The history of the Argyllshire Gathering, part 3

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By Jeannie Campbell MBE

In 1876 the Argyllshire Gathering games were held a day earlier than usual, on the Wednesday, September 13, with the regatta all day on the Thursday.

The Lorn Ossianic Games, always previously held on Wednesday moved back to Tuesday. Its rules for the piping competitions stated: “Prizes will be adjudged by points. Competitors attaining such a number of points as may be fixed upon by the judges will be considered First-Class and entitled to a prizes of £1”. Another rule stated: “Itinerant Pipers and Professional Dancers will not be allowed to compete”. Tune requirements were submissions of four piobaireachd, six marches, three strathspeys and three reels. The piping competitions and some heavy events were open to all but other events were confined to Argyll. The 1876 piping results were:

Piobaireachd: 1. John Cameron (Strathavon, Ballindalloch); 2. Donald MacPhee (Glasgow); 3. Malcolm Macpherson (Cluny). There were seven entrants.
Marches, Strathspeys and Reels: 1. Donald MacPhee, 2. John Cameron, 3. Robert MacKinnon, Skipness.

The judges were Donald Cameron of Dungallon, Alex Campbell of the Caledonian Hotel, Oban and John McLennan, Kinlochluichart, late piper to the Earl of Fife.

John MacLennan was born in 1817 at Scatwell in Ross-shire and died at Moidart in 1906. He had won the Prize Pipe at the Northern Meeting in 1848 and the Gold Medal for Former Winners in 1854 and 1867.

In the evening there was a concert with competitions for Gaelic singing and poetry. Next day the Argyllshire Gathering games had an attendance of 5,000 spectators.

Malcolm MacPherson.

The Gold Medal and £5 prize went to the famous Malcolm Macpherson – Calum  Piobair – of Cluny near Laggan in Badenoch. Donald MacPhee placed second with Alex Ross, piper to the Rt. Hon. Lord MacDonald, Armadale Castle, Skye, third.

Marches – 1. Donald MacPhee, 2. J. Cameron; 3. Alex Ross.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. George MacDonald, South Morar, 2. A. Ross, 3. D. MacPhee. Nine entered. The judges were Mr MacLennan, Kinlochmoidart, Mr MacDonald of Dunach and Mr MacLellan of Kilmelfort.

In addition to the athletic and heavy events there were events for weaving a plaid, the best web of cloth, knitting diced hose and knitting rough kilt hose.

Alexander Ross was born in 1847/48 at Contin, Easter Ross. His brother, Duncan, was Piper to the Duke of Argyll and their mother was a great niece of John Bàn MacKenzie.

He was Piper and valet to Captain Callander of the 78th in Canada, Piper to Lord MacDonald of Sleat and in 1881 he was Piper and Butler at Kilberry Castle, and then Piper to MacKenzie of Allangrange. He died in 1930 at Allangrange.

George MacDonald was born in 1850 at Morar. He was Piper to Col. Farquharson of Invercauld but was mostly employed as a fisherman. He was a brother of Angus MacDonald of South Morar who had been a prize winner the previous year. He won the Prize Pipe at the Northern Meeting in 1876. He died in 1905.

A regatta still takes place in Oban. This photograph is from 2009

In 1877 the Lorn Ossianic Games were on September 11 with the Gaelic concert in the evening. The Argyllshire Gathering Games were on the 12th, the regatta on the 13th and there were balls in the evening of both days. Judges for piping and dancing at the Lorn Ossianic were Neil Campbell, Glasgow, John Campbell, Ardifour, Kilmartin and Alex Campbell, Caledonian Hotel, Oban. The results were:

Piobaireachd, Marches and Strathspeys (all comers) – 1. (40 shillings) Robert MacKinnon, Glasgow, Pipe  Major of 105th Glasgow Highlanders; 2. (30s) Donald MacPhee, Glasgow; 3. (20s) J. Cameron, Glasgow; 4. (10s) D. Paterson, Poltalloch.

According to the Oban Times report of that year, the Argyllshire Gathering is “pre-eminently the day for the County as the Gentry or Argyll give very little encouragement to the games of the Lorn Ossianic Society, looking upon it as something in the light of a rival to their own gathering.”

The report continues with a description of the march to the games field. “About half past eleven the brass band of the 3rd A. A. V. with a detachment of the corps under the command of Captain McCaig set out for the ground on which the games were to be held – up Argyll Square and then along Combie Street and the Soroba Road to Soroba Park, Captain Cumstie the tenant having in the most handsome manner granted the free use of it every year for the games of the gathering as well as those of the Lorn Ossianic Society.”

The weather was not favourable in the morning. It rained without ceasing until 11am but then cleared up by noon when the day’s events began. Later in the afternoon the rain again began to pour down and did so without ceasing for the rest of the programme. Despite the inclemency of the weather and the discomfort of sitting for several hours on a bare hillside the number of spectators in the ground was fully over 3,000.

The piping judges were “Messrs MacLellan, Melfort; MacLennan, Strontian, late piper to the Earl of Fife and MacDonald, Dunach, assisted by A. J. MacLean of Pennycross” and they awarded the prizes as follows:

Gold Medal – 1. John MacBean (Skye); 2. Donald Paterson (Poltalloch); 3. Alexander Ross, piper to Lord MacDonald. As it was not confined at that time, John MacBean became the first and only piper to win the event twice.
Marches – 1. Donald Paterson; 2. Alex Ross; 3. John Cameron (Cromdale), late piper to the Marquess of Lorn.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. D. Paterson; 2. R.  MacKinnon; 3. J.MacBean.

That year the prize for diced hose knitted by wives, sisters or daughters of members of the meeting went to another famous name, “Mrs Campbell of Kilberry or Miss Campbell, it is not known which but the prize was in the family.”

The ball that evening took place in a new permanent building especially erected for the purpose in Breadalbane Place. In addition to the large main hall there was a gallery, a kitchen, cloakrooms and other rooms. The purveyors were Messrs. Hunter and Glover, Edinburgh and Messrs. Adams of Glasgow provided the music.

In 1878 the judges at the Lorn Ossianic games were Neil Campbell, Glasgow and A. Campbell, Caledonian Hotel, Oban. The results were:

Piobaireachd – 1. Angus MacDonald, South Morar, 2. Robert MacKinnon, Glasgow, 3. Alex MacArthur.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. Robert MacKinnon, 2. Angus MacDonald, 3. Alex MacArthur. Seven played.

William MacLennan.

The Argyllshire Gathering in 1878 changed the rules and excluded first prizewinners in the piobaireachd event from playing again. The results that year were:

Piobaireachd, the Gold Medal – 1. William MacLennan (Inverness); 2. Angus MacDonald (Arisaig); 3. Pipe Major MacKinnon (Skipness).

William MacLennan was born in 1860 at Fairburn, Ross-shire. He was well known as a champion dancer and piper. He was a member of the Dundee City Police, Piper to Arthur Bignold,, an architect in Edinburgh and travelled abroad as a dancer with Scott Skinner, the famous fiddler. He died of meningitis in Montreal, Canada in 1892. William, a cousin of George S. MacLennan, won the Prize Pipe at the Northern Meeting in 1878 and the Gold Medal for Former Winners in 1879.

Marches – 1. Hugh Fraser (piper to Lord Abinger); 2. Angus MacDonald; 3.= John MacMillan, Donald Paterson, PM MacKinnon.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. William MacLennan, 2. Hugh Fraser, 3. PM MacKinnon.

The 1879 results at the Lorn Ossianic were:

Piobaireachd  – 1. Ronald MacKenzie (Torridon); 2. Robert MacKinnon (Glasgow); 3. Roderick MacLeod (Glasgow).
Marches – I. R. MacKinnon, 2. W. MacLennan (Inverness), 3. George MacDonald (South Morar).
Strathspeys and Reels – l. R. MacLeod, 2. W. MacLennan, 3. John MacColl (Duror).

Roderick MacLeod was born in Laurieston, Stirlingshire in 1849/50 but the family moved to Glasgow where he worked as a Hammerman, then from 1887 to 1891 he was a bagpipe maker. His mother, Ann was from Strontian in Argyll.

This was the first appearance in the prize lists for John MacColl, piper, composer, dancer and athlete. John MacColl was born in 1860 at Kentallen in Duror. In the summer of 1877, John heard Donald MacPhee play at Bonawe Games, and was inspired to emulate him. He took a job at Bonawe quarry and by the autumn of 1878 had saved enough money to take him to Glasgow where he worked with MacPhee and was able to learn from him.

The cottage in Kentallen where John MacColl was born.

By 1879, Donald MacPhee was seriously ill and he died in 1880 so John returned to Argyll. In 1879 he played at the Lorn Ossian Games and in 1880 he played at the Argyllshire Gathering. In 1881 he was Piper to MacDonald of Dunach. By 1891, John was able to support himself by competing in piping, dancing and athletics, with some teaching during the winter months when he was employed by the army to teach the Territorial Army pipers. He returned to Glasgow in 1908 where he became the manager of R. G. Lawrie’s bagpipe shop. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1883 and the Clasp in 1884, 1888 and 1900. He died in Glasgow in 1943.

The next day at the 1879 Argyllshire Gathering the results were:

Gold Medal – 1. George MacDonald; 2. Robert MacKinnon; 3. R. MacKenzie.
Marches – 1. John MacBean; 2. Pipe Major R. MacKenzie (Fort George); 3. R. MacKenzie (Torridon).
Strathspey and Reel – 1. George MacDonald; 2. R. MacKinnon; 3. R. MacKenzie.

