotland.
  • In Praise of Morag, by Alexander MacDonald. Morag was one of the code names used by the Prince’s followers to identify him on his wanderings prior to his exile.
  • The Young Laird of Dungallon’s Salute, composed as a tribute to Alexander Cameron who commanded the Sunart and Morvern Camerons of Lochiel’s Regiment with some distinction during the ‘45.

Many examples of ceòl beag have also survived from this period, either original bagpipe compositions or adaptations from popular airs. Perhaps amongst the best known of these are The White Cockade, John Roy Stewart (who was commander of the Edinburgh Regiment), Lochiel’s Away to France and O’er the Water to Charlie.

With the passing of the Act for the Abolition of Heritable Jurisdictions in l747 the death knell was sounded for the end of Highland culture as it was known at that time and piping itself would never return to its previous state. If the ’45 had been the year of the Prince, then it could also be called with some justification The Year of the Piper.

See also Drums and Pipes in the Royal Army – 1745 by Ruairidh H. MacLeod, Vol. 32 Nos. 10, 12; Vol. 33 Nos. 1, 5.