The history of the Argyllshire Gathering, part 21



By Jeannie Campbell MBE

In 1948, the Gaelic Concert took place in Oban Old Parish Church Hall on the evening of the first day of the Gathering. Sir Charles MacLean Bt., Duart Castle, Chief of the MacLeans, presided. The programme included Oban Gaelic Choir plus various other vocal and instrumental items and dances. From 1948 onwards the recently founded Piping Times covered the Gathering. The 1948 report entitled ‘Combined Variation, Oban 1948’ was written by an author using the pseudonym, G Grace Note. He wrote:

“In Oban on Monday, 13th September, an observant person would have noticed that an increase of kilted tourists had taken place. Perhaps if he had looked more closely he would have seen several plain clothed gentlemen carrying cases varying in size from an oblong box to a large suitcase. From pier and station disembarkation of these ‘tourists’ took place. A special contingent arrived at the station after nightfall with similar freight. At 9.30a.m. on Tuesday morning the operation commenced with the invasion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders’ Drill Hall, Drimvargie. From this place a commanding view of Oban and the sea approaches can be observed. The plain clothed tourists had relinquished their attire for the kilt, and all were heavily armed with sticks and doodlebags. But for a slight break in the afternoon an uninterrupted and unceasing medley of Battles, Salutes, Laments and Gatherings resounded from MacCaig’s Folly and back.”

The piping results were:

John C. Johnston.

Piobaireachd (Gold Medal) – 1. Donald MacPherson (The Old Men of the Shells); 2. John Garroway (The Battle of Waternish);3. John C. Johnston (MacKay’s Banner);4. Pipe Major John MacLellan (Colin Roy MacKenzie’s Lament).
Piobaireachd (Open) – 1. Donald MacPherson (Queen Anne’s Lament);2. John Garroway (Clan Ranald’s Salute). 3. Pipe Major John MacLellan (The Stewart’s White Banner);4. Pipe Major John MacDonald (The Old Men of the Shells).
Marches (6/8) – 1. Pipe Major John MacLellan (72nd’s Farewell to Edinburgh);2. Pipe Major Donald MacLean (The Maids of Kintail);3. Pipe Major J. Wilson (MacColl’s Farewell to the Scottish Horse).
March, Strathspey and Reel (Former Winners). 1. Pipe Major John A. MacLellan (Seaforth Highlanders, Edinburgh); 2. John Wilson, Edinburgh; 3. Pipe Major R. MacCallum (Strachur).
Marches (The Argyllshire Gathering Silver Medal and cash prizes) – 1. Seumas MacNeill, Glasgow (The 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh);2. Pipe Major J. M. MacKenzie, 8th A. & S.H., (The Ross-shire Volunteers); 3. Donald MacPherson, Partick (Abercairney Highlanders);4. John MacFadyen, Glasgow; 5. Roderick Morrison, Cambuslang.
Strathspeys and Reels – 1. John Garroway (City of Glasgow Police); 2. R. Henderson (Dundee); 3. Donald MacPherson; 4. Pipe Sergeant Charles D. Scott (City of Glasgow Police); 5. Peter C. MacCallum (Campbeltown).
Marches (Local) – 1.  John MacCallum (Fort William); 2. Ronald Lawrie (Oban); 3. Hector MacFadyen (Pennyghael, Isle of Mull).
Strathspeys and Reels (Local) – 1. Ronald Lawrie; 2. Hector MacFadyen; 3. Ewen Lawrie, (Oban).

Donald MacPherson photographed in 1971 when he was the Chief Instructor at the College of Piping.

Donald MacPherson was born in Glasgow in 1922. His father, Iain, a previous competitor at the Argyllshire Gathering, was his only teacher. Before the Second World War, Donald competed as an amateur and won many prizes. Donald served with the RAF during the war and trained as a navigator. During service in Italy he suffered an accidental injury to his left arm, leaving him with permanent damage. Despite this disability he was able to play again although he always had to have his pipe bag made to a special shape to accommodate the limited range of movement in his left arm.

