By Dr John Smith, chairman of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society
Pipe Major Iain Murdo Morrison passed away at the Western Isles Hospital, Stornoway, Isle of Lewis on December 17. Although he had been unwell for some time his death came somewhat unexpectedly, and caused ripples of sorrow in the community of Back where he lived, and in the wider piping community, where he was well known and respected. Several tributes have already been paid to him.
These included a very nice tribute to him by Neil Smith, originally from Point, testifying to the kindness and generosity of Iain, when he was a pupil of his more than 30 years ago. That was the experience of all those who were taught by him over many years, from the most amateurish youngster struggling with grace notes and doublings, to the most accomplished such as the late Pipe Major Alasdair Gillies, whom he coached to achieve the unique record of 11 wins of the Northern Star for Light Music at the Northern Meetings in Inverness. It is a record unlikely to ever be equalled, let alone bettered.
In his own competing days Iain won all the top prizes. He was considered by his peers to have been the best at playing competition 2/4 Marches, and he had a unique ‘round’ style of playing reels, which was very musical. His Army career culminated in a period as Pipe Major of the Queen’s Own Highlanders.
On retiring from the Army he returned to his native island and shortly afterwards took up the post of Piping Instructor for schools on the east side of Lewis, succeeding Angus ‘Boxer’ MacLeod. In addition, Iain was happy to share his knowledge, skill and expertise freely in his own time. For many years he held a weekly evening session at Back school for youngsters learning the pipes. The late Angie ‘Scotch’ MacRae assisted him. He also gave lessons privately in his own home, where Mrs Morrison offered generous hospitality to all visitors.
He was a member of the committee of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society for more than 30 years, serving for most of that time as Piping Secretary. In that capacity he was responsible for arranging recitalists, he was closely involved in the annual junior competition, and for many years he was the main driver in organising the annual Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE Memorial Competition. Iain and his good friend (and fellow soldier) Captain Angus ‘Dodo’ Stewart developed the idea for the competition in the early 1990s. Sadly, Dodo did not live long enough to see the success achieved by the competition under Iain’s guidance.
His personal knowledge of Donald MacLeod and his music, together with his extensive experience of piping at the highest level, were brought to bear in devising the format of the competition. He also advised on the pipers and the judges to be invited to Stornoway to commemorate the man and his music. The Piping Society would like to express its deep sense of gratitude for Iain’s stewardship over the years. He was justifiably proud of what had been achieved with the competition, ably assisted by his daughter, Donalda for the last decade, making it one of the best invitational competitions on the professional circuit.
Iain Murdo was a devoted family man, and will be most sorely missed by his wife Flora and their children, Catherine, Donalda and young Iain and their respective families. We extend our deepest sympathy to them and other close relatives.