Irish pipers and Scotland


By Keith Sanger

It would be surprising given the interconnections between Scotland and Ireland over many centuries, if pipers had not crossed over between the two countries. Yet apart from a few tantalising early references, it is in the accounts of the Highland Society of London that we find the first firm evidence of Scots patronage of Irish Pipers albeit outwith both countries.

The Society held regular dinners and it was following one of these on January 20, 1789 that the “Irish Piper Murphy” provided the entertainment. Murphy was back again on January 20, 1798, this time with another Irish Piper called “MacDonald” presumably the piper MacDonnell associated with Cork.1 John Murphy went on to publish a collection of Irish airs and jigs wherein he described himself as “performer on the Union Pipes at Eglinton Castle” the home of Hugh Montgomery, 12th Earl of Eglinton. From the engraver to the list of subscribers the collection was clearly published for a Scottish market and was probably a result of encouragement from the Earl, who anonymously through Nathaniel Gow had published his own collection of New Strathspey Reels in 1796.2

Eglinton Castle in its heyday. It is now a ruin.
Eglinton Castle in its heyday. It is now a ruin.

There is no firm date for John Murphy’s collection, although it must be later than 1796 when Gow and Shepherd, the Edinburgh music sellers listed as distributors and subscribers were founded, and probably after 1798 when the new Eglinton Castle was built. A date of c1810 has been suggested but may well have been earlier since John Murphy was already employed at Eglinton by 1805 when at the Ayr races in September of that year: “The company in the race stand were entertained by the celebrated Murphy, Lord Eglinton’s Piper with many favourite airs on the Irish bagpipe in his best style.”3

How long Murphy stayed at Eglinton is unclear. Nothing more is heard of him until October 1818 when his death was reported, “at his lodgings Adam Street West Portman Square London. Mr John Murphy long celebrated as an eminent professor of the Union Pipes. A man steady in friendship and of sound integrity. His loss will be long felt by the admirers of Scots and Irish Music.”4

Corri's Rooms, which later became the Theatre Royal, at the top of Leith Walk.
Corri’s Rooms, which later became the Theatre Royal, at the top of Leith Walk.

During the period when Murphy was working in the west of Scotland, Edinburgh received the first visit from a piper who was to make the city his home base over some ten years. To an advert for Mr Alexander Napier’s Concert to be held in Corri’s Rooms* in July 1806 was included: “Mr Fitzmaurice the celebrated Performer on the Union Pipes to their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and Duke of Sussex and the Highland Society of London is just arrived in this city and will on that evening play a solo on his pipe.”5

It was in August of that year that Fitzmaurice was billed to appear during an interval in the annual Highland Society competition for Highland Pipers where a newspaper report of the competition recorded that Mr Fitzmaurice, “played several beautiful airs on the Union Pipes which were received with great applause.”

The strength of his reception encouraged him to remain and in October he placed his own advert under the heading Union Pipe, advertising that: “Mr Fitzmaurice informs the public that he intends remaining for some time in Edinburgh and will give instructions on the Union Pipes on a new and expeditious plan which will enable any gentleman to accompany him on that Instrument after a few lessons: his Rondo called ‘Fitzmaurice’s Ramble to Scotland’ lately composed by him and played with such applause at his concert in Glasgow, will be published in a few days and will be had at the music shops and at Mrs Robertson’s Lodgings at Middle Rose Street.”

The sheet music also carried the reference to his Glasgow concert and therefore must have been engraved shortly before the advertisement. The music was “Adapted for Union Pipes, Piano Forte, Flute or Violin”, priced at 6d and would seem to be the earliest of his publications.”

After a brief visit to England, Fitzmaurice was back in Edinburgh by the end of December and busy organising a concert to be held at Corri’s Rooms on the evening of Saturday, January 10.


*Corri’s Rooms in Broughton Street, Edinburgh (at the top of Leith Walk), was named after the owner, a Mr. Corri. It was previously the Sadler’s Wells Theatre and later became the Theatre Royal.


1. National Library of Scotland, Dep 268, No 34; Nicholas Carolan, McDonnell’s; Uillean Pipes, in Ceol Vol VI No 2, April 1984, 59 — 61.
2. H. G. Farmer, A History of Music in Scotland, (1947), 339.
3. R. Cannon, A Bibliography of Bagpipe Music (1980), 90 — 91; Edinburgh Evening Courant, Monday September 31, 1805.
4. Edinburgh Evening Courant, Thursday, October 15, 1818.
5. Edinburgh Evening Courant, July 21, 1806.
6. Edinburgh Evening Courant, August 2, 1806 and 7 August 1806.
7. Edinburgh Evening Courant, October 27, 1806; Fitzmaurice’s Ramble to
Scotland, National Library of Scotland, MH.e.145.

• From the August 1998 Piping Times.