More on 1921 / Giving the birl a spin / Queen’s jubilee pipe band draw

Bob Hardie, John MacLellan and Tommy Pearston.

After Stuart Letford’s recent article on the 1921 Census appeared, readers have contacted us to point out that the year was the birth of quite a few individuals who would go on to become notable names in piping. These include:

  • Tommy Pearston co-founder of the College of Piping – born that year in Rutherglen;
  • Lt. Col. D. J. S Murray – born in Murree, north of Rawalpindi in Punjab, India (now Pakistan).
  • Captain John A. MacLellan – born in Dunfermline, Fife.
  • Bob Hardie (full name Robert Gavin Hardie) – born in Lennoxtown.
  • Robert Crabb, Pipe Major of the 2nd Batt. Scots Guards from 1950-1962 – born in Murthly, Perthshire.
  • Dugald Graham-Campbell, Younger of Shirvan – a well known piping judge and cousin of Archie Kenneth.
  • Donald Forbes, who was President Scottish Piping Society of London from 1986-2000 – born in Edinburgh.

Thanks to all who contacted us. In the words of The Who song (from the album Tommy): “Got a feeling ’21, is going to be a good year …” It certainly was for piping!

Thanks also to Seán Donnelly who pointed out that the Irish War of Independence ended in 1921. The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed in December that year. 

Readers have also contacted us regarding Mr Letford’s blog last week, ‘Mind your language’. Mr Letford asked if readers could confirm whether the word ‘barluath’ was indeed included by Edward Dwelly in his Gaelic dictionary.

Quite a number of you contacted us to say that it was indeed included.

Many of you also pointed out that Joseph MacDonald included the word in his Compleat Theory … but that it most certainly has no relation to the birl movement. As reader, Calum Galleitch pointed out, Joseph’s “Barludh” is a somewhat monstrous movement:

That’s certainly not something to be attempted until after one has had his/her daily porridge! 

Calum goes on to say: “Dwelly’s coverage of piping terms is a bit eccentric. His entry for bàrluath reads: Portion of pipe-music in ‘ceòl mór’ which precedes the taorluath. It does not occur in all tunes, but only in those of the ‘Moladh Màiri’ type. There is also a great deal of detail under the canntaireachd entry, and it’s difficult to know how seriously to take it.  I think he may have had to take advice from people who were not necessarily as expert as perhaps they thought they were.”

Angus MacKay, of course, was the first to introduce the modern hiharin timing – assuming, of course, one takes his written timings at his word. The double tap of the pinkie is a common feature in light music at least from Donald MacDonald’s time – see his book of 1828. It could well be that the modern style involving a compound movement was invented or evolved during the latter half of the 19th century during which time Highland Games became established around Scotland.

As Calum points out, as for the word itself, it’s interesting the fiddlers start using it around the same time, though in a slightly different but related sense.

It certainly seems the case that there is no direct Gaelic equivalent for the birl … yet ceòl mòr derives entirely from Gaelic culture.

Historian, Keith Sanger offers an interesting perspective, in the often overlooked late exchange of Irish and Scottish ‘music’ via the very long periods spent by Scottish regiments in Ireland. Keith writes: “Just one regiment – and the most Gaelic one at the time, The Black Watch [Am Freiceadan Dubh] – was permanently stationed in Ireland from 1749-1755, then 1767-1775  then again from 1817-1825, periods of seven, eight and eight years, the first two both well before any sign of Edward Bunting’s interest in ‘harp music and musical terms’. Likewise Joseph MacDonald probably came into contact with the Irish harper, Echlin O’Cathain while they were both in Argyll.

“What once struck me while going through the early military pension records looking for pipers, was the number of soldiers in Scottish regiments who had been born in Ireland but had solid Scottish names. The penny dropped when I realised that these were soldiers following into their father’s regiments but born while those regiments were stationed in Ireland.”

Thanks to all who contacted us.

Organisers of the piping aspect to this June’s commemoration of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth’s platinum jubilee say that pipe bands who register their participation will be entered into a draw to win £500.

Five or more members of each band are needed in order for them to be entered into the draw.

Video footage of the band playing Stuart Liddell’s tune composed for the occasion, Diu Regnere on June 2 should also be sent.

The £500 is in addition to the chance for an individual piper to win a set of McRae SL4 pipes from McCallum Bagpipes.

Register here.