By Seumas MacNeill
Most gatherings have an atmosphere all of their own, and none more so than Inverness. Last of the season’s contests, equal in stature with Oban, it is the final fling for pipers and enthusiasts before the winter.
The Northern Meeting ballroom with its warmth, splendid acoustics, and excellent tuning facilities is, alas, no longer the venue. Instead, the ballroom of the Caledonian Hotel and the Black Memorial Hall were pressed into service, and very well they did too. To the younger pipers the atmosphere was all wrong, but those of us who remember when the Argyllshire Gathering Hall, Drimvargie drill hall, and even the Northern Meeting ballroom itself were new and unfamiliar places, found little difficulty in adjusting ourselves to the changed: surroundings. After all, the atmosphere is created largely by the people.
As has often been commented on before, the people who go to Inverness are made up two thirds of pipers who could be seen anywhere and one third of pipers who are seldom seen by most of us except at the Northern Meeting. I do not think that this has anything to do with the fact that a donation towards expenses is given at Inverness. So far as the competitors are concerned these are people who no doubt compete in the local northern games and look on Inverness as the mecca, the culmination of a piper’s dream. Indeed it may just be that.
The competitors have been dealt with in detail already. The other activities can’t all be mentioned in great detail, but suffice to say that the usual good time was seen to be had by all. Arguments there were in plenty, but the prevailing atmosphere was, as usual, piping and the pleasure it brings.
Inverness is well suited for piping ceilidhs, and even the formal one is always a great success. The fear an tigh this year was Dr. John MacInnes and he was ably supported by a first-class programme – in spite of counter-attractions at Cummings’ [a well known Inverness hostelry of the time – Editor] and sundry other places.
While not denying that a good time should be had by all, one is always worried lest the after-effects are evident in the piping the next day. A piper has only to stumble slightly at any time to be classed by some people as hopelessly drunk. It is gratifying to be able to report on this occasion that the only person late for the competition next morning was one of the judges.
Because of an engagement to speak in London (on piping) the following day I was anxious to get away as soon as possible alter playing in the open piobaireachd. Accordingly, I first of all persuaded John MacLellan to change his very early draw for my very late one (and was he pleased), and then immediately after playing I started to make tracks. As I was leaving, I met Col. John MacDonald of Viewfield, who asked what all the hurry was. When I explained he said,
“But what if you win a prize? How will you find out ?”
“Oh, somebody will tell me.” 1 replied, “Or I’ll read it in the Piping Times.”
“Give me your address in London”, he said, “And if you win a prize I’ll send you a telegram”.
So with my sister’s address safely given I headed on the trail for the deep South.
Next day, after preliminary greetings were over, my English brother-in-law rather apprehensively handed me a telegram saying, “I don’t know if this means anything to you, lad. We think it’s either a call for a gathering of the clans or a cryptic message from the Scottish Republican Army”.
The complete telegram read as follows :
“MacLeod MacDougall MacLellan MacDonald MacNeill MacDonald.”
It has now been added to the College museum – with gratitude to Col. Jock.
* From the April 1963 Piping Times.