Pipe Major George MacKenzie piping in front of Eilean Donan Castle on the shores of Loch Duich.

After our recent report about Pipe Major George MacKenzie, a few readers alerted us to an article that appeared many years ago in the Piping Times. The article was written by one of the magazine’s frequent correspondents in those days, David V. Kennedy. In his article, written shortly after MacKenzie’s death in the spring of 1983, Kennedy recalls meeting the ex-Seaforths Pipe Major during a holiday in Scotland. It’s a great read and we are delighted to reproduce it here:

By David V. Kennedy, Sacramento, California.

The year was 1969, and I and my wife and an old friend from Boston were visiting the homeland after many years absence … not my wife (who is from Costa Rica) nor our elderly lady friend (from Massachusetts, USA) but I, who had been raised and gone to college in the United Kingdom.

On the way up to Màm Ratagan, one of our B & B staying-over locations, my Sinclair chanter had been broken by careless handling by the airlines in Gatwick, and I didn’t discover it until we were in Ratagan. This seemed to be disastrous because, kilted and bonneted, I had hopes of playing the pipe in the U.K. But to my rescue came Iain and Mairi Sinclair (our hosts at Ratagan); and at Iain’s suggestion we were to visit a certain Pipe Major at Inverinate, named MacKenzie.

The view across Loch Duich to Inverinate from Màm Ratagan.
The view from Màm Ratagan across Loch Duich to Inverinate.

No sooner suggested than done, and the evening of our arrival at Ratagan we motored over to the other side of Loch Duich and were welcomed by P. M. MacKenzie. As I recollect, this was on a Sunday evening, and, since the Pipe Major turned out to be a ‘Wee Free,’ playing the pipe on a Sunday was out of the question.

However, P.M. MacKenzie did immediately rummage about in a closet and came out with an old Robertson chanter which he lent to me until mine could be repaired, he recommending to Iain that because Iain worked for the Forestry Commission he could use some glue to repair my chanter, letting it sit overnight. But in case it had not firmed up by morning, I could then play the Robertson, and the Pipe Major suggested that he and I could have a few tunes in the byre over to Ratagan.

Well frankly, I was overwhelmed by this kind offer, and sure enough, came Monday evening or afternoon, and says Mairi: “A Dhaibhidh, your friend from Kintail is here to see you” and indeed he was, equipped with the Great Pipe and ready to go.

By that time, my chanter had been glued up OK so both of us repaired to the byre and started in. I must say, that from the smell of ammonia, that byre had been well used over the years. I had taken the precaution to set a bottle of Glen Grant on the stall in case either I or the Pipe Major were overcome by the fumes. But we persevered, and although he was a far better piper than I was in those days, we managed to find quite a few tunes in common.

The cover of the April 1983 'Piping Times' featuring a photo of P.M. George MacKenzie.
The cover of the April 1983 ‘Piping Times’ featuring a photo of P.M. George MacKenzie.

True to Highland courtesy he said to me on one or two occasions, “If you don’t mind my saying so, I think that if you made your C doublings in this way, they would sound quite a bit better!’ Of course, I did not mind his saying so. But one of his remarks still sticks in my mind: “Isn’t it amazing,” he said, “that here you are all the way from California, and here I am from Inverinate, and yet we can still play pipe tunes which we both know!” The graciousness of that remark has never lost me; and it is the sign of a true Highland gentleman to be accommodating to one of lesser technique on the Great Pipe, as indeed I was then.

Well, I do not remember if this was the same P.M. George MacKenzie of Inverinate who was so nice to me, but what called it to my mind was the photo of P.M. MacKenzie on the cover of the April 1983 Piping Times … In some way I am hoping that this was, indeed, the same piper who played with me in the byre.

The caption under the photo states that this is “the late Pipe Major George MacKenzie of Inverinate”, and although my geography is not all that good for Scotland after many years of absence, I do think that the Inverinate Forest is pretty close to Màm Ratagan and I also dimly think that the P.M. who was so kind to me did indeed look like the man in the photo.

In any event, even if I have made a mistake in identity, I still am deeply moved by the kind of tolerance and friendship of a fellow piper in and near Kintail … and if I do have the right identification, then this brief story is meant to be a tribute to a very fine piper and a fine gentleman.

• The following footnote was added by Seumas MacNeill: “No mistake, Inverinate is just across Loch Duich from Ratagan and there was only one Pipe Major George MacKenzie.”

* From the October 1983 Piping Times.