The history of the Argyllshire Gathering, part 6

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By Jeannie Campbell MBE

In 1899, the Argyllshire Gathering placed an advert in the Oban Times of August 26. Alex Shairp, the Gathering’s secretary, listed all the piping events (and prize money):

1. Strathspeys and Reels (Champions), Champion’s Prize. Gold Medal and £3.
2. Piobaireachd. Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal and £3, £3 and £2.
3. Marches. The Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal and £3, £2 and 15s.
4. Strathspeys and Reels. £3, £2 and 15s.
5. Strathspeys and Reels(Local). The Scottish Pipers’ Society Silver Medal and £2, £1 and 10s.

In the regatta there were seven events for yachts, four for sailing boats, two for rowing boats and four for yachts’ boats. This was to be on the Thursday, followed by fireworks at 8.45pm. There were to be balls on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

A great Gaelic Concert preceded the Games on Tuesday night under the Presidency of Lord Archibald Campbell. With this, the Games, the regatta, the fireworks and the two balls combined to make what was described as “a week of high social carnival.” Tuesday was wet and there were showers on Wednesday morning but the sun broke through and the day proved all that could be desired.

The Games were again in Lower Soroba Park by the kind permission of Captain Cumstie. The Oban Times reported: “Shortly before 10 o’clock the customary procession made its way to the field led by the Inveraray Pipe Band with Lord Archibald Campbell at its head. This splendidly equipped and highly efficient band which arrived from Inveraray on Tuesday afternoon has attained a great popularity in Oban and deservedly so. It has come to be regarded as one of the attractions of the Gathering week and its absence last year was keenly felt. The band was cordially welcomed back this year and its air-filling strains are once more everywhere heard and admired. There was an immense attendance of spectators. County people mustered in large numbers and excursion trains and steamers brought considerable contingents from the outlying districts and from Glasgow and other places in the south while the crowds were swelled also by the visitors and tourists at present in Oban.”

The judges were, for piobaireachd, Colin MacRae of the 42nd. Highlanders, Colonel Campbell of lnverneill, Captain Stewart of Ensay and Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie. Captain Malcolm MacNeill 93rd Highlanders; Archibald Campbell Yr of Kilberry and J. D. Boswell judged the Light Music.

The prize list was as follows:

Strathspeys and Reels (Champion) – David C. Mather (Lochcarron).
Piobaireachd (theGold Medal) – 1. Murdo MacKenzie (Inverness); 2. Pipe Major R. Sutherland (H.L.I., Hamilton); 3. Pipe Major Donald Matheson (H.L.I., Hamilton).
Marches – 1. Pipe Major Donald Mathieson; 2. Pipe Major John MacDonald (Inverness); 3. Corporal Piper Willie Ross (Scots Guards, London).
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Pipe Major John MacDonald; 2. Murdo MacKenzie; 3. William MacLean (Benbecula).
Local Strathspeys and Reels – 1.Malcolm MacLean Currie (Islay); 2. Ronald Campbell (Islay); 3. James Ewan Sinclair (Dunoon).

An old pohoto of the esplanade at Oban.

The report added: “In recent years the Games were enhanced by a military display but this year there was no exhibition of that kind and the proceedings were rather quickly over.” The first ball was on Wednesday evening. The music was again provided by Herr Iff s band from Glasgow and, the report stated, “one of the debutantes this year was Miss Campbell of Lochnell.” Then we have the following sad comment: “We regret that we are unable this year to publish a description of the dresses worn at the balls, the committee having refused to extend the courtesy of a press ticket for our lady representative.”

The Gaelic Concert was reported fully. Each half began with the Inveraray Pipe Band and there were various singers plus the choir of Oban Gaelic Musical Association. Lord Archibald Campbell, in full Highland garb, presided: “The Inveraray Pipe Band, which might be termed Lord Archibald’s bodyguard, made as usual a brave show in full regimental Highland dress with handsome and highly decorative bannerettes bearing the Campbell device pendant from the pipes” The concert finished with the singing of God Save the Queen in Gaelic.

On April 28, 1900, in columns with a thick black border, the Oban Times reported the death on the previous Tuesday of the Duke of Argyll. He was one week short of his 77th birthday. His son John, formerly known as the Marquess of Lorne, succeeded him and became the 9th Duke. On May 19 there is a report of the 8th Duke’s funeral. Inveraray Pipe Band led the procession then the Pipe Band of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders followed by the Boys’ Brigade and then the Volunteers. A General Meeting of the Gathering was held in Dunoon on May 12 at which is was unanimously resolved, on account of the war in South Africa – and also on account of the death of the Duke – not to hold the usual balls and games of the Gathering that year.

The Games resumed the following year, 1901. There were no balls, regatta or Gaelic Concert  although the Lorn Corinthian Yacht Club held a regatta in the town on Thursday, September 12.

John Campbell (1845-1914), the 9th Duke of Argyll.

On September 14, the Oban Times carried a comprehensive report: “After an interval of a year the Games of the Argyllshire Gathering were held at Oban on Wednesday, and the meeting was altogether a brilliant and successful one. Last year the Games and Balls of the Gathering and likewise the Regatta of the Royal Highland Yacht Club – all of which fashionable functions form the most important social events of the Oban Season – were discontinued on account of the war in South Africa and also out of regard to the death of his Grace the Duke of Argyll. This year the Gathering Authorities of necessity had under consideration the question of again postponing the Games and Balls. It was recognised that not only was the nation mourning the death of her Majesty Queen Victoria, but that in consequence of the prolongation of the war there was much private sorrow not only throughout the country but in Argyllshire, where there are few County families that have not been bereaved. It was accordingly decided that no balls should be held this year; but it was felt that the games, the day of which has always been observed as an annual holiday throughout the district, might be proceeded with. That this arrangement was a popular one was amply demonstrated on Wednesday, when one of the largest audiences that have ever attended the sports was present to witness the programme of events.

“The meeting was this year held under entirely new conditions. Instead of borrowing a park for the day, the Gathering executive has feued from the Dunollie estate a spacious piece of ground at Dalintart, extending to four acres. This ground has been levelled down, returfed and fenced in, these operations naturally involving a considerable outlay. A handsome covered pavilion of corrugated iron and wood has also been erected, the sitting accommodation provided being for 500 persons. The cost of the pavilion amounted to nearly £1000. The pavilion includes a refreshment room, tea room, stewards’ room, ladies’ cloakroom, purveyor’s accommodation, lavatories etc., and will altogether be an immense convenience. The substantial improvements thus carried out, and for the execution of which Mr Alex Shairp, Secretary of the Gathering, was responsible, have resulted in one of the finest and most attractive sports grounds that may be found in the country. The new ground was, properly enough, a subject of general congratulation throughout the day.

“Most delightful of weather favoured the games. Tuesday afternoon and night closed in with heavy rain and dark clouds, which did not promise well, but Wednesday morning brought a bright sky and warm sunshine. As already indicated the attendance was probably the greatest that has ever been seen at the games. With the acquisition of the new ground a small charge of admission was imposed, and no fewer than 5,000 persons passed through the entrance gates.  The seats of the grandstand were also fully taken up, and many hundreds of people were able to witness the proceedings, without payment, from the slopes overlooking the enclosure. Up till and after midday there was a constant stream of people towards the ground. Country visitors were extremely numerous, and excursion trains from Glasgow conveyed large numbers of people from the South to Oban for the day.”

An undated photograph of the march to the Games field.

“Additional interest and eclat were lent to the proceedings this year, first by the presence of the Duke of Argyll, president of the Gathering, and secondly by the presentation of the South African war medal to the officers and men of the Volunteer Service Company of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. The presentation ceremony was performed by the Duke on the field at 2.30 during an interval in the sports. Afterwards there were speeches from the Duke and from Colonel Trotter. The Duke then called for and led three hearty cheers for His Majesty the King, which were heartily given, the pipers playing the National Anthem and the Volunteers presenting arms. On the call of His Grace cheers were also given for the Army, the pipers playing The Garb of Old Gaul and the Volunteers again presenting arms. Led by Colonel Campbell of Inverneill cheers were then cordially accorded the Duke and the Volunteers marched from the field.”

