By MacGregor Kennedy
Much sartorial elegance was in evidence, as usual. One particularly admired David Tait and his cohorts strutting around in their new grey lambs wool geansies with the Grant’s motif on the breast; John Napier MacAskill resplendent in a new Napier kilt was, as ever, something else. He looked sharp enough to be the inventor of logarithms, this Physician-in-Extraordinary to the piping world.
Among the many distinguished regulars in the audience were James Campbell of Kilberry, Captain John MacLellan — who had stood himself down from the bench as his son, Colin, was competing — and General Frank Richardson, as were Malcolm and Stephanie MacRae. Present also was Jeannie Campbell whose article in Piping Times some time ago on the involvement of Clan Campbell in the machinations leading to the treachery of Glen Coe changed the lifelong perceptions of this dark episode of Scotland’s history for this reader, for good. John MacRae, who later in the proceedings gave a spirited rendition of Cabar Feidh, was in attendance: he has coached a host of singers to the peak of winning the Mòd gold medal and was a sometime member of the troupe of performers at the Scottish Arts Council sponsored College of Piping recitals of former years.
Murray Henderson’s feat in winning the Glenfiddich trophy for his hat trick was widely acclaimed and the presentation of the Balvenie Medal to Bessie Brown for services to piping gave universal pleasure.
Murray’s gesture in embracing this lovely lady after the presentation was a moment to savour. This competition really has an ambience all and peculiarly its own. No wonder it goes from strength to strength. Full details of prizewinners and performances were, as ever, published previously in Piping Times.
Returning to Scotland’s Hotel for the evening’s festivities, it was to find the avid reading public queuing up to obtain the autographs of Frank Richardson and Seumas MacNeill for their copies of the smash hit best seller, Piobaireachd and its Interpretation. The food and entertainment being as memorable as has now come to be expected on these occasions the lieges were, manifestly, having a whale of a time. A team from Japanese television was on hand to record it all for posterity.
The New Zealand contingent of John Hanning and Murray Henderson, declining to follow the example of some of the locals, retained the garb and saved Scotland’s honour. It is a mystery to some of us why some people — the epitome of style and grace in the national dress — take the first opportunity to metamorphosise into anonymous punters. The wearing of the kilt is as important an aspect of the expression of our national culture as is Gaelic and Scots, piping and dancing. We are not about to have our parameters defined for us by buimealair newspaper columnists and broadcasters who lose no chance to slaver about ‘the haggis and tartan image’.
The kitchen piping session in the other bar was as spectacular as has now come to be expected and is played to the obvious enjoyment of the listeners. There is no argument with regard to the dexterity but a question mark must hover over whether false fingering and occasional crossing noises advance the art.
Do you think the magisterial role suits me?
Two interesting visitors from Delaware were the redoubtable MacLean MacLeod and his friend William D. Whisler, director and treasurer respectively of the Scottish Games Association of Delaware. A native of the glorious north west, MacLeod has a fund of stories about his boyhood in the area and, indeed, of subsequent visits home that had his listeners in stitches. He it was who took the trouble to phone his friend Ellice MacDonald in New York where he was entertaining the Duke of Atholl to dinner, to appraise him of the results of the championship.
Since the ceilidh goes well beyond the wee, sma’ hours, the extra hour afforded those who bother to go to bed is of inestimable benefit. Such foresight on the part of the organisers is to be commended.
Sunday dawned overcast and damp — it had to happen sometime — so our plans for a sortie into the Perthshire hinterland had to be amended accordingly. We returned briefly to the castle to obtain some film shots of the policies and made our way past the kirkyard of St. Bride where lies Claverhouse, his last words reputedly being, “Tis less the matter for me, since the day goes well for my Master.” The hopes of the House of Stuart died along with him that day of July 27, 1689. In the meadow below Urrard House stands a stone where Bonnie Dundee received the fatal shot that led to his demise; we stopped briefly to enable Seumas to take some photographs then sped on for Loch Tummel and Glen Lyon. As we approached the Queen’s View we discovered that it was unexpectedly gurly, the wind having risen in the interim.
