Piping 100 years ago: 1923 part two


The second part of Jeannie Campbell’s 1923 retrospective looks at the early summer months and finds reports on pipe band competitions and solo piping results from around the Games. There are also reports on two pipe bands from Inveraray; PM Willie Ross’s three-week visit to South Uist for piping tuition workshops; and opinionated letters about piobaireachd in the Oban Times, with one saying: ‘Humbug and syncopation carry the day every time’!

By JEANNIE CAMPBELL MBE • PART 2 • May to July 1923

In May of 1923 several papers were advertising a Grand Scottish Pipe and Drum Band Contest to be held at Lanark Lanimer Day on Thursday 7th June. It was a new event and expected to be a great attraction.

Nicol MacKay obituary

On 5th May the death of Nicol MacKay, proprietor of the Seaview Hotel, Bowmore, Islay was reported. He had served during the war with the Argyll Mountain battery in the east, contracted malarial fever, and a recurrence of this disease along with pneumonia caused his death at the early age of 37. He was a first class piper and had won many prizes.

Inveraray Pipe Band and the Duke of Argyll’s Inveraray Castle Pipe Band

In the same paper there was an article about the two pipe bands in Inveraray: “The old Inveraray Pipe Band, of which Pipe Major Charles Maitland is in command, was formed in 1890 through the support and generosity of the late Lord Archibald Campbell, who had the co-operation of the late Mr John MacArthur of Barbreck and the late Major John Buchanan, then commanding the Inveraray Volunteer Company. Pipe Major John MacColl, Oban, was engaged by Lord Archibald to be instructor of the band. On New Year’s Day 1891, the band had its first parade to the Castle where they were met by the 8th Duke of Argyll. In September 1892 they accompanied Lord Archibald to Oban, where they created considerable interest and contributed to the entertainment at the Highland Mod and Argyllshire Gathering, of which his Lordship was president. The band went to the capital of the Western Highlands three years in succession. They appeared in the Trades Hall, Glasgow, in November 1894, and met with a great reception. This week the two bands are to play before the Duke of Argyll and his guests at Inveraray Castle.

“The newly formed Duke of Argyll’s Inveraray Castle Pipe Band has made great progress in acquiring the art of piping and drumming since its formation, and to mark the first public appearance of this band a social and dance was held on Friday evening in the Castle Jubilee Hall, Maltland, Inveraray. A large company sat down to tea at tables tastefully decorated with flowers. Mr Alfred Lowis, Chamberlain of Argyll presided. After tea Mr Lowis said the Duke of Argyll greatly regretted he could not be present, but he could assure the members of the newly formed band that the Duke was deeply interested in them and ready to extend every encouragement in his power. The band had made great progress in acquiring proficiency in bagpipe playing under the direction of Mr George MacKenzie. They did not know what the future might bring forth. The band might go to other places, enter competitions, and bring prizes to Inveraray, to make them all feel proud of them. In their ranks might be a piper who would turn out famous among the pipe majors of the country. He concluded by calling on Mr MacKenzie.

“Mr MacKenzie said the band was formed last October, and made such satisfactory progress that in January, at the request of the Duke of Argyll, they were able to give a private exhibition at Inveraray Castle and received much praise from His Grace. It had been congenial work to march and drill the band. Mr Archibald Campbell, Maltland, deserved very great credit for the work he had done in teaching the band, and Mr W S Hope had done good work in instructing the drummers. It was through their exertions that the band had attained the high state of efficiency it enjoys. Mr MacKenzie then recited appropriate verses on the pipes sent to him that day by a friend. The band then formed up on the platform and in excellent style discoursed selections, which included The Hills of Glenorchy. The audience signified their appreciation by loud applause and demands for an encore. This was followed by songs, recitations and dancing. During an interval Piper Archibald Campbell played selections on the pipes with side drum accompaniment by Drummer Campbell. This turn gave much pleasure and the parts were well executed. The dance music was supplied by Mr James Maitland (violin), Messrs Angus MacGugan, Campbeltown and Mr Malcolm Dunn (melodeon). A very enjoyable evening was spent by the whole company, who wished the best of good luck to the newly formed Pipe Band.”

