By Jeannie Campbell MBE
The 1955 Argyllshire Gathering was held on September 14 and 15. The judges for the Gold Medal were Col. Grant of Rothiemurchus, Maxwell MacDonald of Largie and Major David Murray. 30 entered and 23 played. For those interested in who entered and what their tunes were: Albert Sheath (Battle of Auldearn); Allan MacPherson (MacLeod of Raasay); Iain MacFadyen (Old Men of the Shells); Charles D. Scott (Kiss of the King’s Hand); Peter R. MacLeod Jnr. (The King’s Taxes); Duncan MacFadyen (Isabel MacKay); Neil MacEachern (Park Piobaireachd); Donald MacKinnon (Kinlochmoidart’s Lament); Sgt. Frank MacKinnon (MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart); Thomas Pearston (Earl of Antrim); William MacDonald (The Vaunting); Ronald Lawrie (MacKintosh’s Lament); Angus MacDonald (Too Long in this Condition); James R. Jackson (The Fingerlock); John MacFadyen (My King has Landed in Moidart); William Connell (Lament for Captain MacDougall); John C. Johnston (MacKay’s Banner); James MacI. Robertson (Chisholm’s Salute); Donald A. Morrison (Unjust Incarceration); Duncan Lamont (Gathering of Clan Chattan); Walter Drysdale (Little Spree); Seumas MacNeill (Big Spree); Finlay MacNeill (Lament for Patrick Òg).
The result was: 1. William MacDonald; 2. John MacFadyen; 3. Donald A. Morrison; 4. William Connell; 5. D. MacKinnon.
The judges for the Open Competition were Archie Kenneth, James Campbell and Charles D. MacTaggart. 23 entered and 18 played. The result was: 1. Donald MacPherson; 2. Donald MacLean; 3. Seumas MacNeill; 4. John C. Johnston.
No tunes were set by the Piobaireachd Society in 1955. Competitors were free to submit their own lists. That year, there were submitted for competition 89 different tunes at Oban and 87 at Inverness.
The following month in the Piping Times, Seumas MacNeill wrote about the light music competitions: “It is of interest to note that only two of the present day competing pipers have won all six preliminary competitions – that is the Gold Medal Piobaireachd; March; Strathspey and Reel at both Oban and Inverness. These two are James B. Robertson and John D. Burgess. In march, strathspey and reel playing only these two and myself have won the four major awards. In Ceol Mor James B. Robertson and John Burgess are joined as winners of both medals by Ronald MacCallum, R. T. MacKay, Donald MacLean (Lewis), Donald MacLeod, Donald MacPherson and now William MacDonald.”
24 pipers competed in the March competition, which was judged by Col. Jock MacDonald of Viewfield, James Campbell and Major David Murray. A fairly good standard was heard from most players but there were a number of tunes with technical hitches that consisted largely of chokes, skirls and an occasional breakdown. The result was: 1. Donald Ramsay; 2. Donald Morrison; 3. Iain MacFadyen; 4. Frank MacKinnon; 5. Neil MacEachern.
Seumas McNeill wrote: “It was surprising to hear, however, so many pipers not making a first class job of such fundamental movements as double C. Surely we might expect that everyone in this competition would be able to make clean, hard and accurate doublings, at least most of the time. Too many competitors were apparently unaware of the value of separating grace notes in the doubling of B. C. E and F. The playing of a march demands a sense of rhythm which is not too common among pipers. The best example of good march playing I have heard recently was the playing of Archie MacNab at Bob Hill’s ceilidh in London last April. This is a faculty which can only be learned by listening, and pipers anxious to do well in marches should study this point very carefully.”
Nine competitors played in the March, Strathspey and Reel competition. John D. Burgess was the winner, giving him first place in this event four times in the last five years. Second prize went to Thomas Pearston and third was James B. Robertson.
In the Strathspey and Reel the result was: 1. Donald Morrison; 2. Iain MacFadyen; 3. Peter MacFarquhar; 4. Peter MacCallum; 5. Hector MacFadyen.
Some biographical information about a handful of the pipers who competed (or judged) at Oban that year:
Sgt. Frank MacKinnon was a member of the New Zealand Scottish Regiment and he came to Scotland in the early 1950s and received tuition from Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. He toured Scotland again in 1958 as a member of the City of Wellington Pipe Band, of which he later became Pipe Major.
Donald Andrew Morrison was born in Locheynort, South Uist in 1927. He was too young for war service but served with the Merchant Navy for a time after the war, before joining the Aberdeen Police in 1952, and then becoming Pipe Major of the police band. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1961. He died in 1988.
Duncan John MacFadyen was born in Glasgow in 1930, the middle brother of the three competing pipers of the family. He served with the Royal Scots Fusiliers for National Service. He was employed by the Clyde Port Authority and taught at the College of Piping evening classes from 1953 to 1987. He won the Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1962. Duncan died in Glasgow in 1987.
Peter Roderick MacLeod was born in Partick, Glasgow in 1916. Both he and his father of the same name were renowned as composers. He won the Strathspey and Reel at the Northern Meeting in 1932, becoming the youngest winner at that time. After spending 17 years in Rhodesia he returned to Scotland in 1955 then settled in London where he died in 1972.
Finlay MacNeill was born in Port Glasgow in 1931 although his parents were from Lewis. After early tuition in the Boys’ Brigade he joined the College of Piping aged 17. During his National Service with the Seaforth Highlanders he had tuition from Pipe Major Donald MacLeod. After working as a teacher he became the Gaelic Adviser to the Education Department of Highland Regional Council. A Gaelic speaker and singer he was a Mòd Gold Medallist and made several recordings of Gaelic songs. He died in Inverness in 2008.
Neil MacEachern was from Islay. He worked in banking and lived in Orkney in the early 1950s and later in Shotts. At the Northern Meeting he won the Strathspey and Reel in 1954. He died in Islay in 1981 aged 58.
Donald Shaw Ramsay was born in 1919 at Muiravonside. From 1937 to 1939 he was Pipe Major of the Craigend band then during the war he was Pipe Major of the 10th HLI (from 1939-1946). He was Piper to Duke of Hamilton from 1946-7 then joined the Edinburgh Police in 1947 and was Pipe Major of the band from 1949 to 1958. After being shot and injured on police duty in 1957 he had to leave the police. He spent two years in San Francisco (1963 to 1965) then returned to Scotland to be Pipe Major of the Invergordon Distillery band from 1965 to 1967. Donald won the March at the Northern Meeting in 1955. He was awarded the BEM and was the composer of many popular tunes. Donald died in Falkirk in 1998.
Peter MacFarquhar was born in 1913 on Tiree but brought up in Snizort, Skye. He lived in Glasgow for much of his adult life then in 1962 he returned to Snizort and took over as sub postmaster from a cousin. He died in 1979 in Snizort aged 65.
Albert Sheath was born in Glasgow in 1922. He played with various bands in Glasgow. He was employed in the workshops at R.G. Lawrie from 1939 to 1942 then served with the Fleet Air Arm from 1942 to 1946. On demobilisation in March 1946 he took over as manager of the bagpipe department at Lawrie, staying in that post until 1952. He was then manager at Peter Henderson’s from 1952 to 1956 when he immigrated to New Zealand to work as Sales Manager for Charles Begg and Company in Hamilton and to be the Pipe Major of the Hamilton Caledonian Pipe Band. He also made bagpipes and did repairs. He died in New Zealand in 1996.
David John Skelton Murray was born in Punjab, India where his father was stationed with the 79th. He joined the Royal Scots in 1939 then transferred to The Black Watch before being commissioned in the Queen’s Own Cameron Highanders in 1941. He retired in 1972. He was Deputy Producer Edinburgh Tattoo 1970s, presented the BBC radio programme, The Noble Instrument during the 1980s and was President of the Piobaireachd Society from 1982-88. David was convenor of the Northern Meeting from 1974 to 1986 years and was awarded the Balvenie Medal 1988. He died in 2017.
Col Jock MacDonald of Viewfield was born in Skye in 1890. He was educated at Fettes College, the private school in Edinburgh. He was an outstanding rugby player and played several times for Scotland before a knee injury ended his career in 1911. During the First World War he served with the Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, rising to the rank of Colonel. Between the wars he was a tea planter in Assam then during the Second World War he served with the Indian army in the Burma campaign. He returned to Skye after the war and became a central figure in the sporting and cultural activities of the island. He died at his home there in 1980.
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