A MacCrimmon relic


• From the August 1994 Piping Times.

The late John MacFadyen obtained permission from Dame Flora MacLeod of MacLeod to examine some of the MacLeod papers in Dunvegan Castle, with a view to finding references to the MacCrimmon pipers.

He was fortunate to be allowed to take photocopies of some of the papers. One or two of these have already appeared in the Piping Times but not the following, which came to light in a recent search for suitable items to appear in the library of the new College of Piping (due to be opened next year).

The document is as follows:

The translation of this proved to be a bit difficult, so we asked Bridget MacKenzie (who gave such a fascinating talk at the [Piobaireachd Society] Conference earlier this year [1993] and who wrote these articles on the Blind Piper). Here is what Bridget had to say:-

This is a receipt, and what it says is, in essence:

I, Malcolm MacCrummen, son to Peter MacCrummen, tenant in Struan, grant me to have received from Normand MacLeod of MacLeod Esqr, by the hand of Alexander MacLeod of Glendale, his factor, the sum of Fifty merks scots money, being the @ rent (instalment or payment) of One thousand merks, said money due by bond to my said father, and that from Martinmas Seventeen hundred and Sixty eight to Martinmas Seventeen hundred and Sixty nine which @ rent and all preceeding @ rents Thereby discharge the said Normand MacLeod of Leod and his said factor, as witness my hand at Struan the Twenty seventh day of August One Thousand seven hundred and seventy years.

(signed) Malcolm MacCrummen

Dunvegan Castle.
Dunvegan Castle.


The grammar in this document is complex and very much of the 18th century in style. The gist is: I acknowledge that I have received the sum of 50 merks … and that sum is an instalment of a debt of 1000 merks, and that (instalment) covers 1768-9, which taken with all the preceding instalments discharges Norman MacLeod’s debt.

grant me to have received: acknowledge that I have received Fifty merks scots money: about £3 sterling. Officially the merk scots was abolished in 1707, but clearly it continued to be used long after that.

@ rent: this seems to be the legal term “on-rent” which was used in Scots law as a noun meaning “interest, payment of an instalment of a debt (usually including interest).” The symbol @ is used to distinguish the word from ordinary “on”.

due by bond: the conditions and terms of a loan were written down and signed by both parties. The creditor then kept the paper, and when the debt was fully repaid he returned it to the debtor. “due by bond” means “owing by written agreement”

Jaivij % is an abbreviation for 1700, so “Jaivij % and Sixty eight: is “1768”. The squiggle % means “hundred”, and Jai represents “one thousand”, I don’t know how. Martinmas could be either November 11th (St Martin’s Day) or July 4th (the day of the Translation of St Martin). The November Martinmas, sometimes called “Martinmas-in-winter”, was the traditional day for the settlement of debts, so is probably the one referred to here. The fact that this receipt is dated August 1770 probably indicates no more than that Norman(d) was slow in coming up with the final payment.

The document is clearly a receipt given by Malcolm MacCrummen when Norman MacLeod of MacLeod finally settled a debt of 1,000 merks (about £60, a large sum in those days) which Peter MacCrummen had lent him at some date not specified in the receipt.

This is clear enough, but the document raises more questions than it answers. I would think it is by no means certain that it has any relevance to the piping world, as we cannot be sure if the Peter and Malcolm MacCrummen referred to are the same as Patrick Òg MacCrimmon and his son Malcolm (composer of Lament for Donald Bàn MacCrimmon).

Map of northwest Skye
Map of northwest Skye. Struan is situated at the bottom right of the map, Glendale near the top left. Boreraig and Galtrigil are at the top left. (©Crown copyright 2014 Ordnance Survey Media 036/14)

Points in favour of the identification:

  1. The coincidence of the names, father and son, at approximately the right time. There is no problem about the difference between Peter and Patrick, as both were used as English translations of the Gaelic name Padruig — on the whole, “Peter” was used in the late 18th and early 19th century, and “Patrick” came in later, but this was not a hard-and-fast rule.
  2. A general lack of hard evidence about the MacCrimmons at this time makes it difficult to know whether they could have been living at Struan in 1770. The evidence of Pennant in 1772 and Dr. Johnson in 1773 shows that the MacCrimmons had left Boreraig early in the decade: Johnson says “last year”, but this may not be completely accurate. As far as I know there is no other evidence that the MacCrimmons moved from Boreraig to Struan but it is possible. The receipt does not make it entirely clear if “tenant in Struan” refers to Peter or to Malcolm. If the family was the piping MacCrimmons, the tenant must have been Malcolm, not Peter.

Points against the identification:

  1. The sequence Peter/Malcolm could have been found in other branches of the MacCrimmon family. Such parallels were often found.
  2. Patrick Òg is supposed to have died around 1730, and his son Malcolm in 1760. If Malcolm was still living in 1770, these dates would have to be revised. If the payments of the debt were 50 merks per year, on a debt of 1000 merks, the money was lent in 1750, 20 years after the death of Patrick Òg. But Norman(d) was obviously not a prompt payer, so perhaps he spun it out. Norman became Chief in 1706, and died in 1772, so there is no problem about his overlapping with Patrick Òg.
  3. There was at least one other MacCrimmon family in the Struan area – one of them was piper to MacSwan of Roaig in the mid-17th century.