Caledonian Pipers and Dancers Society competition

The annual competition of the Caledonian Pipers and Dancers Society, Edinburgh was held on Saturday 5th May in Buccleuch Hall, before a large audience. The judges for piping were Messrs Whitton and Hamilton, and for the dancing Messrs Alex McLennan and J McLennan. The various events were keenly contested and the successful competitors were:


  1. Donald Nicolson
  2. John MacGregor No 1
  3. J Young.

Strathspey and Reel

  1. Hugh MacGregor
  2. Donald Nicolson;
  3. John MacGregor No 2.

March, Strathspey and Reel for Society Challenge Cup

  1. John MacGregor No 2
  2. John MacGregor No 1
  3. J Young.

The dancing results for various age groups and a list of the notable people present followed. The prizes were presented by Mr Hector MacMillan, Colonsay.

Letter for Cowal Games juvenile piobaireachd competition

Following the results in the paper was a letter from ‘Lochgorm’ suggesting that Cowal Games hold a juvenile piobaireachd competition as there were many good young pipers and many short easy tunes that were never heard in competition.

Pipe band competition to win engagements in Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Evening News and The Scotsman of 14th May 1923 carried reports of the annual Parks competition in Edinburgh: “There was a large attendance of the public at the pipe band contest held at the Archery Ground, East Meadows, on Saturday afternoon. The contest was open to Territorial and civilian pipe bands who desire engagements in the City parks during the summer. Seven bands entered and each played a march, strathspey and reel of their own choosing. Pipe Major William Ross, Edinburgh Castle, Pipe Major J P Wilson, Glasgow and Colonel Boswall of Garrallan, were the judges and they classified the bands in the following order:

  1. 45th Royal Scots (Q.E.R)
  2. City Police Pipe Band
  3. 7/9th Royal Scots
  4. Postal Pipe Band

In due course the judges will make a report on the competition to the Public Parks Committee of the Town Council and in allocating the engagements in the parks the Committee will take into consideration the position occupied by each of the bands.”

Oban Pipe Band dancing exhibitions turned down

On 19th May the Oban Times reported on Oban Town Council business. The secretary of the Oban pipe band had written asking the Council to erect a dancing platform on the Corran Parks upon which members of the band would give exhibitions of Highland dancing. The committee could not see their way to consent meantime.

The Cowal Gathering Challenge Shield

On 18th May The Scotsman had more news of the new Challenge Shield for the Cowal Gathering: “His Grace the Duke of Argyll and other Campbell clansmen, interested in the promotion of bagpipe playing among Territorial bands, have decided on the design of the Campbell Challenge trophy, to be competed for at Cowal Highland Gathering by bands of the Highland and Lowland Divisions and other Territorial units. The trophy, which stands two feet high, is a model from life of a pipe major in full Highland dress, playing the pipes. The pedestal of dark oak is rich in Celtic ornament of silver and enamel, including the Argyll arms and motto, ‘Ne Obliviscaris’.”

Results from the Mar Pipe Band Alloa Contest

On 28th May The Scotsman and the Dundee Courier had the results of the Alloa Contest which had been held on Saturday 26th May under the auspices of Mar Pipe Band, Alloa. Nine bands competed and the prize winners were:

  1. City of Glasgow – PM Fergusson (£12)
  2. Millhall, Stirlingshire – PM McDonald (£7)
  3. Singers, Clydebank – PM Gray (£5)
  4. Dalziel, Motherwell – PM Hastie (£3)

The contest was held within the policies of Alloa Park, granted for the occasion by the Earl of Mar and Kellie. The judges were DM Hetherington, Victoria School, Dunblane, PM Russell, Falkirk, PM Ross, 1st Argylls, Stirling, PM Millar, 2nd Argylls, Stirling.

Glasgow Highland Club’s gold medal for Officers’ Training Corps

In June the Dundee Courier reported that at a piping competition open to O.T.C. of west of Scotland schools, the gold medal presented by Glasgow Highland Club for individual playing of marches, strathspeys and reels was won by Lance Corporal Lim Kar Taik, Dollar Academy O.T.C. There were 20 competitors from other schools.

