• From the October 2014 Piping Times.

By Keith Sanger

section from the Campbell Canntaireachd
A page from the Campbell Canntaireachd. Could deafness have been a reason for its production?

Although a considerable amount of research on the Campbell Canntaireachd manuscripts and the music contained in them has been undertaken over the years, one question, which has yet to be addressed seriously, is what prompted the Campbell’s to compile the collection in the first place. This may seem a rather esoteric point but it is an important one because an understanding of their initial motivation would help to explain the direction in which the compilation developed.

Before exploring a possible answer to that question, a brief recap of the background is required, mostly taken from material published previously in the Piping Times, (see vol. 58, no’s 1, 2 and 10). The family, as far as we have it, starts with a Donald Campbell who was a retainer of MacDonald of Glenalladale. Tradition records that Glenalladale had paid for the young Donald to ‘receive an education’, which has been interpreted to mean he was sent for training as a piper, but was more likely to mean he had been sent to school to acquire reading and writing skills, probably with the intention of becoming his patron’s clerk.

However, this was overtaken by the start of the rebellion in 1745, when Donald was instead used as a piper in Glenalladale’s Company of the Clanranald Regiment; the fact that he could play the pipes suggesting a connection with another group of Campbells who served as pipers among other things to MacDonald of Keppoch and were known as ‘MacGlasrich’ from their having come initially from Glassary in mid-Argyle.
In the light of what happened this link between the MacDonalds and the Campbells is possibly significant. Between 1708-12, two of the then MacDonald of Keppoch’s sons were at school at Kenmore (in what was possibly a form of fosterage by proxy, the Earl of Breadalbane paid for them to board with the Breadalbane piper, Donald Roy MacIntyre). Around the same period, one Angus McGlasrich, although clearly associated with Keppoch, often appears in the Breadalbane papers.

Following Culloden, where the young Donald Campbell assisted in removing his wounded chief, MacDonald of Glenalladale, from the battlefield, his employment in any capacity had come to an end and in any case he, too, was now a hunted ‘rebel’. It was at this point that he was taken under the wing of Colin Campbell of Carwhin, a captain in the Argyle Militia but who gained a reputation for an even handed ap-proach in his dealings with former Jacobites during the post-Culloden period. Once the Argyle Militia were stood down, Carwhin returned to his former position as the Earl’s Chamberlain for the Lorne part of the Breadalbane estate, based at Ardmaddy which he held as the Chamberlain.

Ardmaddy today.

The house itself sits in a south-facing bay looking over the Sound of Seil with a small hill immediately behind it. On the north side of that hill is a small strip of land between before the boundary between the policies of Ardmaddy and Ardshellach and it was here that Donald Campbell was given a small croft. It never appears in the Breadalbane rentals because, contrary to general belief, the family were not pipers to the Earl of Breadalbane but simply some sort of sub tenant of the chamberlain, Colin Campbell of Carwhin; although when in 1782 Breadalbane died and the title then passed to Carwhin’s eldest son John, the piper’s son Colin seems to have attempted to claim that position by sending a presentation fair copy of one tune to the new Earl.

To return to the question of why the Campbell Canntaireachd was first conceived it is necessary to look at why the earldom actually passed down to Carwhin’s son. There are a number of versions of the story but they were critically examined and a verifiable version was compiled by Paul Hopkins and published under the title ‘A Stonefield Bride to Replenish the Race of Breadalbane’, in West Highland Notes & Queries series 2, number 6. (September 1990). To summarise that article, the third Earl of Breadalbane was well on in years and it was clear that with no direct living descendants, the title at his death would move to a collateral line. Technically, Campbell of Carwhin was the next closest cousin to Lord Breadalbane but was also no longer in the first flush of youth and seemed to have settled for bachelorhood.

Taymouth Castle
Taymouth Castle. Lord Breadalbane summoned his cousin, Colin Campbell of Carwhin, here.

However, it came to the attention of Lord Breadalbane that another of his cousins, said to be Campbell of Glenfalloch, was claiming publicly that his son would in fact become the next earl. This annoyed Lord Breadalbane, especially as he detested that particular cousin, so Breadalbane summoned Colin Campbell of Carwhin to Taymouth and told him he had to get married. With his first attempts to find a bride unsuccessful Carwhin asked his friend and neighbour, Campbell of Melfort what he should do. His friend considered the question and suggested that, “If all you want is to pleasure Breadalbane, try Betty Stonefield, I’se warrant she’ll no refuse you”.

So the match was arranged with Elizabeth, the daughter of Campbell of Stonefield, and within a few years of the marriage in 1758 two sons were produced. Lord Breadalbane took a particular interest in the education of the boys. In 1772 after the death of Carwhin himself, whose last known remark was, “I’m no well”, Lady Carwhin was maintained by Breadalbane in London where the boys were attending school before they were sent off on a grand tour to Switzerland. But to return to how any of this is relevant to why the canntaireachd was written we have to consider one of the principle reasons why Carwhin had not been seen as a good marriage pro-spect. Firstly, even including his chamberlain’s holding of Ardmaddy, he did not have a very large estate, which usually helped attract a bride, but more importantly Colin Campbell of Carwhin had been progressively going deaf from a fairly early age.

For someone in the position of Donald Campbell as a piper who was now dependent on a patron who was less and less able to actually hear him play, the idea of using his otherwise redundant writing skills – acquired through the ‘education’ he received while serving Glenalladale – to produce a readable version of oral canntaireachd to aid Carwhin does seem to be a reasonable possibility. To quote part of the title of this article, ‘Stranger things have happened’. Of course, this only explains the original concept of a ‘visual’ form of oral canntaireachd but it is easy to see how if my premise is accepted the next generation represented by Donald Campbell’s son Colin would have taken it on.

campbells campbell canntaireachd

Colin, the piper’s son, would have grown up with his father’s work. Although Colin served in the Western or Argyle Fencibles he was invalided out, so ill health may have limited the physical work he could do. Therefore, with perhaps time on his hands and the incentive of the Highland Society looking for ‘Ancient Pipe Music’, using the technique originally devised by his father for a partially deaf patron would naturally lend itself to being refined for producing and ‘codifying’ a collection of pipe music. This would also explain some of the peculiarities of both the Gaelic and Scots titles of the surviving canntaireachd volumes.

Though both Colin and his father Donald would have been native Gaelic speakers, they would have been taught to write in Scots longhand, not the orthography needed for written Gaelic, so it’s hardly surprising that their written Gaelic was rather mangled. Furthermore, at that time and place they would have mostly spoken Gaelic rather than ‘Scots’ which in turn would have limited the size of their Scots vocabulary, an important factor when it comes to trying to translate oral Gaelic titles into written Scots.