By Jeannie Campbell MBE

In 1937 the balls and games of the Argyllshire Gathering were on September 15 and 16. Five clan chiefs attended the opening ball held at the Gathering Halls on the evening of the 14th. They were: Col. MacDougall of MacDougall, chief the MacDougalls; Stewart Appin, chief of the Stewarts; Somerled Macdonald of the Isles, Maclachlan of Maclachlan, and Sir Charles Fitzroy MacLean Bart, young chief of the MacLeans.

On the first day there was a deluge of rain in the early morning followed by intermittent showers throughout the day. Despite this, thousands of spectators gathered in drenching rain to watch the march of the clansmen. The scene in Argyll Square was a stirring one as the crowd cheered the march. The Duke of Argyll, chieftain of the gathering, was again not present to take his place at the head of the procession, which was led by the stewards of the gathering: the Captain of  Dunstaffnage, Capt. George I. Malcolm, yr. of Poltalloch; Maclachlan of Maclachlan, H. L. MacDonald of Dunach  and Capt. J. Graham Campbell, yr. of Shirvan; then came 60 pipers, who led the crowd the games field at Dalintart.

The march to the games field in 1937. Can you recognise any of the pipers? (Click to enlarge.)

A feature of the day’s proceedings was the regimental reel dancing, for which six teams were forward. The team from the 1st Battalion Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders gained the honours.

The piping results from the first day were:

A rare photograph of J. Graham Campbell, yr. of Shirvan.

Ceòl Mòr, Open – 1. R. B. Nicol (Balmoral); 2. Pipe Major J. Robertson (Scots Guards); 3. Owen MacNiven (Paisley).
Junior Ceòl Mòr for Piobaireachd Society and Argyllshire Gathering prizes – 1. Donald R. Stewart (Forth); 2. James MacNeill (Partick); 3.Pipe Major Angus M. Chisholm (Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders).
Ceòl Mòr, for the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal and prizes presented by Argyllshire Gathering – 1. Donald F. Ross (Lochgilphead); 2. Archie MacNab (Glasgow); 3. Pipe Cpl. Peter Bain (Portree); 4.Pipe Major W. Logie, (Seaforths). 
Jigs – 1. Donald  F. Ross; 2. David Ross (Rosehall); 3. Pipe Sgt. Ronald MacCallum (8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders).

Brilliant weather favoured the second day’s games and in the afternoon the attendance was quite up to that of previous years. The natural terracing around the field was packed, while the members’ pavilion was filled with members of the Gathering, their wives and families, and county people from a wide area.

The piping results from the second day were:

Marches, Strathspeys and Reels, previous medal winners – 1. Pipe Major J. Robertson; 2. Pipe Sgt. Ronald MacCallum; 3. David Ross.
Marches, Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal – 1. L. Cpl. J. McGrady (1st Batt. H.L.I.); 2. R. B. Nicol; 3.Piper M. MacMillan (Glenlyon); 4. David Ross; 5. Duncan Maclntyre (Glasgow).
Strathspeys and Reels, for the Royal Scottish Pipers’ Society Star – 1. Owen MacNiven; 2. Donald MacLean (Glasgow); 3. M. MacMillan; 4. Cpl. J. MacGrady; 5. James MacNeill.
Marches, Local – 1. Murdo Mackenzie (Glendaruel); 2. Archie Wilson (8th A. and S. H.); 3. Hugh MacFarlane (Oban).
Strathspeys and Reels, Local – 1. John Maclntyre (Islay); 2. H. MacGuinness (Poltalloch); 3. D. J. MacLennan (Poltalloch). 

The reporter from London paper,The Bystander, writing on September 29, was not impressed by the bagpipe:

“A Highlandman who was at the recent Argyllshire Gathering at Oban has since tried to explain to us the difficult art of pipe playing, but without much success, though we listened as attentively as Dr. Johnson when he put his ear against the big drone. The Doctor was willing to learn and so were we, but neither of us got much out of it, our own secret feeling about the pipes being that there can’t be so very much to an instrument which pink-faced chits of girls can play with ease. We refer to the celebrated Girl Pipers of Dagenham (of all places) a band of tartan-clad sweethearts in their early teens who go everywhere nowadays, piping with noted brio and sangfroid. Our position with regard to the pipes is that if we were a big conceited hairy nation setting an acknowledged moral example to the entire world, we’d be ashamed to make such a song about such an instrument which obviously any schoolgirl can play.”

Some information on two of the prizewinners mentioned above:

The famous Seumas.

James MacNeill became better known as Seumas MacNeill. He was born in Partick, Glasgow in 1917 and was taught piping by his uncle, Archie MacNeill. By profession he was senior lecturer in physics at Glasgow University. He founded the College of Piping with Thomas Pearston in 1944 and they were joint authors of the College highly successful tutor books. Seumas was the editor of the Piping Times, the author of many other books and articles and made several recordings. He died in 1996.

Angus MacPhail Chisholm was born in Inverness in 1909. He served with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders and was Pipe Major of the 2nd Battalion from 1937 to1940. He died in 1982.

The rules for the 1938 Argyllshire Gathering were published in the Oban Times on August 13 that year. The Gathering itself was held on September 14 and 15. The competitions were still men only and one of the rules stated explicitly: “Women and girls are not eligible to compete in any events.”

At the first ball on the Wednesday the music for dancing was provided by Tim Wright and his band from Edinburgh and two pipers, Pipe Major Willie Ross and David Ross, Rosehall.

On Wednesday the piping events that took place were:

Open Ceòl Mòr: £10, £6,£3 – Three set tunes: Isabel MacKay, The Sound of the Waves Against the Castle of Duntroon, MacDonald of Kinlochmoidart’s Lament, No. 2.
Gold Medal Ceòl Mòr: £10, £6, £3, £2 – Six tunes, own choice. Confined to those who had not won this event previously.
Junior Ceòl Mòr: Prizes presented by The Piobaireachd Society and the Argyllshire Gathering – Three set tunes: MacDonalds’ or Duntroon’s Salute, Tulloch Ard (MacKenzies’ March), Kinlochmoidart, No, 1.
Jigs: £4, £2, £1 – Confined to first prize winners in the March or Strathspey and Reel – “Submit three Scottish jigs.”

As ever, the light music events took place on the Thursday.

Three of the stewards from the 1937 Gathering including James Campbell of Kilberry on the right.

The band of the 8th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders entertained on both days. All competitors were asked to parade in front of the British Linen Bank at 9.45am on both days otherwise they would not get tickets.

There was excellent weather on the first day and large crowds assembled to watch the parade to the field. On the march, the pipers played The Campbells are Coming. The Pipe Major was Pipe Major D. R. MacLennan.

In the Open Ceòl Mòr the standard was below average. 14 played out of 15 entered. The result was: 1. J. B. Robertson (Kinlochmoidart, No. 2); 2. R. B. Nicol (Isabel MacKay); 3. Pope Major John MacDonald of the Glasgow Police (Isabel MacKay). John Wilson of Edinburgh broke down. Malcolm MacMillan, Donald Ross and Charles Scott of the Glasgow Police made slips.

The judges were Graham-Campbell of Shirvan, Douglas Ramsay of Banff and MacDonald of Largie.

Roddy MacDonald, Glasgow Police.

In the Gold Medal there was good playing. 23 played out of 25 entries. The result was: 1. Roderick MacDonald of the Glasgow Police with (Mary’s Praise); 2. Andrew Bain (The King’s Taxes); 3. Pipe Major Angus Macaulay of the Lovat Scouts (MacSwan of Roaig); 4. Archie MacNab of the Glasgow Police (Kinlochmoidart’s Lament). Other good tunes but with minor errors were played by Donald R. Stewart, John C. Johnstone, W. Walker, Ian C. Cameron and Pipe Major Donald MacLean (Seaforths). The judges were Col. J. P. Grant of Rothiemurchus and Archibald Campbell of Kilberry.

In the Junior Ceòl Mòr five played out of seven entered. First was Hamish J. MacKenzie, Tongue, a son of Donald Ian MacKenzie, playing Kinlochmoidart No. 1. Second was Tommy Pearston playing Tulloch Ard and third was Seumas MacNeill playing Duntroon’s Salute.

The judges were Dr. Simpson and James Campbell of Kilberry.

The jig playing reportedly of a high standard and 11 out of 13 entered played. The result was: 1. Donald Ross, Lochgilphead (John Paterson’s Mare); 2. John Wilson, Edinburgh (Sandy Thomson); 3. Donald MacLean, Glasgow (The Kitchen Maid). The judges were Archibald Kenneth, Stronachullin and Colin Campbell, Kilberry.

On September 24, the Oban Times reported on the second day of the Gathering. Once again the weather was dry. There is a correction to the report that appeared the previous week:

“John Wilson, Edinburgh played The Sound of the Waves against the Castle of Duntroon very well indeed but the judges did not consider his version of the tune sufficiently well authenticated.”

In the March, Strathspey and Reel 13 entered. All the pipers who entered their names for the competition appeared on the platform.

The result was: 1. Pipe Major J. B. Robertson of the Scots Guards (Lochaber Gathering, Blair Drummond, Cameronian Rant); 2. D. F. Ross, Lochgilphead (Highland Wedding, Caledonian Society of London, Lord MacDonald); 3. Peter Bain, Portree (Argyllshire Gathering, Arniston Castle, Lochiel’s Away to France).

This competition gave rise to the naming, although not the composing, of the popular march, Donald MacLean’s Farewell to Oban. The full story can be found here.

In the Marches, 29 played out of an entry of 38. There was a short leet of seven: Pipe Major A. Macaulay (Lovat Scouts), Pipe Major Nicol MacCallum (Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders), Robert B. Nicol, Andrew Bain, Robert U. Brown, P.M Donald MacLean (Seaforths) and Archie MacNab (Glasgow Police). The final result was 1. A. Macaulay, 2. Pipe Major Nicol MacCallum, 3. Andrew Bain, 4. R. B. Nicol, 5. R. U. Brown.

The Strathspey and Reel was a disappointing competition. The playing was inaccurate and several who had entered and were present did not play. 25 out of 36 entered played. The short leet was Andrew Bain; Duncan MacIntyre, Glasgow; A. Macaulay; Malcolm MacMillan; Donald MacLean, Glasgow; R. U. Brown and Archie MacNab. The result was 1. Duncan MacIntyre; 2. A. Macaulay; 3. R. U. Brown; 4. A. MacNab; 5. A. Bain. The winner of both local events was A. B. MacCallum, Campbeltown.

Hamish J. MacKenzie served with the Scots Guards, the Seaforth Highlanders and the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, before moving to Australia in 1958.

Donald MacLean was born in 1908 at Ballantrushal, Lewis. He joined the Seaforth Highlanders in June 1926 and was appointed Pipe Major in 1936. He served in Egypt, Palestine and France and was captured in 1940 at St Valery. He took over the Scottish Command School of Piping in 1946 then went to the Highland Brigade training school 1947-48. He retired in 1948 with 22 years’ service. Donald was piper to Sir Edwin de Winton Wills of Glenlyon then hen manager of the piping department at R. G. Lawrie’s from 1953-64. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1953. He died at Innellan, Cowal in 1964 when attending the Cowal Games.

Andrew Bain was originally from Calder in Caithness but moved to London in 1931 where he became a policeman. He competed in Scotland only rarely.

Tommy Pearston
Tommy Pearston

Tommy Pearston was born in Glasgow in 1921 and was taught by Archie MacNeill. By profession he was a laboratory technician. With Seumas MacNeill he founded the College of Piping in 1944 and was the joint author of the College’s tutor books. He died in 2005.

On October 1, 1939, a notice appeared in the Oban Times from The Piobaireachd Society giving the set tunes for the 1939 competitions. Competitors in the Junior Competition were to submit three tunes: Sir James MacDonald of the Isles Lament, The Little Spree and Clan Campbell’s Gathering.

Competitors in the Senior Competitions were to submit MacKay’s Banner, Clanranald’s Salute, The Old Men of the Shells. The 1939 Argyllshire Gathering was advertised to take place on September 13 and 14. In August the Oban Times carried the set tunes and rules. However, at the beginning of September notices appeared in many newspapers: “Argyllshire Gathering Cancelled. Officials of the Argyllshire Gathering have decided to cancel the Games and balls which were to take place on September 13th and 14th at Oban.” It would be 1946 before another Gathering.

• 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
• Part 16
• Part 17
• Part 18