As we have seen, above, Donald first competed at the Argyllshire Gathering in 1948, winning the Gold Medal and the Senior Piobaireachd on the same day. Donald’s record at the Argyllshire Gathering is unlikely ever to be equalled. He played in the Senior event, the Open Piobaireachd, on 24 occasions, achieving 15 firsts, two seconds and three thirds. At the Northern Meeting also he holds the record for most wins, having won the Gold Medal in 1954 and the Clasp nine times in 1950, 1953, 1954, 1960, 1965, 1970, 1971, 1973, and 1975. He is the only piper to achieve both doubles, by winning the Oban Medal and Open Piobaireachd in the same year and winning the Inverness Medal and Clasp in the same year. The only other piper to achieve the double at Oban was John MacDonald of the Glasgow Police in 1926 but nobody else has ever won the double at Inverness.

Donald’s wins in the light music are equally as impressive. At the Northern Meeting he won the March in 1954 and the Strathspey and Reel in 1960. In the Former Winners’ MSR at the Northern Meeting he won in 1960, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1974 and 1977, holding the record of six wins jointly with Donald MacLeod until this was surpassed by Alasdair Gillies. Donald was renowned for the wonderful, magical sound of his bagpipe, and this, with his exemplary technical ability and superb musicianship, was an unbeatable combination. He is credited with revolutionising the bagpipe sound as others realised what could be achieved and attempted to reach the same standard. By profession he was an engineer. He was employed as the Chief Instructor at the College of Piping from August 1971-January 1974. Donald was awarded the BEM in 1986. He made several recordings and composed many tunes and a book of his compositions was published after his death. He died in 2012.

John MacLean MacKenzie was born in Campbeltown in 1922. He served with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders from 1938 to 1952, becoming Pipe Major aged 22. From 1953 to 1959 he worked for the Anglo American Corporation in Rhodesia. He returned to Scotland in 1959 and worked for the Naval Ordnance Inspectorate. He was the Piping Instructor at the Queen Victoria School Dunblane 1964-87. He was awarded the BEM in 1987. John composed many tunes and published a collection of music in 1973. He died in Stirling in 1996.

John MacFadyen was born in Glasgow in 1926 although both his parents were from Argyll. John and his brothers Iain, Duncan and Hector and sister Freena all competed successfully in the juvenile competitions. John played in the Glasgow Shepherds juvenile band. John, Iain and Duncan all competed at the top level and all three won both the Gold Medals. At the Northern Meeting John won the Gold Medal in 1966 and the Clasp in 1966, 1968 and 1969. He made a recording and published two Collections of Music. He served as Secretary of the College of Piping and Secretary of the Piobaireachd Society for several years. By profession John was a schoolteacher. He died in 1979 in Glasgow.

Hector MacFadyen was born at Pennyghael on Mull in 1923. He joined the 49th Division age 18 and served until 1947 in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. By profession he was a male nurse. He also competed as a heavy athlete. He won the Gold Medals at the Argyllshire Gathering and Northern Meeting in 1964 and was the first winner of the Silver Chanter in 1967. He died in Glasgow in 1972.

Ronnie Lawrie in later years.

Ronald Lawrie was born in Oban in July 1927. His father Angus, uncles and cousins were pipers so he had early tuition from the family. At the age of eight he had tuition also from Pipe Major Willie Ross who taught a piping class in Oban in 1935. In 1945 he went to work in Glasgow where he joined the College of Piping and had tuition from Thomas Pearston and Archie MacNeill. Returning to Oban a year later he began to compete successfully around the Games. During this time he played with the 8th Argylls. In 1952 he became assistant piper to Donald MacLean, Lewis who was piper to Sir Edwin de Winton Wills at Meggernie Castle in Glen Lyon. While at Meggernie he had further tuition from Donald MacLean then in 1953 both moved to Glasgow where Ronald played for a short time under Pipe Major Donald MacLean in the Glasgow Transport pipe band before joining the police and becoming a member of the Glasgow Police pipe band. He began to attend meetings of the Scottish Pipers’ Association where he came under the influence of Robert Reid from whom he had further tuition.

Ronald was Pipe Major of the Glasgow Police from 1967 to 1972 and under him the band won the Champions of Champions title and was placed second at the World Championship in 1967. Ronnie returned to Oban in 1975 and taught piping at Oban High School for 15 years. He was also involved with the Oban Pipe Band. In 1987 Ronnie made a brief return to pipe band competition at the top level as Pipe Major of the Grade 1 Polkemmet band. He composed several tunes, the best known being Glenfinnan Highland Gathering. Ronald died in Oban in 2008.

• 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
• Part 19
• Part 20