The same paper featured the pipe band of the Officers’ Training Corps of Morrison’s Academy, Crieff, which totalled 92 and could boast of an excellent pipe band which was making excellent progress under the tutorship of Pipe Major Pritchard, Black Watch, Perth. In the photograph the bandsmen were Front row: Lance Corporal W Cook; W Caldwell; F Turner; A McPherson. Second row: J Alston; J Fraser; Bass Drummer W Wilson; Side Drummers L Heys and W Moodie.

Morrison’s Academy O.T.C Pipe Band in June 1923

First class piping at the Highland Pipers’ Society competition

The Highland Pipers’ Society competition was held on Saturday 16th June in the YMCA Hall, Edinburgh, Mr Donald Shaw presiding. The Scotsman reported: “The proceedings commenced with a piobaireachd competition for which only expert players were eligible, the art being one which takes years of study and hard practice to acquire. This event gave scope for first class piping, Mr Malcolm Johnston being declared the winner for a beautiful rendering of the well known classic, MacCrimmon’s Sweetheart. Second in this event was the youthful player, Mr Allan Calder, who gave a tuneful rendering of The Prince’s Salute, and who was later awarded the Society’s challenge shield for the best performance in march, strathspey and reel playing, Mr Malcolm Johnston being second in that competition and Mr William MacLeod third. Other well known prize winners were John Wilson and G R Duncan. The following officiated as judges of the competitions, Colonel Boswell, Major MacKinlay, Major Huie, Dr Caird, Mr J Bartholomew, and Mr George Brown. Sir Samuel Chapman MP for South Edinburgh who was an interested spectator of the proceedings, presented the prizes and delivered a short address.

Piping. Piobaireachd

  1. Malcolm Johnston
  2. Allan Calder
  3. J Wilson

Strathspey and Reel

  1. Calder
  2. Johnston
  3. G R Duncan

March, Strathspey and Reel

  1. Calder
  2. Johnston
  3. William MacLeod


  1. Calder
  2. Johnston
  3. Wilson

March (Boys)

  1. Ian McIntosh
  2. Duncan
  3. Brash

March, Strathspey and Reel (under 16)

  1. Miss Rae
  2. Ian McIntosh
  3. Calum Sinclair

Pipe Major Willie Ross teaches at Daliburgh School, South Uist

On 16th June the Oban Times reported on the Piobaireachd classes in South Uist: “After holding piping classes in Islay, Pipe Major Ross proceeded to South Uist, where large and enthusiastic classes were held every evening from May 15th to June 8th. Pipe Major Ross proved a most capable teacher. Accompanied by their friends the pupils assembled in Daliburgh School on the evening of June 7th and passed a most enjoyable evening in dancing and piping. Almost every man present was a piper. Mr F S Mackenzie, hon secretary of the South Uist Piobaireachd Society, presented Pipe Major Ross, on behalf of the pipers attending his classes, with a wallet of Treasury notes, thanking him in the name of his pupils for the care and patience he had exercised in instructing them.

•Pipe Major William Ross pictured at the Atholl and Breadalbane Gathering at Aberfeldy in 1924. The bagpipe he is holding later belonged to John D. Burgess and he donated the photo to the College of Piping

“On June 8th a smoking concert was held in Daliburgh School, and Pipe Major Ross was the guest of the evening. His entertainers were the members of the South Uist Piobaireachd Society, who wished to express how much they valued the honour of having the foremost piper in Scotland coming to instruct the youth of Uist. Rev J McNeil, Daliburgh, occupied the chair.

“Looking back, the Chairman said, to a period of about forty years ago, it appeared that piping would soon be a lost art. About that time there were three or four first class pipers appearing at all the Highland Gatherings, but no young pipers were coming forward. Then the Piobaireachd Society was formed, and in time owing to the interest taken in piping by Mr Simon MacKenzie, Lochboisdale, Mr John Macdonald, Askernish, and Father MacDougall, Daliburgh, a Piobaireachd Society was formed in South Uist. For a time they had been successful in securing the services of that king of pipers and instructors, Pipe Major John Macdonald, for a few months every year, and the young pipers of Uist had just begun to make a name for themselves when the War broke out and the local Piobaireachd Society had to cease activities. The Society has been revived, and owing to the kindness of the Scottish Piobaireachd Society they had been able to recommence their classes. Pipe Major Ross had shown himself a worthy successor of Pipe Major Macdonald as instructor in piping.

“Mr Neil MacMillan, Daliburgh, and Mr Archd McLennan, Lochboisdale, seconded the remarks of the Chairman.

“Pipe Major Ross replied, thanking the Chairman for his kind words. He said that he felt it easy to work in such a piping ‘atmosphere’ and with the conviction that he was among friends.

“The evening passed with selections on bagpipes and reminiscences of old pipers and bygone contests with many a hint to young pipers interspersed. Too soon they had to say goodbye for Pipe Major Ross was leaving Lochboisdale by steamer at midnight. The pleasure of having met Pipe Major Ross is one which none of those present will ever forget.”

Pipe Judging at Cowal Highland Gathering

In the same paper was this letter: “Pipe Judging at Cowal Highland Gathering. Sir, I do not think there is a Games Committee in Scotland who do more to encourage the piob mhor than the Committee of the Cowal Games, who deserve every encouragement for their efforts in promoting piping. About pipe judging, I think judges should show every courtesy towards competitors, and in particular to new players coming forward. I am etc, H. G.’

Famous Piper Donald Cameron, Successor of the MacCrimmons

In June there is a letter from Malcolm MacInnes about the tune The Desperate Battle, a photograph of the pipers of the 93rd with PM John Macintosh Lawrie and a retrospective article on ‘Famous Piper Donald Cameron, Successor of the MacCrimmons’ who died in 1868. There is a photograph of a Ferrara broadsword which he won as 2nd prize at the Edinburgh competition in 1838 when he was 17 and a brief outline of his life and the prizes he had won. He won the Gold Medal at Inverness in 1859 playing Macintosh’s Lament. After the ground the drones began to slip off his shoulder and came to rest on his arm. This did not affect his playing but caused a well known piper who was present to remark that, ‘it made no difference to Donald although he held the bag between his knees’. Eight years later at Inverness he gained the distinction of Champion of Champions or King of Pipers.

•Donald Cameron

Plans for Cowal Games juvenile piobaireachd competition

The following week there is a letter from H.S. Stafford in the Oban Times, secretary of the Cowal Gathering, saying there will be a juvenile piobaireachd competition on the Saturday morning.

South Uist and Barra Highland Games announcement

The South Uist and Barra Highland Games were advertised to take place on Askernish Machair, Lochboisdale, on Tuesday 17th July. There was to be a special competitive exhibition of old Highland dances. The secretary was Fred R Lomax, Daliburgh. Islay Highland Games at Bowmore was advertised for the same day. The secretary was William Cullen.

Discussions on Piobaireachd in the Oban Times letters page

On 30th June a letter in the Oban Times from ‘Enthusiast in Calcutta’ asking if there were any manuscripts of the MacCrimmon canntaireachd other than that of Gesto as he thought there were clerical and printer’s errors in Gesto’s tunes and he would like to check them against other sources. 

This was followed by a letter from Dr Charles Bannatyne: “To kill two dogs with one stone, may I be allowed to bracket together and reply to two letters in your issue of 23rd inst. I may say I am in favour of the competition for piobaireachd for youths of 18 and under, if competitors can be got, which is a moot point. Fingers of 18 and under are not of the calibre to play a piobaireachd with effect, but the intention of the competition is good and worthy of encouragement. I believe we should stick to the traditional method of playing the old tunes if we know it! But every teacher of Ceol Mor swears he has the only method, and consequently we have 1,000 traditional methods. The nearest to tradition is that method which conserves the melody, but that method never gets any support. Humbug and syncopation carry the day every time.

“Regard Port nan Diornaig – The Tune of the Small Stones – it refers to the taking of Rothesay Castle in 1333. Then the Butemen were in league with Campbell of Lochow, and hearing of the storming of Dunoon Castle, the Rothesay men who remained at home stormed Rothesay Castle, armed only with stones! The keeper then was John Mac Ghillebride, whose father, Ghillebride Mac Amalyn was a grandson of the then Celtic Earl of Lennox and ancestor of the Bannatynes of Bute. Amalyn’s name appears as witness of a MacFarlane charter in 1296, and he is called second son of the Earl of Lennox. Wintoun calls the battle in which the Rothesay men took the castle from John Mac Ghillebride Mac Amalyn, The Battle (Batayle) Dormang or Dornaig, the Gaelic for a small stone.”

