The history of the Argyllshire Gathering, part 16



By Jeannie Campbell

In 1931 the games and balls of the Argyllshire Gathering were held on September 9 and 10. As usual, the Gaelic concert was held on the evening prior to the Gathering (Tuesday 8). Oban had been enjoying a month of glorious weather and this continued during the two days of the Gathering. The popularity was manifest from early morning on the Wednesday when train loads of excursionists from Glasgow arrived, and the town presented an animated scene. 

The results of the piping events on the first day were:

Ceòl Mòr (1) – 1. John Wilson (Edinburgh); 2. Malcolm R. MacPherson (Invershin); 3. John MacDonald (Glasgow Police).
Ceòl Mòr (2) – 1. Robert U. Brown (Muir of Ord); 2. Malcolm R. Macpherson; 3. Alastair R. Mackenzie (Fort William); 4. Malcolm Johnston.
Ceòl Mòr (3) – 1. Victor R. MacLeod (Edinburgh); 2. John Mackinnon (Glasgow); 3. Pipe Major C. Smith  (2nd Black Watch).
Jigs – 1. Pipe Major Robert Reid (7th H.L.I.); 2 Roderick MacDonald (Glasgow Police); 3. David Ross.

The second day was favoured with glorious weather. Nearly 10,000 visitors watched the mid-morning procession marching to the field.

The results on the second day were:

Marches, Strathspeys, and Reels – 1 . Pipe Sgt. Robertson (Scots Guards); 2. John Wilson; 3. John MacDonald (Glasgow Police).
Marches – 1. Roderick MacDonald; 2. Sgt. J. MacLean (Scots Guards); 3. Charles D. Scott (Glasgow Police); 4 John C. Johnston (Glasgow Police); 5. R. B. Nicol (Balmoral).
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. Malcolm R. MacPherson; 2. R. B. Nicol; 3. John C. Johnston: 4. Donald MacLean (Glasgow); 5. Hugh Kennedy (Glasgow).
Marches (Local) – Hector MacLean (Oban); 2. John Scoular (Ardchattan); 3. Duncan MacIntyre (Islay).
Strathspeys and Reels (Local) – 1 V. J. MacBean (Minard); 2. Duncan MacIntyre; 3. Lance Sergt. Neil Crawford (8th A. and S.H.).

As usual, there were a number of steamers in the bay, whose presence went mostly unremarked, except for this year, as the Dundee Evening Telegraph of September 12 reported: “Captain injured by exploding rocket. Rockets were fired on board the steamer Princess Louise at Oban in connection with the Argyllshire Gathering celebrations. One of the rockets misfired and afterwards exploded, severely injuring John MacInnes in the leg. He was taken in an ambulance to the West Highland Cottage Hospital.”

Duncan MacIntyre was born in Islay but lived in Glasgow. He came from a piping family, as his father and his cousin John C. Johnston of the Glasgow Police were pipers. Duncan was a piper in the Glasgow Transport Pipe Band and a member of the Scottish Pipers’ Association (SPA). He won the Strathspey and Reel competition at the Northern Meeting in 1938. When the Second World War came he enlisted in the Black Watch and was killed at El Alamein on October 23, 1942 aged only 28. He led his battalion into the battle, playing his pipes all the way. He was hit several times and eventually was killed, but not before he had inspired all within earshot with the sound of his pipes. In the morning he was found dead, lying in the sand with his pipes still under his arm. He was recommended for the Victoria Cross but it was not awarded to him. In 1945 the Glasgow Transport Pipe Band presented the Duncan McIntyre Memorial Trophy for the Strathspey and Reel to the SPA to commemorate the life of a fine young piper.

The games and balls of the 1932 Gathering were held in September on Wednesday 14 and Thursday 15. As usual the annual Gaelic concert was held on the evening prior to the Gathering when Major MacRae of Feorlin presided over a large attendance. An excellent programme of music was submitted by Oban Gaelic Choir, under the under the direction of a John MacDonald. A feature of the evening was the singing of Neil MacLean, the well-known Gaelic singer, and also of his wife, a soprano. 

On September 14, The Sketch (a London-based illustrated weekly journal) sniffed: “The Argyllshire Gatherings at Oban today and tomorrow are probably the cheeriest of the Games, which are so much a feature of the Highland of the Highland season. Of course, if the truth were told (but who would be guilty of this error of taste) half, if not a higher percentage, of those who go to the Games are secretly bored with the business of watching endless relays of reel-dancing, caber-tossing, and so forth (anyway, if they come from south of the of the Tweed), but the balls at the Argyllshire Gathering are famous. Most enjoyable affairs, they are attended not only by the house-parties of the neighbourhood, but by the owners of yachts, of which many assemble in the harbour for this occasion.”

The stewads lead the way Date uncertain.

The Gathering was the 60th anniversary of the first gathering and opened in excellent weather. There was a good entry for the various events, in the piping and athletic contests and the industrial section.

The reporter from The Scotsman on September 15 wrote: “A good deal of nonsense is sometimes talked about Highland Games, and a Punch writer hit the nail fairly accurately on the head when she wrote of people drifting about at a Highland gathering, dressed in kilts and tweeds, and taking an interest in anything but the games. But that, I think, has never been true of the Argyllshire Gathering, which opened here today and will finish tomorrow. I have been at the Argyllshire Gathering four times, and I really do think that here we have something more than a more social rout and a happy hunting ground for the gossip writers of the popular Press.

“There is the real spirit of a Highland gathering at the Oban Games and I think everybody, from the members’ enclosure to the hillock some distance outside the grounds from where very economically minded people watch the gathering free of charge, is interested in the games. One thing which I have always liked about the Argyllshire Gathering is the ban on women and girl dancers, those fat-kneed children of vague age with hideous golden ringlets and a multitude of medals. The Oban Games – that part of them which takes place on the field at least – are purely for men. The women have their innings and take it admirably in the industrial section, where they compete in making plaids and travelling rugs and webs of cloth and and kilt or knickerbocker hose and also in dyeing wool with home-made vegetable dyes – in a word, working at the crafts of old Scotland and keeping these crafts alive in face of modern machinery. In this industrial section also men may compete – there being a competition in the making of stockings knitted by a man or boy over 15 years of age and various contests in the making of cromags and walking sticks and baskets. The cromag is to be ‘for practical use by a shepherd’ and the walking stick must be made ‘suitable for the hill.’ Until, therefore the time comes when competitors will be asked to make a cromag ‘for practical use in a Hollywood-produced talking picture’ or a walking stick ‘suitable for the seaside promenade,’ I shall refuse to believe that the spirit of Scotland is dead or that the Argyllshire Gathering is not doing its best to keep it living.

“… This morning, towards ten o’ clock, there was the usual muster of stewards of the gathering and competitors in the town, and after the pipers and athletes had answered the roll-call, the procession moved off to the gathering ground in Dalintart Park, lined on one side by the pavilion and members’ enclosure, on the second by another pavilion, on the third by tents and marquees, and on the fourth by the rising ground which forms a natural grand stand. The president of the gathering, the Duke of Argyll, attended the games in the course of the forenoon, and the stewards were;—Lieutenant-Colonel B. A, Campbell of Arduaine; Mr T. M. Macdonald of Barguillean; Lieutenant-Colonel T. O. Lloyd of Minard; Colonel Ian M. Campbell, C. B. E.; Maclachlan of Maclachlan and H. L. Macdonald of Dunach.

Robert Nicol, left, and Robert Reid.
Robert Nicol, left, and Robert Reid.

“Early in the afternoon the flying boat Cloud of Iona arrived, flew near to the gathering ground, and ‘landed’ in Oban bay, and for the rest of the afternoon, continuing even after the bay had grown so misty that Kerrera seemed distant, it was making short flights over the town and the yacht-dotted water … Today’s athletic events, according to the custom of the Argyllshire gathering, were confined to local competitors, men of the Services and men serving in the county Territorial units, the open heavy events coming off tomorrow, when the men of weight will compete in throwing things about. Today, however, there was the playing of the piobaireachd, which is not confined to local pipers. It has always seemed to me a curious reflection on our characteristics as a race that the gay music of the pipes – the reels, quick marches, and strathspeys – is called, in Gaelic, the ‘Little Music,’ while the slow marches, which are more solemn (although lovely), come under the heading of ‘Middle Music’ and the piobaireachd, which is the most solemn thing on earth, is called ‘Great Music.’ For the sake of the feelings of serious students of pipe music, a person, who does not understand the piobaireachd should never say what he really thinks of it.”

