By Jeannie Campbell MBE

The recent article about the Eagle Pipers gave only a brief mention to the Open competitions run by the Society. For me, and perhaps for others, my only contact with the Eagle Pipers came from attending the annual competition, which at the time was one of three major events that took place in Edinburgh.

The Eagle Pipers competition ran from 1965 to 1980, in November, and the others were the Edinburgh Police Competition held from 1966 to 1985, in March, April or May, and the British Legion from 1961 onwards, in May each year. The British Legion still continues but with its requirement for competitors having been in the armed forces the number of eligible top professionals declined over the years as the war time and National Service generations retired from competition.

When I began attending in the late 1970s all three competitions were held at the Royal Arch Halls at 76 Queen Street. I remember many enjoyable trips to Edinburgh to attend these events. The halls were warm and comfortable, there was always a good crowd and although there was no tearoom there was a table in the corridor where tea and excellent hot pies were always on sale.

The Eagle Pipers’ Competition was a trail blazer, as can be seen from the report from the Piping Times in January 1966:

‘The Royal Arch Halls, Edinburgh, on Saturday 20th November 1965 saw the first open professional contest run by the Eagle Pipers’ Society. This splendid venture was rewarded by an excellent turnout of spectators who crowded the two halls used for the various events. The audience itself was repaid for attending by hearing a full day’s feast of piping from a very large entry of competitors. An excellent innovation was the splitting of the piobaireachd event into two sections, one confined to winners of a Gold Medal and the other confined to those who were not holders of this award. Another new idea, (in Scotland) was a Hornpipe and Jig event, which caused considerable interest.

Ronnie Lawrie, the winner of the Class 1 Piobaireachd at the first Eagle Pipers’ contest in 1965.

‘The judges, operating as two benches since events were held simultaneously, were Pipe Major John MacLellan (President of the Eagle Pipers’ Society), Pipe Major George Stoddart (one of the founders), Captain D. R. MacLennan and Hugh C. R. MacRae.

‘It was obvious that a great deal of work had been put into this competition by all the officials and many other members of the Society. It is pleasing to hear that the venture was a resounding success financially, as well as in every other way. Prizes at the end were presented by John MacLellan’s charming wife Bunty.’

For the Class 1 piobaireachd there were 14 entries, ten of whom competed. They were, in order of play:

  • William MacDonald (Benbecula), Lament for Mary MacLeod;
  • John MacFadyen, Black Donald’s March;
  • Kenneth MacDonald, MacLeod’s Salute;
  • Iain MacFadyen, Battle of the Pass of Crieff;
  • John D. Burgess, Battle of Bealach nam Bròg;
  • Duncan MacFadyen, The Vaunting;
  • Hector MacFadyen, The MacNab’s Salute;
  • John MacDougall, His Father’s Lament for Donald MacKenzie;
  • William MacDonald (Inverness), MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart;
  • Ronald Lawrie, MacFarlanes’ Gathering.

The result was: 1. Ronald Lawrie, 2. William MacDonald (Inverness), 3. Hector MacFadyen, 4. William MacDonald (Benbecula).

The result of the Class 2 Piobaireachd contest was not reported.

In the March there were 65 entries but only 38 actually competed. The light music results were:

March – 1. Duncan MacFadyen, Leaving Glenurquhart; 2. Hector MacFadyen, The Pap of Glencoe; 3. Archie MacPhail, Leaving Lunga; 4. Duncan MacDiarmid, Colin Thomson.

Strathspey and Reel – 1. Archie MacPhail, Cameronian Rant, Smith of Gilliechassie; 2. Iain MacFadyen, Arniston Castle, The Man from Glengarry; 3. John MacFadyen, The Shepherd’s Crook, Thomson’s Dirk; 4. Hector MacFadyen, The Piper’s Bonnet, Miss Proud.

Hornpipe and Jig – 1. Hector MacFadyen, 2. Ronald Lawrie, 3, John MacAskill, 4. Iain McLeod.

The report ended: “It is noteworthy that in the whole competition run by this Edinburgh Society all the premier prizes went to Glasgow! The Eagle Pipers’ Society is to be congratulated on running an excellent Open Competition with such excellent prizes. In particular, full thanks and great praise are due to the Hon. Secretary and Treasurer Captain Iain C. Cameron for his skill in the organisation of it.”

Leith Town Hall. It’s now a police station.

The 1966 competition was not reported in the Piping Times so the next report was of the third annual competition held in November 1967 at the Royal Arch Halls. This was again described as an outstanding success with a very large turnout of audience and competitors. No report appeared for the 1968 competition.

In 1969 the competition took place in Leith Town Hall on November 22, but the audience numbers were reduced due to a bus strike. The results were reported in full in the Piping Times.

In 1970 the competition returned to the Royal Arch Halls. The Piping Times report included some criticisms; the inevitable big entry was described as inconvenient and unmanageable, the acoustics in the main hall were completely antagonistic and the report questioned why the Class 1 pipers had an early start while the Class 2 didn’t play until the afternoon.

The Royal Arch Halls was again the venue in 1971, but this time three events were run simultaneously with the Class 2 Piobaireachd in a small room in addition to the two halls used previously. The sound was overpowering in the small room and it was reported that very few risked their hearing by staying in the room for long, although the judges had to endure it. A large entry had been received but the bitter, sleety weather deterred some from attending. Despite that the playing went on from 9.30pm to 5.30pm.

Queen Street today. Unfortunately, it seems The Royal Arch Halls were demolished in the 1980s and an office block built on the site.

The competition continued to be held annually in November at the Royal Arch Halls.

In 1972 the Piping Times reported that there was a big crowd of competitors and spectators but a disappointing feature was the small number of top players who entered. In 1973 the report commented on the large entry and the difficulty in finding places to tune but stated that with so many pipers involved as organisers and stewards the arrangements left little to be desired. With two halls in constant use for ten hours the audience had a wide choice and the standard in all events was very good. The 1974 competition was not reported. In 1975 The piping went on from 10.00am to 7.00pm in two halls, with 15 entered for the Class 1 Piobaireachd, 33 for the Class 2, 52 for the march and the strathspey and reel and 43 for the hornpipe and jig, although as usual not all turned up to play. No report was published in 1976 or I 977.

In 1978 the tunes for both the piobaireachd competitions were drawn in advance and the tune drawn for each piper was printed in the programme. In consequence, several tunes were played twice, but only one, Donald of Laggan, was played three times. There were 15 entries for Class 1 and 25 for Class 2. In the light music there were 50 entries for the March and the Strathspey and Reel, and 33 entered for the Hornpipe and Jig. The practice of printing the tunes chosen for each player was continued in 1979 and 1980 and the numbers competing continued at around the same level.

In 1981 The British Legion and Edinburgh Police contests took place as usual in May at the Royal Arch Halls but come November there was no Eagle Pipers’ contest. In 1982 the British Legion moved to New Haig House and the Edinburgh Police contest was held at Moray House College.

Below is a list of the winners at the Eagle Piper’s competitions. There are some gaps in the list of winners but if any readers can help or if the Society has the trophies perhaps they could help us with the missing names: