Famous pipers: Sue MacIntyre

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Sue with her MBE/
Sue with her MBE.

Sue MacIntyre was born in Inverness in 1929 as Farquhar McIntosh. Her mother, who was a ward sister in the town’s Craig Dunain hospital, died before her fourth birthday so Sue was sent to a children’s home in Aberlour. Some time later she returned to Inverness to live with her father who had re-married.

Sue began piping with the cadets in Inverness and in an interview from 1998 described how it all began. “Just after the war the Cameron Highlanders came back from a POW camp and I started as a cadet drummer with them in Inverness. I got kicked out. I was no good at all but then I was asked if I wanted to learn the pipes and within three months I was on the full pipes. I used to practice with John Allan who eventually became Director of Piping for the Army. He lived just around the corner from me and became a very good friend.”

In the late 1940s Sue became a founder member of the Inverness Piping Society and attended their meetings with the likes of Sheriff J. P. Grant of Rothiemurchus, Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, Mickey MacKay, William M. MacDonald and others. Sue then went into the Scots Guards and came under the instruction of Curly and John Roe.

Sue played at a few competitions but was never a keen or regular competitor. However, around this time, she played at the Northern Meeting and managed to get into the light music short leet with Donald MacLeod, Donald MacLean, Donald and Iain MacPherson and Seumas MacNeill.

While parachuting with the Scots Guards Pathfinder Company she had an accident damaging her back and breaking an arm. This was the cause of back and hand problems in later life. During Army service when helping the younger pipers in the regiment, Sue discovered a talent and a liking for teaching. After passing the Pipe Major’s Course with Willie Ross she was transferred to a Guards detachment in Oman as Pipe Major and tutor of the Trucial Oman Scouts.

On returning to the UK later, she was stationed at Pirbright in Surrey, England and taught at the Guards Piping School where Curly Roe was in charge. After leaving the army in 1961 Sue had a variety of jobs then in 1969 was appointed as schools piping instructor on the island of Skye, becoming the first official schools instructor of piping in Scotland. She taught at 19 schools throughout the whole of Skye and often drove 100 miles a day. During this time she formed the Skye Piping Society with Col. Jock MacDonald and others.

Sue had always felt there was something wrong with her sexuality and as she got older the feelings of being in the wrong body got stronger and she eventually reached the stage of becoming suicidal and had to stop teaching because of the pressure. After tests and medical consultations it was discovered that there was a hormonal problem going back to a pre-birth release of female hormones. Nothing could be done for three years until 1978 then, as Sue said: “I left Skye as Farquhar McIntosh and came back to the same village as Sue MacIntyre. It was a difficult time but I got on with my life. I felt happier and never had any problems from that day. The most remarkable thing was the way Elizabeth [Sue’s wife since 1954 and mother of their two daughters] stuck by me. If it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have been able to carry on teaching. She made any success I had possible and deserves the highest praise.”

Although they divorced in 1980, Elizabeth retained the surname McIntosh and the couple continued to share the same house. As Elizabeth said, “Obviously, it took a bit of time getting used to it, but I thought well I’d married him for better or for worse and thought I’d better just get on with it.” There was some talk at the time but Sue said, “I did have the odd person doing the nudge and wink routine but I didn’t give any quarter?”

One of Sue’s Ayrshire pupils says his best memories are of her sense of humour and her quickness of reply. He remembers one time when another piper was making unnecessary personal comments to which Sue replied immediately: “I’m more of a man than you’ll ever be and more of a woman than you’ll ever get.”

Another instructor had been appointed in Skye so in 1980 Sue and Elizabeth moved to Dailly in Ayrshire, an area devoid of piping tuition at that time. Soon she was teaching local children and then began a period of warfare with the local educational authorities, with all the parents writing letters pushing for a full time instructor in the schools. At first Sue got two days teaching then a year later three days and after continual badgering and latter writing eventually was appointed full time.

Very soon, Sue and her group of excellent young players were regulars on the juvenile piping circuit. She also formed the Dailly and District Piping Society and all the top pipers rallied round in support and performed recitals. John Burgess was the first and was followed by Murray Henderson, John Wilson, Willie Morrison, Strathclyde Police Pipe Band, Fred Morrison and others.

Sue contributed may articles to the Piping Times. She retired as schools instructor in 1998 and returned to live in Inverness where she soon became involved again in teaching. In 2001, she was awarded the MBE for services to piping.

Sue died on June 3, 2010. At her funeral the cortege was led by a group of four of her pupils. Then Pipe Sgt. Ross McCrindle of the Scots Guards, one of Sue’s Ayrshire pupils, led the coffin into the crematorium and after the committal played Lament for the Children.

• Most of this article was culled from the Notices of Pipers and from Jeannie Campbell’s obituary of Sue that appeared in the August 2010 edition of the Piping Times.