There must be as many Queen’s Views in Scotland as there are Prince Charles’ Caves. We have our own on Loch Ard in the western extremities of the county. As a callow youth I heard how this particular location got its name; our local historian, as a primary schoolboy, was marched out of Primary 1 to perform the ritual forelock tugging as Queen Victoria was passing, having earlier in the day opened the Loch Katrine Water Works (the occasion of the Atholl Highlanders March to Loch Katrine). As you come from Aberfoyle and turn the corner and descend the hill past Coire an Easan you are confronted by the superlative sight of Ben Lomond reflected in the eastern end of the loch, which is separated from the main body of water by a short kyle. Coming upon this heart-stopping vision so unexpectedly, the little monarch turned to her consort sitting beside her in the open landau and said quite distinctly in the boy’s hearing, “Man, Albert, is that no’ a grand view.” No doubt, something of the like circumstance occurred on Loch Tummel.
Along the lochside and up over Foss with Schiehallion hardly visible in the misty west we descended to Coshieville, on to Fortingall, birthplace of James MacGregor, compiler of the celebrated Book of the Dean of Lismore wherein one finds a treasure of early Gaelic poetry of the 16th century and earlier. The range of subjects in this collection, including an epic on the death of Alexander the Great, readily gives the lie to the calumny that in these early times the Gael were a race of unlettered barbarians, an assertion made by Boswell’s travelling companion a century and a half later when he proclaimed “that there is not in the world an Erse manuscript a hundred years old, that there never was an Erse written language until some little books of piety were lately translated-by the Synod of Argyll.” This prime example of bigoted ignorance was prompted by the appearance of MacPherson’s Ossian.
Down by Fearnan, along Loch Tatha of the ‘Boatsong’ and the power of the Breadalbanes, through Killin with the Falls of Dochart in full flood and into Glen Dochart. At Lix Toll we rejected the route down Glen Ogle — the awful glen — as MacNeill and I had played that scene the previous weekend, continuing instead on past the spot where we had parked the cars on our way up to where “merry were we in the camp and the dram not a rarity,” in Donnachadh Bàn’s deathless phrase. We hurried past the Luib Hotel where the previous week we discovered the white settler proprietor has introduced English opening hours, as a consequence of which we will not be back. It was in these same premises that the Wordsworths stayed on the night of September 4, 1803. As a result of their failure to order wine they were treated less than civilly.
With Rob Roy’s Castle to port and lochs Iubhair and Dochart to starboard we skirted Ben More and Stobinean and entered Crianlarich, famous on road signs, which, for illogical reasons entirely, foreign travellers expect to be at least the size of Perth. Turning south into Glen Falloch of joyous memory, with the wipers beating time, we drifted down towards Inverarnan and Loch Lomond. Halting briefly at the renowned hostelry, we discovered that it was chock-a-block with sodden refugees from the deplorable West Highland Way, giving rise to an impromtu recitation of The Ballad of Inverarnan by MacNeill. This gem of balladry by Jimmy Jennet, the Bard of Cnoc an Damh Ur, is a graphic description of how a ‘tiger’ cannot get near the bar for the apres ski crowd. On this occasion it was because of soaking hikers, so we retreated to the motor and made off down the lochside.
There are plans afoot for “realising the potential” of the Queen of Scottish lochs. This guarded statement of intent on the part of the developers should be treated with extreme caution by all who love the area; we have seen what has happened to unbridled development in other quarters so it behoves us to keep a watching brief. Those of us who go to the hills for the pleasure and spiritual uplift it affords us are jealous of the wild places and the wellbeing of the countryside. We believe it helps our perception and sense of values. More of our captains in industry and commerce should follow the example of Sandy Grant Gordon, who is as much at home on the airy ridges of An Teallach as in the upper echelons of the business world. Long may his clear-sighted enthusiasm and generosity continue to benefit the cultural and sporting scenes.
We lighted on the peerless city by the Clyde to find it dull but dry and agreed it had been a marching wind.
Anail a’ Gaidheal air a’ Mhullach
[The Gael’s breath on the summit]
• From the February 1988 Piping Times.
* An Inverscotia Nomad, MacGregor Kennedy was the honorary Secretary of the College of Piping when it was founded in the early 1940s. He was a regular contributor to the Piping Times. For many years he waged a campaign against white hose.