The piping judges were Colonel Campbell of Inverneill; Archibald Campbell of Kilberry; Lieutenant Charles MacLean, 93rd Highlanders; J. MacKillop, Scottish Pipers’ Society and Pipe Major Ronald MacKenzie, Piper to the Duke of Richmond and Gordon.

The results were:

Piobaireachd (all comers) – 1. and 2. (equal) John MacColl and Pipe Major J. MacDougall Gillies; 3. Pipe Major John Wallace (C.T.S. Empress); 4. Pipe Major G. Ross, Black Watch, Perth.
Piobaireachd – l. Pipe Major John Wallace; 2. William MacLean (Benbecula); 3. James A. Center (Edinburgh).
Marches – 1. Pipe Major John Wallace, 2. Alexander R. MacColl (Ballachulish), 3. Pipe Major G. Ross.
Strathspeys and Reels – l. Pipe Major Murdo MacKenzie; 2. and 3. (equal) Pipe Major G. Ross and P.M. John Wallace.
Local Marches – 1. Angus MacMillan (Kilberry); 2. John MacEachern (Islay); 3. Campbell Currie (Ardrishaig).

In 1902 the Games were held on September 10. The events were the same as in previous years plus a special competition for local marches. The Royal Highland Club regatta was on Thursday, The Lorn Corinthian Yacht Club regatta on the Friday and the Gaelic Concert in the Volunteer Hall on the Tuesday evening.

The Oban Times report on September 13 stated the new ground was a great improvement and enormous crowds attended the Games. The piping judges were Colonel Campbell of lnverneill, Captain Campbell Yr of Kilberry, Captain Stewart of Ensay, Pipe Major John MacDougall Gillies, and for the local competitions Captain Charles MacLean and Captain MacRae. The results were:

Piobaireachd (all comers) – 1. John McColl; 2. Pipe Major John McDonald (Inverness); 3. P.M. William Ross (4th Highland Light Infantry).
Piobaireachd –1. P.M. William Ross; 2. J. MacIvor (Govan); 3. George Dey (Partick).
Marches – 1. Pipe Major John MacDonald, 2. James A. Center (Edinburgh); 3. Pipe Major Alex. Matheson (Royal Scots).
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Pipe Major Chas. Dunbar (The Gordon Highlanders); 2. P.M. Alex Matheson; 3. James A Center.
Local Strathspeys and Reels – I. Angus MacMillan (Campbeltown); 2. Angus MacLean (Piper to Lunga); 3.= Donald MacInnes (Ardshiel) and John Gordon (Lunga).
Local Marches – 1. James Johnston (Islay); 2. Angus MacMillan; 3. John Gordon.

William Ross was born at Urquhart, Ross-shire in 1865. He enlisted in 1889 in The Black Watch. He served in Crete during the insurrection, in April 1894 he was Pipe Corporal 2nd Black Watch at Maryhill Barracks. In October 1894 he was Pipe Major of the 1st Seaforth. He served 1896-98 in the Sudan campaign and was wounded at Atbara in 1898.  In early1900 he was Pipe Major on permanent staff 4th Militia Batt. H.L.I. then served with the H.L.I. in the South African War. He was awarded long service and good conduct medals in 1909. He was discharged on pension 1912. From 1914 to 1916 he was Pipe Major of the Royal Scots (Queens Edinburgh Rifles) in Edinburgh where he worked as a shop manager for a costumier until his death in 1930. His brother George won the Argyllshire Gathering Gold Medal in 1894.

George Dey was born in 1878 at Bonnybridge. He was a piper under Gillies in the band of the H.L.I. (Volunteers) for ten years and for a time he worked with Gillies at Henderson’s, also having piping tuition from him during this period. He became a successful solo piper, being placed third in the Gold Medal at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1902 and second in 1903. Dey immigrated to Canada in 1906 and after a successful career in pipe bands and solo piping died in 1967.

James Alexander Center was born in Edinburgh in 1875 and worked in the family pipe making business. He won The Northern Meeting Gold Medal in 1902 and the Clasp in 1904. He immigrated to Australia with his family in 1908 and died in Melbourne in 1919.

James Center.

Alexander Matheson was born in 1870 in Golspie, Sutherland. Aged 17 he was Piper to Duke of Sutherland then enlisted in the Royal Scots and was appointed Pipe Major in 1889. He served in the South African war 1899-1902 then was stationed at Glencorse with the 3rd Battalion until 1913 when he retired and became Piper to Captain Sandys, late Royal Scots, at Windermere. He spent the latter years of his life on the Isle of Wight where he died in 1940.

The results of all the other events are given, then a piece headed ‘Gowns at the Games’ by ‘Our Special Lady Correspondent.’ This was followed by is a report of the presentation of war medals then a report of the Ball, again by our special lady correspondent. The next week there are reports of the regatta and the second ball.

The 1903 Gathering carried all the usual events except that this time the local competition was for marches only. In addition, there was an excerpt from the rules. Event 1 was open to all comers. Events 2, 3 and 4 are open to all comers who have never won a first prize at the Argyllshire Gathering in the respective competitions. Pipers were required to furnish the secretary with a list of six piobaireachd, six marches, six strathspeys and six reels, any of which they may be required to play. The local competition was restricted to those who had never won a first prize except in the local strathspey and reel competition and competitors were debarred from entering the other piping events. The order of pipe playing was so arranged that the last to enter was required to play first.

At the Gaelic Concert that year, the pipers and dancers were John MacColl, Alexander R. MacColl, Pipe Majors Ross and MacDonald.

There were heavy falls of rain at intervals and the programme was as usual. The piping judges were Colonel Campbell of Inverneill, Major Stewart of Ensay, Captain MacLean, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Captain Malcolm MacNeill, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, Captain Colin Macrae, Black Watch, James MacKillop, Scottish Pipers’ Society and Pipe Major John MacDougall Gillies. The results were:

Open Piobaireachd –1. John MacDonald (Inverness); 2. Alexander R. MacColl (Oban); 3.= John MacColl (Oban) and R. Meldrum (Drummond Castle).
Gold Medal – 1. P.M. Donald Mathieson, 3rd. H.L.I., 2. George Dey; 3. John Wilson (Torrisdale Castle).
Marches – 1. Pipe Corporal George Stewart MacLennan (1st. Gordon Highlanders); 2. James. A. Center (Edinburgh); 3. P.M. C. Dunbar (Gordon Highlanders).
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. James A. Center; 2. Pipe Corporal George Stewart MacLennan; 3. M. Lamont (Dunvegan).
Local Marches – 1. Alistair MacMillan (Glencruitten); 2. J. Gordon (Lunga); 3. Ronald Campbell (Islay).

Pipe Major George S. MacLennan. Won the Marches at the 1903 Argyllshire Gathering.

Some information on some of these individuals now making an appearance at the Gathering. George Stewart MacLennan was born in Edinburgh in 1883. He enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders in 1899 and was appointed Pipe Major in 1905. He served through the First World War and was discharged in 1922, after which he had a bagpipe and reed making business in Aberdeen. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1905 and Clasps in 1909, 1920 and 1921. He died in Aberdeen in 1929. Many of his compositions are published in his own collection and the two volumes of the Gordon Highlanders’ collection.

The Piobaireachd Society was formed following a meeting held in Edinburgh on January 19, 1903. General Charles S. Thomason was appointed as President and James MacKillop as Secretary. The original members of the Society were: Captain Kenneth Cameron, Miss Elspeth Campbell, Captain John Campbell of Kilberry, Archibald Campbell, Kilberry, Somerled MacDonald, D. B. MacDougall, James MacKillop, Captain MacLean of Pennycross, Major Angus MacNeill, Captain Malcolm MacNeill, Captain Colin MacRae, Douglas Ramsay, Captain William Stewart of Ensay, Major General Thomason.

General Charles Simeon Thomason was born in India in 1833 but brought up by his grandfather, J. W. Grant of Elchies. He learnt his piping at first from Mackie the head gardener, then later had tuition from Sandy Cameron, Keith Cameron, Donald MacKay, Pipe Major Murray of the 78th and Sandy MacLennan of the H.L.I. He served in India with the Royal Engineers and retired as a Major General in 1888. During the 1870s General Thomason, with the assistance of various professional pipers, including Donald MacKay nephew of Angus, began to collect and collate all the available tunes from all sources, with the intention of producing a complete collection. This collection, named Ceol Mor, began to appear in separate parts during the 1890s then in 1900 the first complete volume appeared. By developing a system of shorthand and abbreviations, Thomason was able to produce a pocket-sized and reasonably priced book containing almost 300 tunes. He died in 1911.

Captain John Campbell of Kilberry.

Captain John Campbell of Kilberry was born in 1872, the eldest son of John Campbell 10th of Kilberry. He served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders 1890 to 1909 and retired as Captain and when the Society was formed he was about to leave for duty in India so was unable to take office in the Society. He became Lt. Col. 8th Argyllshire Battalion just prior to 1914 and served in France until he was invalided home in September 1915. During his time in France he served with Pipe Major Willie Lawrie who composed a strathspey named Kilberry. When he was at home he judged many times at the Argyllshire Gathering. With his brother Archibald he published the Kilberry Book of Ceol Meadhonach. He died February 7, 1928.

The second brother was Angus Campbell born 1874. He was active in the early days of the Society and judged at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1904. He died in 1908. The third of the Kilberry brothers was Archibald Campbell, born in 1877. He was a lawyer by profession and was with the Indian Civil Service from 1901 to 1928 so he was away much of the time. Archie had piping tuition from Angus MacRae, John MacColl, John MacDougall Gillies, John MacDonald Inverness, William Ross and Alick Cameron. Archie went on to be one of the main figures in the Piobaireachd Society and judged many times over the years. He published the Kilberry Book of Ceol Mor in 1948. He died in 1963.

The first, and for some time the only female member, Miss Elspeth Campbell, was born in 1873, daughter of Lord Archibald Campbell. Elspeth played the bagpipe, spinet, piano and harp. She became the President of the Inveraray branch on An Comunn Gaidhealach and often sang at their ceilidhs and concerts. She was said to be an enthusiastic piper and would sometimes play round the table after dinner like the Pipe Major of a Highland regiment. She took an active part in the work of the Piobaireachd Society and was the Secretary for a time. She died at Inveraray Castle in 1942.

Charles Alexander Hugh MacLean DSO, 5th of Pennycross was born in 1874, son of Archibald John MacLean. He joined the 48th Highlanders of Toronto in 1892 then transferred to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders in 1895. He was with the second battalion on the northwest frontier of India and on the staff in Gallipoli and Egypt during the First World War. He was awarded the DSO in 1918 and Legion of Honour and retired as an honorary Brigadier General in 1923. He was an amateur piper and composed the tune The Lads we left in Gallipoli. He died in 1947. Pipe Major Archibald Ferguson composed the march, Lieut. C MacLean Younger of Pennycross’s Welcome to the 93rd, usually known simply as MacLean of Pennycross, for him by when he joined the battalion as a Lieutenant in 1895. 

Somerled MacDonald, born in 1868, was a great-grandson of Captain Niel MacLeod of Gesto who, in 1828, had published a collection of MacCrimmon piobaireachd in canntaireachd.

William Stewart of Ensay, born 1847, was a officer in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and had an estate in South Harris. He was said to be a good piper.

Charles Adolphus Murray 7th Earl of Dunmore [pictured] was born in 1841 and served in the Scots Fusilier Guards. He was credited, with the Duke of Atholl, for devising the Eightsome Reel in the 1870s. In 1890 he was officer commanding the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Cameron Highlanders and appointed John MacDonald as Pipe Major of the Battalion. Although he judged regularly at the Northern Meeting from 1883 to 1906 and judged at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1904, 1905 and 1906 Lord Dunmore was not thought to be a great piper. Lord Dunmore died in August 1907 and was followed as Piobaireachd Society President by Simon Fraser Lord Lovat.

• To be continued.

• Part 1
• Part 2
• Part 3
• Part 4
• Part 5