The judges were N. M. MacDonald of Dunach, A. J. MacLean of Pennycross, C. MacLean, Pennyfuir with a J. MacLean, Strontian as “professional judge”. Former winners were again excluded from the Gold Medal and all events were still confined to Argyll and Inverness. Events at the Lorn Ossianic games were open to all.

Archibald John MacLean, 4th of Pennycross was born in 1843. His son, Charles was a founder member of the Piobaireachd Society and judged at the Gathering in later years.

No report of the 1880 Lorn Ossianic games has been found but the report of the 1880 Argyllshire Gathering noted that the second prizewinner in the Gold Medal had been awarded first prize for piobaireachd al the Ossianic games the previous day. There were more changes in the format of the Argyllshire Gathering, with an extra piobaireachd  competition for first prize winners or medalists in previous years, a Champion Prize (a silver tankard) presented by the President, and for other than first prize winners or Medalists the Highland Society of London Gold Medal and £5. £3. £2.

In the March and Strathspey and Reel competitions, first prizewinners were now to be excluded. Prize money in these events was still £3, £2 and £1 and events were still confined to Argyll and Inverness.

The Glasgow Herald reported that: “In anticipation of the proceedings, the town was crowded with people from the surrounding districts. At a very early hour in the morning the weather did not by any means promise favourably, but about noon it cleared up beautifully, and continued favourable for the rest of the day. Taken at the least calculation, the number of people on the ground in the afternoon would be about 4,500 – a good deal more than what has been known to be at Oban on any previous gathering. Conspicuous among the celebrities on the ground were General Lorne Campbell and family, Lord and Lady MacDonald of the Isles …” A long list followed.

John MacColl.

According to the Oban Times the results were:

Champions Prize (a silver tankard presented by the President, the Marquis of Lorne) – William MacLennan, Inverness.
Gold Medal – 1. PM Robert MacKinnon (Skipness); 2. Angus MacRae (piper to E. H. Wood Esq. of Raasay); 3. John Cameron (Grantown, Strathspey).
Marches – 1. George Munro (piper to Lord MacDonald); 2. John Cameron; 3. Angus MacRae.
Strathspeys and Reels – I. John MacColl, Bonawe, 2. George Munro, 3. Angus McRae.

The Glasgow Herald had the same results except it had Roderick MacLeod first for the Reels in place of John MacColl.

The judges for the piping events were N. M. MacDonald of Dunach, Pipe Major MacKenzie of the 78th Highlanders and Captain Campbell of Inverneill. At the close of the programme, Colonel Malcolm of Poltalloch presented the prizes. A ball took place that evening in the Argyllshire Gathering Hall.

Angus MacRae was born in 1855 on the island of Harris although his father was from Kintail. He was Piper to Duncan MacRae of Kames, Isle of Bute, then by 1879 when he won the Prize Pipe at the Northern Meeting he was Piper to E. H. Wood of Raasay until 1886, then from 1886 to 1889 was Piper to J. M. S. MacDonald of Monachyle, Lochearnhead. From 1889-1890 he was Piper to Colonel White. MacRae won the Clasp at the Northern Meeting in 1898 and in 1900 was appointed Piper to Admiral Lord Charles Beresford Royal Navy. From 1904 to 1911 he was Piper to Duke of Atholl and Pipe Major of the Atholl Highlanders (and of the Scottish Horse). From 1911 he was Piper to Captain Colin MacRae then later he became Piper to the Earl of Dudley in London. MacRae died in London in 1934.

In 1881 there was no Champions Event and there was a change in the number of tunes to be submitted: “Pipers to lodge in Gaelic and English the names of ten Piobaireachd, ten marches, ten reels and ten strathspeys.” Tune requirements had previously been six, six, three and three. First prizewinners were again excluded. The report of the gathering begins, “The Ossianic Games generally held on the day previous to that of the Gathering fell through this year from some unexplained cause. The interest therefore wholly centred upon those held under the auspices of the Argyllshire Gathering.” The attendance was given at 5,000.

Angus MacRae.

Judges for piping and dancing were MacLean of Pennycross, Pipe Major R. MacKenzie, Keith MacLennan of Melfort and D. Campbell of lnverneill and Ross.

Gold Medal – 1. John MacColl, 2. Angus MacDonald, South Morar, 3. Angus MacRae.
Marches – I. John MacColl, 2. William MacLennan, 3. Angus MacRae.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. PM Robert MacKinnon, 2. George Munro, 3. Angus MacRae.

The two balls are described as “after all the main feature of the gathering.” There were 322 guests, the band was Messrs Adams’s Quadrille band from Glasgow, purveyors were Hunter and Glover, Edinburgh and prize winning pipers from the games played for the reels.

In 1882 the rules and events were the same as in the previous year. There was an immense crowd of 10,000 people and £180 was taken at the gate. The results were:

Gold Medal – 1. Angus MacDonald (South Morar); 2. Alexander Ross (piper to Lord MacDonald); 3. F. MacGillivray (Oban).
Marches – 1. William MacLennan, Inverness, 2. F. MacGillivray, 3. Robert MacKinnon, Skipness.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Alexander Ross, 2. Angus MacDonald, 3. F. MacGillivray.

The piping judges were Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie, Mr M. G. MacLaine of Lochbuy and Captain Allanby, Ardrishaig.

In the dancing events, William MacLennan won the Sword Dance with John MacColl second. Oban. This performance was mentioned in the report as being especially good. The judges for dancing were Mr Campbell of Kilberry and Colonel MacPherson of the 93rd Highlanders. Lady Walter Campbell awarded the prizes.

The ball was held that evening in the hall in Breadalbane Place with the same band and purveyors as before.

In 1883 there were several changes. There was a piobaireachd Champions’ Prize of a silver cup value £15 open only to previous winners while the other piping events were opened to all comers. Dancing, athletics, knitting, weaving and heavy events were still confined to Argyll and Inverness. First prizewinners were excluded in the Gold Medal but were no longer excluded in the march and strathspey and reel. First prize in the march was now the Scottish Pipers’ Society Silver Badge in addition to the £3. As usual the games were on Wednesday, the regatta on Thursday and there was a ball each evening. The games were again held at Nether Soroba in weather described as “favourable and summer-like and the admirable arrangements were carried out by the committee of management and their able secretary.” The number of entries was up on previous years, particularly for piping, with 16 pipers entered. The band of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders played several pieces of music at intervals during the programme.

The piping judges were Keith MacLellan of Melfort, MacLean of Pennycross, Captain Campbell of lnverneill, Mr MacKinnon, Strontian and Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie, Fort George. In the competition for the Piobaireachd Champions’ Prize, John MacColl and John MacBean had to play a second time, when the silver cup was finally awarded to MacColl. Pipe Corporal Hall of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders had an extra prize of 15s awarded to him beyond the legitimate number allowed in the programme.

The other results were:

Gold Medal – 1. Angus MacRae (piper to E. H. Wood Esq of Raasay); 2. Pipe Major Robert Meldrum (2nd. Batt. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders); 3. Wm. Sutherland (Airdrie).
Marches – 1. Pipe Major Robert Meldrum; 2. John MacBean; 3. Angus MacRae.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. John MacColl; 2. John MacBean, 3. Angus MacRae.

The prizes were presented by Miss Campbell, Dunstaffnage.

In the evening the ball was held in the Argyllshire Gathering Hall, with an attendance of 420 ladies and gentlemen, making it the best attended since the inauguration of the gathering.

Robert Meldrum pictured in 1914.

The weather on the following day was warm and dry but there was so little wind for the regatta that the boats were becalmed and the races a failure. During the Regatta, the band of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders provided musical entertainment. According to the Glasgow Herald, “… so much did the music appear to be appreciated, that the attention of the spectators was entirely diverted from the feats that were performed afloat. There was also an excellent programme of pipe music. Between the hours of eight and ten o’clock in the evening there was a grand display of fireworks from the yachts in the bay, as well as from different parts of the town. A bonfire, at the expense of the Magistrates and Town Councillors of Oban, was lit at 8.30pm on a hill commanding the best view of Oban and its surroundings. A ball similar to the one held on the previous night, attended by 350 ladies and gentlemen, was held in the Argyllshire Gathering Hall, commencing at ten o’clock.”

Robert Meldrum was born in 1851 at Tomintoul, Banff.  In 1868, aged 16, he enlisted in the 78th and served Canada. In 1870 he was appointed Pipe Major of the 93rd Highlanders. He purchased his discharge in 1874 but re-joined three months later and transferred to the 93rd as Pipe Major, holding the appointment until 1887. Meldrum was then Pipe Major of the 2nd Militia Batt. Cameron Highlanders until 1892. He won the Prize Pipe at the Northern Meeting in 1884 and the Clasp in 1902. Meldrum re-enlisted in the 3rd Camerons Reserve 1915 and served at Invergordon as Pipe Major. He was Pipe Major of the Inverness British Legion Pipe Band after 1923 for some years. He was employed by Lord Willoughby d’Eresby Earl of Ancaster at Drummond Castle for 23 years and the piping instructor at Queen Victoria School from 1918-1923. He died in Inverness in 1941.

William Sutherland was born in Airdrie in 1844 and worked as an engineman in a coal pit. He died in Airdrie in 1903.

• To be continued.

• Part 1
• Part 2
• Part 4