By Dugald B. MacNeill

Nearly 30 years ago I heard John MacFadyen play this tune on the wireless. I was on holiday near Taynuilt at the time and it was one of the piping broadcasts I have enjoyed most.

The very few other pipers who played it then and some who have played it more recently have played it more or less following it as it is printed in Book 6 of the Piobaireachd Society’s Collection where the Editorial Notes suggest a better description of the method of playing the ground would be to write it in common time. This is done for the first line and this is how Kilberry, the editor of Book 6, writes the whole ground in his own book [the Kilberry Book of] Ceol Mor. John MacFadyen followed the common time and shortened the first low A and emphasised the E; similarly with the low G and D. Thus, the tune is transformed from a doleful, soulful dirge to a bold, almost boastful salute. It certainly made a great impression on me and it has remained a firm favourite ever since then.

Angus MacKay in his own MS titles it Beloved Scotland, I leave thee gloomy, which fits it rather well when played as he had written it in 6/8 timing. Incidentally, the first few notes of this great tune are inscribed on John MacFadyen’s headstone but as Seumas MacNeill pointed out they are not the way John played the tune.

John MacFadyen in 1960.

One wonders how indeed John MacKay of Raasay played it – if he did play it. It is an unusual tune, one of very few piobaireachds where a melody is repeated one note up or down – something that is quite common in ceòl beag, for example in that fine reel Mrs MacPherson of Inveran. The only other well known piobaireachds that come to mind with this repetition of a melody one note up or down are In Praise of Marion, Mary’s Praise and The Battle of Waternish.

However, mentioning Mrs MacPherson of Inveran does bring to mind Lament for the Children which I have long thought was what inspired the composition and in that great piobaireachd there is almost a repetition of the melody one note down but that repeat is constrained to fit reasonably into the pentatonic scale used. No doubt some musicologist could analyse this feature of our music and tell us more.

The other very unusual feature of the tune is that for an urlar of three lines of equal length the first line is not repeated. The only other example of this is the Lament for John Garve MacLeod although the Piobaireachd Society show it otherwise. Kilberry, who edited Book 5 in which it appears, nevertheless has it in his own book, without the first line being repeated.

Sheriffuir, Stirlingshire, Scotland. There is a tradition that the tune is associated with the battle that took place here in 1715.

Book 6 was reprinted in 1992 with much of the re-editing being the work of Capt. John MacLellan. In an additional note on Beloved Scotland it is acknowledged that the tune had become popular (I reckon much of the credit is due to John MacFadyen) and it is noted that invariably the taorluath variation is now played as it first appeared in Angus MacKay’s MS, that is with the taorluath “played down.”

David Glen’s setting of the ground.

Angus MacKay has a note in the index he wrote for Angus MacArthur’s MS querying the name ‘Albain Bheadarach’ but in his own MS he names the tune as mentioned above as Beloved Scotland I leave thee gloomy. Duncan Campbell also calls the tune Alba Bhedarach.

No one appears to know who composed the tune or even who might have composed it. One guesses that it is not a very early composition, perhaps late 17th century at the earliest. Perhaps some clever musical sleuth or history researcher might lead to a probable composer. It certainly would be worth the effort for such a fine tune.

• From the September 1997 Piping Times.

* Listen to Hugh MacCallum playing Beloved Scotland: