The history of the Argyllshire Gathering, part 5


By Jeannie Campbell MBE

The Argyllshire Gathering of 1891 was spoiled by the weather. Rain fell continuously and in torrents, completely drenching everybody who was out of doors and converting the public park at Mossfield into a veritable quagmire. Many of those who would normally attend stayed away including competitors.

The Glasgow Herald reported: “The weather was most wretched, and entirely marred the proceedings. The rainfall was simply phenomenal. It was only after five o’clock, when the sports had almost been concluded, that the heavy downpour abated a little. Notwithstanding this very unfavourable weather, a large crowd lined the barricades to witness a programme which promised to be more than usually attractive. Two additional items this year were a wrestling competition for which a Thomas MacKellar of Lerags offered prizes of £10 and £5, which attracted several noted wrestlers from all parts of the country; and a military tournament by a troop of the Carabineers from Piershill.”

The Gold Medal had an entry of 15 and the result was: 1. D. C. Mather (Glenelg); 2. Alexander R. MacColl (Oban); 3. William Campbell (Piper to Her Majesty). The Scottish Pipers’ Society silver medal was awarded to William Chisholm of Badenoch. John MacColl won the Piobaireachd all-comers prize, awarded to those who had previously won a first prize at the event. Other results were:

Marches –1. Angus MacRae (Callander); 2. D. C. Mather; 3. Danny Campbell (Glendale, Skye). 25 competed.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. D. C. Mather; 2. William Campbell; 3. Danny Campbell.
March, Strathspey and Reel, open to the counties of Argyll and Inverness only – 1. John Wilson (Callander); 2. William Chisholm; 3. Pipe Major John Macpherson (Perth). 22 competed.

At the Argyllshire Gathering in 1891, David C. Mather took the Gold Medal and the Strathspeys and Reels. He was second in the Marches.

The judges for the piping were Captain Allanby, Captain Stewart of the  91st Highlanders, Lieutenant McNeill, Campbell of Inverneill, with Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie as professional judge. The band of the Carabineers performed a selection of music on the Corran Esplanade in the evening. The usual ball was held in the Argyllshire Gathering hall at night, and was attended by a fashionable assemblage.

On Thursday, the day of the regatta the weather was fine and dry “but no wind, so the sailing races were little better than drifting matches.” The Band of the Carabineers played on the Esplanade near the Columba Hotel. In the evening the second ball was held. At the two Balls the music was provided by W. and L. Iff’s band from Glasgow. Purveying was by Messrs Aitcheson and Co., Purveyors to Her Majesty.

Donald A. Campbell, known as Danny, was born in Glendale, Skye in 1866/7. He enlisted in the Cameronians in 1882, age 15 and was Pipe Major of the 3rd Militia Batt. in 1889, then served in the South African war 1899-1902 with 3rd HLI. In 1914 he was Pipe Major 5th Camerons then 6th Camerons. He was invalided out 1916 then joined the Royal Navy but was invalided out 1918. He joined the Lovat Scouts but left as there were no other pipers. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1894.

William Campbell was born in 1872 at Kiltarlity, Inverness. He worked for two years in a lawyer’s office before enlisting with the Seaforth Highlanders. William was Piper to Major Allanby at Ardrishaig then was appointed second piper to Queen Victoria under his uncle, James C. Campbell from 1891 to1901, then continued as Piper to Edward Vll. William retired in 1910 and went to Canada in 1913. He died there in 1960.

The 1892 event featured a “Grand Military Display” given by a detachment from the 1st Battalion Princess Louise’s Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. This included a bayonet exercise, “manual exercise”, physical drill to Music and an attack on an outpost.

Unfortunately, in a repeat of the previous year, on the day of the Games there was incessant rain. The Glasgow Herald on September 15 reported: “The proceedings were somewhat marred by frequent heavy showers, but notwithstanding the unfavourable state of the weather there was a large attendance of the general public. The games commenced at 10 o’clock, and the competitors, after being marshalled by the stewards of the gathering at the secretary’s office in George Street, marched to the field preceded by the Inveraray Pipe Band. The usual programme of the games was pleasantly varied this year by an exhibition of military exercises by a detachment of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from Edinburgh Castle.”

This was the first of many appearances at the Gathering for the Inveraray Pipe Band, which had been instituted in 1890 by Lord Archibald Campbell. The famous piper and composer, John MacColl had spent the latter part of 1890 in teaching the members of the new band, and on New Year’s Day they had their first parade to Inveraray Castle, where the Duke of Argyll met them. The band was composed mainly of men employed on the Ducal estate and wore the uniform, the gift of Lord Archibald, similar to that worn by the old Argyllshire Fencibles in the 18th century: Campbell tartan kilt and plaid with large shoulder brooch, dark green tunic with white facings and brass buttons, glengarry with boar’s head crest, regulation sporran with six white tassels, red and white diced hose, white spats, white belts, claymore, dirk and sgian dubh.

Lord Archibald Campbell with the Inveraray Pipe Band.

Lord Archibald was the second son of the 8th Duke of Argyll and younger brother of the Marquess of Lorne, later the 9th Duke, whose marriage to Princess Louise in 1871 had been a direct cause of the formation of the Gathering. As the marriage was childless, Lord Archibald’s son, Niall Diarmid later became the 10th Duke.

The judges for piping were Campbell of Inverneill, Captain Stewart, 91st Highlanders and Pipe Major Ronald Mackenzie, as professional judge. The prizes were distributed by Her Royal Highness Princess Louise (Marchioness of Lorne), who drove on to the ground a few minutes before, the close of the competitions.

The results of the piping events were:

Gold Medal (and £3) – 1. Alexander R. MacColl; 2. Murdo MacKenzie; 3. Danny Campbell. Extra Prize – Duncan Ross (lnveraray).
Marches, Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal and £3 – 1. Danny Campbell; 2. John Wilson; 3. D. E. Macpherson (Portree).
Strathspey and Reel – 1. J. Wilson; 2. Donald E. Macpherson; 3. John MacDougall Gillies.
Marches, a Gold Medal and £3 – John MacColl.
March, Strathspey and Reel (Local) – Donald MacFarlane (Oban).

The ball in the evening was held in the Argyllshire Gathering Halls. Notwithstanding the wet and stormy weather that set in near the close of the games, and continued during the evening, there was a large and brilliant assembly, numbering about 450 ladies and gentlemen. Dancing was commenced about ten o’clock, to music supplied by Herr Iff’s quadrille band, and supper was purveyed by Messrs Aitchison & Sons, Edinburgh.

There were two pipers named Murdo MacKenzie. One was from Ross-shire. He was Piper to A. G. Butter of Fascally in 1895 then to Mrs Phipps, Beaufort Castle, Beauly. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1895. The second was born in 1868 at Scotack, Inverness-shire. He won the Northern Meeting Gold Medal in 1898, served with the Scottish Rifles from 1899 until about 1910 then with the Seaforth Highlanders 1914-1918 then in 1927 went to New Zealand.

Donald Ewen MacPherson was an athlete and wrestler as well as a piper. He served with the Royal Scots for a time and afterwards went to Canada. Duncan Ross was a brother of Alexander Ross, Piper to Lord MacDonald and a great, great nephew of John Bàn MacKenzie. He was Piper to the Duke of Argyll from 1880. 

Prince Henry of Battenberg.

The 1893 Gathering was once again a washout. The athletic sports had to be postponed as the marquees were blown down, and parts of the field flooded. The piping and dancing competitions were moved to the Volunteers’ Drill Hall, and thither, on public announcement of this fact having been made, a large crowd made their way. This was followed by a list of ‘prominent personages’ who visited the hall during the afternoon, first on the list being Prince Henry of Battenberg.

The piping judges were Captain Campbell of Inverneill and Captain Stewart of Ensay with Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie as professional judge.

The results of the piping competitions were as follows:

Gold Medal and £3 – 1. Pipe Major William Robb (91st Highlanders, Edinburgh); 2.= Pipe Major George Ross (Black Watch, Glasgow) and F. MacRae (Glasgow). The extra prize – the Scottish Pipers’ Society’s Silver Medal – went to Alex Gillies (Glendaruel) although the Glasgow Herald reported him as Gilbert D. Gillies.
March – 1. Pipe Major William Robb; 2. D. C. Mather; 3. Pipe Major George Ross.
Strathspey and Reel (Open to all who have never won a first prize at the Gathering) – 1. Danny Campbell; 2. Murdo MacKenzie: 3. Donald E. Macpherson.
Strathspey and Reel (Open to all who have won a first prize) – John MacColl, Oban.
March, Strathspey and Reel (Local) – Alex MacCallum (Bonawe).

John MacColl also won the Highland Fling and the Reels and was third in the Sword Dance.

The ball that evening was attended by Prince Henry of Battenberg and all the gentry of the district, as well as by many distinguished visitors. The regatta took place on the second day, when fortunately, the weather was good and there were fireworks in the evening, followed by the second ball.

Alexander Gillies was born in Aberdeen in 1859. He was a younger brother of John MacDougall Gillies.

The 1894 Gathering enjoyed favourable weather conditions. Cheap railway excursions were run from Glasgow and intermediate towns and there were also steamer excursions from Mull, Lismore, Appin, Ballachulish and Fort William which were very largely taken advantage of and during the day the town presented a lively appearance. The proceedings commenced at 10 o’clock, when the stewards mustered the athletic competitors at the secretary’s office in George Street, and they marched to the field preceded by 30 pipers. There was a large number of spectators at the park.

The piping judges were Campbell of Inverneill. MacLean of Pennycross, Major Stewart MacDougall, Lunga, with Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie as professional judge.

The results were:

Gold Medal – Pipe Major George Ross (Black Watch); 2. F. Macrae (Dunoon); 3. Murdo MacKenzie (Inverness). Special Prize – Murdo Macrae (Corriechoillie).
Marches –1. David C. Mather (Lochcarron); 2. Pipe Major D. Matheson (H.L.I., Hamilton); 3. John Wilson (Callander). There were 15 entrants.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1.Pipe Major R. Sutherland (The Barracks, Hamilton); 2.= Pipe Major George Ross and Murdo MacKenzie. There were 13 entrants.
March, Strathspey and Reel (Local) – 1. Donald Macfarlane (Oban); 2. Alex MacCallum (Bonawe); 3. D. H. Currie (Ardrishaig).

The Piobaireachd Champion prize had five entries and was won John MacDougall Gillies.

Lady George Campbell presented the prizes to the successful competitors after the conclusion of the games. At the ball music was again by Herr Iff’s orchestra from Glasgow and Messrs. Aitchison , Edinburgh, were purveyors.

Donald Mathieson was born about 1860 in Dingwall. He was six years with the 3rd Militia Batt. Gordons, then enlisted with the HLI in 1884. He served during the South African war and was discharged in 1905. He re-enlisted with Royal Scots in 1915. He was later Piper to the Duke of Hamilton. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1893 and the Clasp in 1901.

Robert Sutherland was Pipe Major of the Highland Light Infantry (H.L.I.) during the 1890s. He was the composer of Colonel Stockwell.

Oban railway station opened on July 1, 1880. Originally the terminus of the Callander and Oban Railway, it resulted in a marked increase in the numbers of those attending the Gathering. McCaig’s Tower can be seen in the distance.

In the athletic events, George Gardiner from Campbeltown beat the pole vaulting world record with a leap of 10ft 11¼  inches.

In 1895 the festivities began on the Tuesday. The Oban Times reported:  “The annual Gaelic Concert in connection with An Comunn Gaidhealach, inaugurated some years ago took place in the Volunteer Hall on Tuesday evening”. Although apparently an annual event, this had not been mentioned previously in connection with the Gathering so perhaps it was the first time it had been held on the day before the Games. The weather on Wednesday morning was again terrible with torrential rain and gales all morning.

The Highland Games of the Gathering had been fixed to begin at ten o’ clock in the lower Soroba Park, kindly granted by Captain Cumstie, but all arrangements were unhinged by the storm of wind and rain.” It was agreed to postpone the sports for an hour (two were necessary) and to proceed with the piping competitions in the Volunteer Hall. Later in the day the weather improved and the remaining piping events were held on the field. The judges for piping were Campbell of Inverneill, Captain W. Stewart Yr. of Ensay, and MacLean of Pennycross with, once again, Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie as professional judge.

The ground was in a very disagreeable condition, but the proceedings, though rather slow, were gone through without any hitch.

The results were:

Gold Medal – 1. John MacKenzie (Glasgow); 2. William Chisholm (Kirriemuir); 3. Pipe Major Charles Dunba (2nd Gordon Highlanders, Glasgow). 14 entered.
Marches, Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal – 1. Alick MacKenzie (Resolis; 2. Alexander R. MacColl (Oban); 3.= Murdo MacKenzie (Inverness) and Pipe Major Colin Thomson (1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Aldershot), 20 entered.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Pipe Major Colin Thomson; 2. Gavin Campbell MacDougall;  3. Pipe Major Charles Dunbar. 18 entered.
Marches – Champion’s Prize Open to all comers who have won a first prize at the Argyllshire Gathering and who have not already won this medal in same competition – Angus Macrae, Callander.
Local March – 1. Donald Macfarlane (Oban); 2. John MacKinnon (Strone); 3. Coll Maclean (Tobermory).

Mrs MacLaine of Lochbuie presented the prizes.

The usual ball was held in the Argyllshire Gathering Hall in the evening and Herr Iff’s band from Glasgow supplied the music. The regatta was held on the following day.

Charles Dunbar was born at Halkirk, Caithness in 1871. He learned piping at Dr Guthrie’s Ragged School in Edinburgh then in 1886 he enlisted with the Seaforth Highlanders as a piper. He transferred to the 3rd Royal Scots in 1894 and a year later to the Gordon Highlanders where he became the pipe major He served in India and then in South Africa for the Boer war where he was awarded the DCM. In 1911, after 24 years of service he left the army and immigrated to Canada. In 1913 he joined the 91st (later the Argyll and Sutherland) Highlanders of Canada, Princess Louise’s as Pipe Major. During the First World War he saw action in France. In November 1917 he was commissioned as a lieutenant. He held the position as Pipe-Officer of the regimental pipe band until his retirement in 1937. He died in 1939.

Gavin Campbell MacDougall was born at Kenmore in 1874, son of Duncan MacDougall. He worked in the family bagpipe making business and continued it after his father died. He was Pipe Major 2nd Perthshire Rifle Volunteers Black Watch and played with the Aberfeldy Pipe Band. He died in 1910 aged 35.

Colin Thomson was born in 1869 at Resolis, Ross and Cromarty. He was a coachman before joining the army and a bagpipe reed maker afterwards. He served with the Seaforth Militia then enlisted with the Seaforth Highlanders in 1889 at Dingwall. He was transferred to become Pipe Major Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders from 1894-1904 and served in the South African War. He was Pipe Major of the 3rd Militia Batt. Seaforth Highlanders from 1904-08 then Pipe Major of the 5th Batt. until 1918. He was discharged to the reserves in 1919. Colin Thomson won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1891. He died in Edinburgh in 1933.

Alexander (Alick) MacKenzie was born at Resolis in 1869. He was a member of 1st Ross-shire Volunteer Batt. Seaforth Highlanders. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1896 and the Clasp in 1897. He died at Alness Ferry, Resolis in 1898, aged only 28.

On September 28, James Logan wrote to the Oban Times to complain about the judging of the dancing events at the recent Gathering. Apparently all the competitors and the spectators know who should win in each event and also know who will win because they know the judges. He describes this as an absurd situation.

The Oban Times, founded in 1861, is a good source of information about the early years of the Argyllshire Gathering.

The 1896 Gathering was a great success. The proceedings were not marred on this occasion by unfortunate weather conditions. On the Wednesday prior to the start, a procession headed by the lnveraray Pipe Band proceeded to the ground. The band had been formed by Lord Archibald Campbell six years previously and now had 14 members: 11 pipers and three drummers. The band on a four-day tour of Oban, Staffa and Iona which had been organised by Lord Archibald especially to include the Gathering and other events. The entire hand was taken in a rowing boat in to Fingal’s Cave on the island of Staffa. This was surely the first time a pipe band played there. Afterwards, all the band members carved their names on the wall of the cave using their dirks and sgian dubhs.

The piping judges in 1896 were again Captain Campbell of Inverneill, Captain W. Stewart Yr. of Ensay and Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie as professional judge. The results were:

Gold Medal – 1. Gavin C. MacDougall; 2. Alick McKenzie; 3.= Pipe Major R. Sutherland and Farquhar Macrae.
March – 1. Gavin C. MacDougall; 2. Pipe Major John Wallace (Liberton); 3. Pipe Major. R. Sutherland.
Strathspey and Reel – 1. Murdo MacLeod (Raasay); 2. Murdo MacKenzie (Inverness); 3. D. E. Macpherson (Royal Scots, Glencorse).
Strathspey and Reel – Angus Macrae (Nairn).
Local March – 1. Donald Macfarlane (Piper to Dunstaffnage); 2. Malcolm Currie MacLean (Islay); 3. Neil MacArthur (Glasgow).

John Wallace served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in the 1880s and was Pipe Major from 1883. In 1887 he was stationed at Ceylon. After leaving the army he was Pipe Major and instructor at Dr Guthrie’s Industrial School in Liberton, Edinburgh in the 1890s then piping instructor on the Clyde Training Ship Empress at Gareloch, then piping instructor at the Caledonian schools, London.

Malcolm MacLean Currie was born at Carnduncan, Islay in 1865. He was a farm worker in Islay then in Bute before moving to Glasgow when aged 16. He was involved in organising many competitions in Glasgow and was Secretary of the Scottish Pipers’ Association for many years. Prior to the First World War he was a member of the 7th H.L.I. under Farquhar MacRae. During the 1914-18 war he was Pipe Major of the RAMC Pipe Band then staff Sgt forming camps for convalescent soldiers. He was caretaker of the Royal Field Artillery Hall Yorkhill Parade for 30 years. He died in Glasgow in 1940.

The following week there is an interesting little letter on the correspondence page of the Oban Times: “Sir, I was much surprised to see in your last issue that Charles MacLean, Fort William, had carried off the Marquis of Lorne’s Cup at Oban Games, and I cannot make out how he was permitted to compete in the local events after being disqualified last year. Has he been born again?”

In 1897 the report begins with an account of the usual Gaelic concert on Tuesday evening, at which Lord Archibald Campbell presided and the the medallists of the Mod and the Oban Gaelic choir sustained programme. The Games followed on Wednesday, with the first ball in the evening. The weather was described as “delightful”. The customary procession was headed by Lord Archibald Campbell and preceded by the Inveraray Pipe Band. Also present was the band of the 1st Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from Maryhill Barracks in Glasgow.

The piping judges were once again Captain Campbell of lnverneill, Captain Stewart of Ensay and Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie as professional judge. This seems to be the first recorded appearance at the Gathering of the man who would go on to become a legendary figure in piping, a “veritable king” as someone once dubbed him: John MacDonald of Inverness. He had won the Northern Meeting’s Gold Medal seven years previously and would now achieve the Oban one. The results were:

Elspeth Campbell.

Gold Medal – 1. John MacDonald (Kingussie); 2. Pipe Major Dunbar (Gordon Highlanders); 3. James MacIvor (Govan).
Piobaireachd Championship, Open to all comers who have won a first prize at the Argyllshire Gathering and who have not won this medal – Angus MacRae (Callander).
March – 1. Murdo MacKenzie (Inverness); 2. Pipe Major Sutherland (H.L.I.); 3. Alexander R. MacColl (Oban).
Strathspey and Reel –1. A. MacKenzie (Resolis); 2. Murdo MacKenzie; 3. Pipe Major Matheson (Royal Scots).
Local Strathspey and Reel – 1. John Sinclair Gordon  Campbeltown); 2. Malcolm Currie MacLean (Islay); 3. Ronald M. Campbell. (Islay).

Miss Elspeth Campbell presented the prizes.

On Thursday there was the regatta, performances on shore by the band of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, fireworks and the second ball later in the evening.

James MacIver was born in 1866 at Stirkoke, Caithness. He was a joiner and moved to Glasgow where he had his own business. He was involved with organising piping competitions in Glasgow and was a founder member of the Scottish Pipers’ Association and President 1925 to 1933. He died in Glasgow in 1936.

In 1898 the annual Mòd was held in Oban on the Tuesday before the Gathering. According to the Oban Times the weather was delightful and the Gathering was described as “one of the most brilliant and successful of recent years”. However, “the absence of the Inveraray Pipe Band was felt and created a decided blank”. The usual procession from the town lo the Games field was headed by pipers.

The Argyllshire Ball, probably the most important event of all in Oban’s brief social calendar, took place in the Argyllshire Gathering Hall. The company numbered about 500.

The piping judges were, for the piobaireachd, Captain Stewart of Ensay, Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie and Lord Dunmore; and for the light music, Colin MacRae (42nd Highlanders), J. Campbell Yr of Kilberry and Lt. Col. Campbell of Inverneill.

This year the Champion’s competition was for marches and the winner was R. Meldrum (Drummond Castle). The other results were:

Gold Medal – 1. Farquhar MacRae (Glasgow); 2. Pipe Major D. Matheson (3rd H.L.I., Hamilton); 3. Pipe Major Robert Sutherland (H.L.I.); 4. William Meldrum (Drummond Castle).
Marches – 1. Murdo MacKenzie; 2. A. R. MacColl: 3. Pipe Major J. Sutherland; 4. William Meldrum.
Strathspeys and Reels –1. Murdo MacKenzie; 2. D. E. Macpherson; 3. A. R. MacColl; 4.  Pipe Major Wallace.
Local Marches ­– I. William MacLean (Poltalloch); 2. M. MacLean Currie (Islay); 3. John Sinclair Gordon (Lunga).

The regatta took place the following day.

William Meldrum was a brother of Robert Meldrum. He was Piper to the Mackintosh at Moy Hall when he won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1900. He died in 1910 aged only 29.

James Sutherland was born in 1866 at Rosskeen. In 1883 he joined the Seaforth Highlanders and served in Egypt, Dublin, Clonmel and Fort George. He was appointed Pipe Major in 1893 and transferred to the 3rd Militia Batt. in 1894. He retired 1904 then in 1912 became Pipe Major of the 5th Royal Scots. He was rejected for active service but was with the Royal Scots Volunteers in 1914. He was Instructor to the Scottish Pipers Society and Instructor for Edinburgh Schools and Edinburgh OTC from 1908. He died in 1945.

• To be continued.

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• Part 2
• Part 3
• Part 4