The results on the first day were:

Ceòl Mòr 1 – Open to all for prizes presented by the Piobaireachd Society and Argyllshire Gathering – 1. Pipe Major Robert Reid; 2. Pipe Major Willie Ross; 3. David Ross (Rosehall).
Ceòl Mòr 2 for the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal and prizes presented by the Gathering – 1. Pipe Sgt. J. Robertson (2nd Scots Guards); 2. Sgt. J. Maclean (1st Scots Guards); 3. Pipe Major Lewis F. Beaton (London); 4. Pipe Major Charles Smith (2nd Black Watch).
Ceòl Mòr 3 for prizes presented by the Piobaireachd Society and the Argyllshire Gathering –1. Owen Macniven (Paisley); 2. Angus Mackinnon (Edinburgh Police); 3. Piper Hector Maclean.
Jigs – 1. Pipe Major Willie Ross; 2. John Wilson; 3. Piper David Ross.

The results of the piping events on the second day were:

Marches, Strathspey, and Reels, confined to previous first prizewinners – 1. Pipe Major Willie Ross; 2. Ronald McCallum (8th A. & S. H.;) 3. John Wilson.
Marches (previous first prize winners in this competition debarred) – 1. Pipe Corporal Bain (1st Batt. Scots Guards); 2. Pipe Major Charles Smith; 3. R. B. Nicol; 4. Pipe Major Alex. Forrest (Torphichen); 5. Sgt. J. M’Lean (1st Batt Scots Guards).
Strathspeys and Reels (previous first prize winners debarred) – 1. R. B. Nicol: 2. Ronald MacCallum; 3. Nicol MacCallum: 4. John C. Johnston; 5. Alex. MacDermid (Glasgow Transport).
Marches (local) – 1. D. R. Cameron (Edinburgh Police); 2. Hugh Campbell (Islay); 3. Pipe Sgt. Neil Crawford (8th A. & S. H.).
Strathspeys and Reels (local) – 1. D. R. Cameron: 2. Duncan MacIntyre; 3. Pipe Sgt. Neil Crawford. 

Thomas N. MacDonald of Barguillean was a younger brother of H. L. MacDonald of Dunach. His son, Tommy was the subject of the late Dr. Bruce Thomson’s march Tommy MacDonald of Barguillean.

Lewis Beaton.

Lewis Fraser Beaton was born in Glasgow in 1890, although his father was from Skye and his mother from Strathpeffer, Ross-shire. He joined the army aged 14 and served in Gallipoli in 1915 under Pipe Major Edwin MacPherson and in Palestine under Pipe Major William Fergusson. He succeeded Edwin MacPherson as Pipe Major  of the 7th Cameronians. After the war he was a member of the Clan MacRae Pipe Band, then he became a dentist in Twickenham from 1924 onwards. He was the Founder and first President of the Piping Society of London 1932-44. He died in 1944 in Glasgow.

Owen MacNiven was born as Owen Gallagher in Paisley in 1916 but later took his mother’s name of MacNiven. He was a pupil of Robert Reid. During the Second World War he served as a Major and afterwards was a headmaster in Nottingham.

Charles Henry Smith was born in 1908 and was Pipe Major Black Watch 1930 to 1937. From 1953 he was assistant works manager at R. G. Lawrie bagpipe makers. In 1932 he won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting. He died in 1972.

Angus MacKinnon was a piper with the Edinburgh Police. Pipe Major Donald Shaw Ramsay named a 6/8 march for him.

Peter Bain was born in Ross-shire in 1910 but brought up in Skye. He served with the Scots Guards from 1927 and was Pipe Major from 1941 with the Holding Battalion, then 4th Battalion then 2nd Battalion until 1945. In 1934 he won the Northern Meeting Gold Medal. He died in 1975.

Duncan Richard Cameron was born in Islay in 1903 and was a brother of Iain Currie Cameron. He joined the Edinburgh Police in 1929 and the pipe band in 1930 He was Pipe Major of the band from 1942 until he retired in 1949. He died in Edinburgh in 1987.

Alexander Forrest was Pipe Major of the Torphichen Pipe Band. He was a pupil of John MacDougall Gillies and competed successfully as an amateur, and later as a professional, winning the March at the Northern Meeting in 1933 and being placed second in the Gold Medal. In 1947 Alexander Forrest he was killed in an accident aged only 44.

Alexander MacDermid was Pipe Major of the Glasgow Transport Pipe Band.

• To be continued.

• Part 1
• Part 2
• Part 3
• Part 4
• Part 5
• Part 6
• Part 7
• Part 8
• Part 9
• Part 10
• Part 11
• Part 12
• Part 13
• Part 14
• Part 15