The history of the Argyllshire Gathering, part 7

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By Jeannie Campbell MBE

The “Piobaireachd Society of Scotland” gave notice in the autumn of 1903 that it would hold a competition at the 1904 Argyllshire Gathering at which it would award a total of £30 in prizes. The first prize shall be £20 and a Gold Medal, second prize £5, third prize £3, fourth prize £2. The intention was to hold this competition at Oban during the Argyllshire Gathering.

The Society said: “Many tunes are never played as most competitions ask for three to eight tunes and many pipers give the same list year after year. Out of nearly 300 piobaireachds in existence only about 20 are ever played at competitions. The Society will set six tunes each year of equal length and has decided to adopt the settings in Major General Thomason’s Ceol Mor as the Society can distribute six piobaireachds in the abbreviated Ceol Mor settings with key to notation amongst the pipers at a very small cost, which could not be done with any other book. This will put all competitors on an equal footing. If after the competitions each year any competitor can point out errors in a tune, or give a better setting on some good authority the committee will thoroughly consider his suggestions and should they decide to adopt them they will be glad to pay those who assist them in trying to correct the tunes as much as possible. The Society intends to publish a correct book. The Society will select only those who are thoroughly acquainted with the tunes to act as judges at these competitions so that the pipers may have absolute confidence in them.

“The six tunes chosen for the first year are The Desperate Battle, Perth; The King’s Taxes, Lament for MacLeod of MacLeod; The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute; The Groat; Lament for the Earl of Antrim. The committee has decided to let pipers have these tunes free of charge this year, and they may be had on application to the secretary of the Society.”

The following week, Edinburgh based pipe maker and music publisher, David Glen wrote to the Oban Times saying that his book was better than Ceol Mor and offering to supply any tune from his Ancient Piobaireachd containing 70 tunes, at one shilling each or in book form 12 to 15 tunes for four shillings, and would supply quantities to the society at reduced prices for distribution to their competitors.

The Piobaireachd Society did not take up David Glen’s offer. A great pity.

This does not seem to have had the hoped for reaction from the Society as on October 3, David Glen had another try, with the following advertisement in the Oban Times: “The Piobaireachd Society of Scotland. Those intending to compete for the prizes to be offered for the correction of Ceol Mor should purchase David Glen’s Ancient Piobaireachd which will make their work easy. Contents and price on application. David Glen, 8 Greenside Place, Edinburgh.”

The games in 1904 were held on two days, September 13-14 of September. On the 13th the piobaireachd competitions took place with prizes presented by “The Scottish Piobaireachd Society and the Argyllshire Gathering”. The following day saw more piobaireachd events, this time competed for by the winners from the previous day. Also taking place were the light music contests plus dancing and other sporting events.

The full details of the Tuesday competitions were:

1. Piobaireachd – Open to all corners under the Rules of, and Prizes presented by The Piobaireachd Society, Gold Medal and £20, £5, £3. £2.
2. Piobaireachd – The Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal and prizes given by the Argyllshire Gathering, open to all who have never won this medal before, £l, £2, £1.
3. Piobaireachd – Confined to those who have never won a prize for such at The Argyllshire Gathering, Northern Meeting, or the Lochaber or Portree Games under the rules of, and prizes presented by, The Piobaireachd Society, Silver Medal and £3, £2, £1, 10s.

… and Wednesday:

1. Marches – Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal £3, £2, 15s.
2. Strathspeys and Reels – £3, £2, 10s.
3. Local Strathspeys and Reels – Scottish Pipers’ Society Silver Badge, £2, £1, 10s.
4. Local Marches – £2, £1, 10s.
5. Piobaireachd – played by the winners of Tuesday’s competitions.

The Gold Medal winner also recevied a cash prize of £20. If inflation had kept pace, this would equate to £1,700 today.

The Oban Times report of that year’s Gathering stated: “Hitherto the games have only occupied one day, and this year’s departure was brought about largely on account of the piping competitions organised by the Piobaireachd Society. This Society, in order to awaken fresh interest in piobaireachd and piobaireachd playing, offered particularly handsome prizes for a competition for which they set four of the many tunes which it is feared are fast falling into obscurity. For this competition there was a large entry, and the Society decided that the playing should be heard in Oban. An arrangement was come to that the competition should take place under Argyllshire Gathering auspices and out of this happy proposal arose an additional sports programme. The Stewards of the Gathering provided that part of their competitive piping should follow the Piobaireachd Society’s events and to complete the day a variety of military sports was agreed upon.”

Tuesday was wet in the morning but fine in the afternoon. The report continues: “The first part of the programme was occupied with the piobaireachd competitions. For the principal event 19 competitors entered, but the whole of the contestants did not put in an appearance. The Society is, however, gratified by the response made to its initial efforts, and also with the piping results. The competitive tunes, the history of each of which was recently described in the Oban Times, were The Desperate Battle (Perth), The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute, Lament for the Earl of Antrim and The King’s Taxes, the setting being that of Ceol Mor, the distinguished author of which (Major-General Thomason) was present during the day.

L-R: Pipe Major Willie Ross, George S. MacLennan and John MacDonald (Inverness).

“The first prize a Gold Medal and £20 fell to Mr. John MacDonald, Inverness, for The King’s Taxes. This is rather a hard tune, the proper getting up of which presents some difficulties, but MacDonald gave an excellent rendering of it. Pipe Corporal Geo. Stewart MacLennan, 1st Gordon Highlanders, a young piper, carried off the second prize with the Lament for the Earl of Antrim, which he played carefully and well. The third prize winner was Corporal Piper W. Ross, 1st Scots Guards, who played The Desperate Battle with good effect. The fourth prize fell to James A. Center, Edinburgh, who made a verypromising appearance. The second competition organised by the Society was a confined one. There were 14 entries and some capital and promising pipers were heard. The Argyllshire Gathering piobaireachd competition also produced an interesting exhibition and the winners showed capabilities of which much greater things may be expected.”

Gold Medal – 1. Pipe Corporal George Stewart MacLennan; 2 and 3. Corporal Piper Willie Ross and James A. Center (Edinburgh), equal. This is in contradiction of what has already been reported which stated that Center was placed fourth.
Piobaireachd (confined) – 1. George S. Allan (Peterhead), 2. and 3. J. Gordon (Lunga) and Pipe Major Alick Matheson (Royal Scots), equal, 4. William MacNeill (Oban).

On Wednesday the weather was “all that could be desired”. The results were:

Marches – 1. George S. Allan; 2. Pipe Major J. Sutherland (Dingwall); 3. James A. Center.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Pipe Corporal George Stewart MacLennan; 2. Pipe Major Alick Matheson; 3. J. Gordon.
Local Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Angus MacLean (Craignish), 2. Donald Macinnes (Ardsheal), 3.= Alistair MacMillan (Glencruitten) and D. Macfarlane (Oban).
Local Marches – 1. J. Gordon, 2. Angus MacLean; 3. John MacLellan (Ballachullish).

The Piobaireachd Society judges were: First competition – Lord Dunmore, Somerled MacDonald, Captain Stewart of Ensay, Angus Campbell Yr of Kilberry and J. McKillop Jr. of Polmont Park. Second competition – Captain Colin Macrae, Captain McNeill D.S.O., Captain MacLean of Pennycross and Captain Ian Forbes Yr of Rothiemay.

The Piobaireachd Society held a meeting following the event and it was decided that as the competition had been such a success it would be repeated the following year. A committee was appointed to issue music for the 1905 competition, and that music was to be issued in book form and in the so-called ordinary notation instead of General Thomason’s system. It was also ruled that the tunes “should be played by the book”. Lord Dunmore was elected as President in place of General Thomason and James McKillop resigned as Secretary, his place being taken by Stewart of Ensay. General Thomason resigned his membership in July of the following year and died in 1911 without having been reconciled with the Society.

In 1905 the notice of the Games appears on August 19. The events were:

1. Piobaireachd, open to all comers. Piobaireachd Society Gold Medal. £7 £4 £3 £2 £1.
2. Highland Society of London Gold Medal. £3 £2 £1.
3. Silver Medal. £3 £2 £1.

The light music events and the military sports took place on the second day rather than, as they had the previous year, on the first day. The dancing, athletics and industrial events were also held on the first day, which was wet. The competitors marched from the Secretary’s office to the field with the pipers playing Glendaruel Highlanders and Bugle Horn March.

In the Piobaireachd Society’s competitions the events were the same as before but the prize money was reduced greatly, with only £7 (which would be £600 today) for the first prize instead of the £20 offered the previous year. There were three sets tunes: The Prince’s Salute, The Lament for Patrick Òg MacCrimmon and Lament for John Garve MacLeod.

The judges for the Society’s Medal were Lord Dunmore, Archibald Campbell, Kilberry, Major Stewart of Ensay, Captain Colin Macrae, and J. MacKillop Jnr. The other judges were Colonel Campbell of Inverneill, Captain C. A. H. MacLean, Somerled MacDonald, Captain MacNeill, Captain Forbes of Rothiemay and Major C. Neill MacDonald.

John Campbell of Kilberry, seated, with his four sons. They were all involved with the early years of the Piobaireachd Society and with the Argyllshire Gathering.

There were seven competitors for the Society’s Gold Medal but the day was very cold and wet and two, John MacDougall Gillies and John MacColl both broke down while playing Lament for John Garve MacLeod of Raasay. John MacDonald played the Lament for Patrick Òg MacCrimmon and the other four pipers played the Prince’s Salute. James Center, William Ross and Roderick Campbell played it by the book but George S. Allan played the first variation differently. Eventually, after much discussion and argument, the result was announced as: 1. John MacDonald; 2. James Center; 3. George S. Allan; 4. William Ross; 5. Roderick Campbell.

Early on the following day an official handed the £3 prize money to George. S. Allan. However, when the result was announced later, the prizes were awarded to: 1. John MacDonald; 2. James Center; 3. William Ross; and 4. Roderick Campbell. It transpired that following the competition Stewart of Ensay had called a committee meeting, disqualified George S. Allan and over-ruled the judges appointed by the Society. This led to a number of resignations including the three Kilberry brothers, their father John Campbell of Kilberry, James MacKillop, and most of the other knowledgeable members.

The full results were:

Piobaireachd 1. – 1. John MacDonald (Inverness); 2. James A. Center (Edinburgh); 3. Pipe Major Willie Ross (2nd Batt. Scots Guards); 4. Roderick Campbell (Glasgow).
Piobaireachd 2. – 1. George S. Allan, 2. James A. Center, 3. Roderick Campbell.
Piobaireachd 3. – 1. Pipe Major Alick Mathieson, 2.= J. Johnston (Islay) and Archie MacNeill (Rhu); 3.= D. MacFarlane (Oban) and Angus Macpherson (Badenoch).

On Wednesday there was rain in the morning but the sun came out at 10:00am when the pipers marched from the Secretary’s office to the field, playing the Earl of Mansfield and The Atholl Highlanders’ March to Loch Katrine. The results on Wednesday were:

Marches – 1. Pipe Major Willie Ross, 2. J. Mathieson (Ardfern); 3. James A. Center.
Strathspeys and Reels – I. George S. Allan, 2. Pipe Major Alick Matheson (Royal Scots); 3. Pipe Major Willie Ross.
Local Strathspeys and Reels – D. MacFarlane; 2. H. McKellar(Dunoon); 3. D. Macinnes, (2nd Scottish Horse).
Local Marches – 1. D. Macinnes, 2. H. MacKellar, 3 and 4 (equal) D. MacFarlane and W. MacNeill (Oban).

Some information on these pipers. As we have seen, three pipers in particular are appearing regularly in the prizes now: John MacDonald, Willie Ross and William MacLean. Briefly, John MacDonald was born in 1865 at Glentruim in Badenoch, the son of Alexander MacDonald, Piper to Glentruim. He was Pipe Major of the 4th Camerons Volunteer Batt. from 1899. In 1914 he was mobilised but was invalided out prior to battalion leaving for France. He was employed as an instructor by the Piobaireachd Society and was the first instructor at the Army School of Piping. He was also employed as a travelling salesman for George Younger and Son. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1890 and Clasps in 1903, 1908, 1924, 1927, 1929, 1933 and 1934. He died in Inverness in 1953.

Willie Ross was born at Camsorrie in Glen Strathfarrar (west of Loch Ness) in 1878 and joined the Scots Guards in 1896. He served during the South African war and became Pipe Major in 1905. Willie served during the First World War and was invalided out on pension in 1919. He was Pipe Major of the Lovat Scouts 1919-1933 and was employed by the Piobaireachd Society as the Army School Instructor 1920-1957. He published five collections of light music At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1904 and the Clasp in 1905, 1907, 1910, 1912, 1913, 1919, 1923 and 1928. He died in Edinburgh in 1966.

William MacLean was born at Tobermory on Mull in 1878. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1901 and the Clasp in 1913. During the 1914-18 war he served with the Cameron Highlanders and was Pipe Major of the 5th Battalion. After the war he kept a hotel at Creagorry on Benbecula, was, like John MacDonald, travelling salesman for Messrs. Younger and Piper to Malcolm of Poltalloch for a time. He died in 1957 at Kilcreggan.

Roderick Campbell was born in 1873 at Loch Broom in Wester Ross. He was Piper to Count de Serra, Largo at Tarlogie near Tain, Ross-shire, then in 1911 Piper to Col Scott, at Draycott House in Derby, England. In later life he lived in Edinburgh and was a reedmaker and teacher. He worked for the North British Rubber Company at Fountainbridge and died in Edinburgh in 1937.

George Shand Allan was born in 1882 at Peterhead. He began his military career as a Volunteer with the Scottish Horse 1906-08. He was Piper to Duke of Atholl and Piper to Major Greenhill Gardyne prior to his army service. At the Northern Meeting he won the Gold Medal in 1906. In 1909 he became a regular soldier when he enlisted in the Royal Scots, being appointed Pipe Major of the 1st Battalion immediately. After service in India he went to France in 1914 and was later at the battle of Salonica. He died in Aberdeen in 1934.

Archie MacNeill.
Archie MacNeill.

Archibald MacNeill was born in Govan in 1879 but grew up at Rhu near Helensburgh. Being blind he was not a regular competitor but he was well known as a teacher and composer. He died in Glasgow in 1962. He taught both founders of the College of Piping, Seumas MacNeill (who was also a cousin) and Tommy Pearston. He was involved with the early years of the College and contribute regualrly to the Piping Times.

Angus MacPherson was born at Badenoch in 1877, son of Calum Piobair MacPherson. He was a farm worker, a railway clerk, and part-time piper to Cluny. He spent three years in London 1894-97 teaching dancing. He was Piper to C Murray, Lochcarron in 1897 and Piper to Andrew Carnegie, Skibo Castle 1898-1905. Afterwards he was an estate agent in Newtonmore then kept a hotel at Inveran in Sutherland from 1914 until the hotel burnt down in 1949. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1923 and was awarded the MBE in 1969. He died at Bonar Bridge in 1876.

• Continues.

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• Part 3
• Part 4
• Part 5
• Part 6