There were many more letters over the following weeks: ‘A Lover of the Old Music’ was in agreement with the above: “There is far more to piobaireachd than just manipulating the fingers and playing the notes correctly.”

This was followed by a letter from H S Strafford, Secretary of the Cowal Gathering. He does not agree with those who state that a youth is unable to play piobaireachd as efficiently as someone of maturer years and asks why should a man of 20 not play as well as one of 40 years? He asked in the interests of the young pipers, who were practising hard for their first appearance as piobaireachd players, and who he was sure would be glad of any advice the experts could give them. Over the following weeks there are several more letters on the Cowal competition, supporting both sides. Several mentions were made of famous pipers who had won prizes at a young age. Another writer said: “Boys can play, there are plenty of good boys in Glasgow and plenty of good teachers”. (A list followed). “Good pipers were still good when they were young. Sandy Cameron got first at the Northern Meeting when aged 17.”

“No boy can make a good job of a piobaireachd until he is nearly 20 years old. As an artist he can make no show till 30 or over”. “Piobaireachd needs years of study. G.S. is a better player now than he was 20 years ago.” “Good pipers were not as good when 18 or 20 as they are now.” “John MacDougall Gillies was missed from the list of Glasgow teachers.” Then in September, the letter that put an end to the argument: “Some boys of 18 play better than some men who have grown old in the attempt.”

Bathgate Old Associates competitions

On Saturday 30th June the Bathgate Old Associates Sports were held at Mill Park. In the Pipe Band contest the result was:

  1. Dalziel Highland
  2. Glencraig
  3. Gartness

Solo Piping. March

  1. J Dall, Glencraig
  2. Jas Bremner, Glencraig
  3. Jas Wilson, Grange Thistle

Strathspey and Reel

  1. Alex McColl, Dalziel
  2. Jas Wilson
  3. Jas Bremner

Scottish Society of Bathgate Highland Games

The second annual Highland Games promoted by the Scottish Society of Bathgate were held on Saturday 7th July. Unfortunately a thunderstorm was experienced shortly before the starting time and this affected the attendance, although it cleared later and there were more spectators in the afternoon. The judges for piping were Pipe Majors Swanson and McPhedran with Drum Major Heron also for the band contest. PM R Reid won the cup for most points in piping. The full results were:

Pipe Bands

  1. Wallacestone, PM John Sharp
  2. Grange Thistle, PM A Wardlaw
  3. Torphichen


  1. PM R Reid, Shettleston
  2. J MacDonald, Govan
  3. Annie Williams, Edinburgh


  1. PM R Reid
  2. J Wilson, Edinburgh
  3. J A Gordon, Edinburgh

Strathspeys and Reels

  1. J Macdonald
  2. J Wilson
  3. PM R Reid

Grand National Pipe and Drum Band Contest at the Lanark Cattle Show

The Lanark Cattle Show on 14th July was to include a Grand National Pipe and Drum Band Contest for £50 in prize money, with the first prize of the Sir William Wallace Challenge Shield, being presented by Lord Glendyne of Sanquhar. The shield was a replica of a shield of the Wallace period, in silver, showing Sir William Wallace standing on a rocky eminence above Wallace’s cave. On the left was a view of Lamington Tower, the home of Marion Braidfute and on the right the ruins of St Kentigern Church, Lanark where Wallace was married. The result of the contest was:

Civilian Bands

  1. Millhall
  2. Glasgow Tramways
  3. City of Glasgow
  4. Bellshill.

Civilian and Territorial Bands

  1. Millhall
  2. Edinburgh Royal Scots

In another report the 4th prize winner in the Civilian contest was given as Dalzell. Nine bands competed in total, eight in the Civilian contest and two in the Civilian and Territorial. The judge was PM Sutherland, Edinburgh.

Carronshore Games

At Carronshore Games on 14th July the results were:


  1. J Macdonald, Glasgow
  2. PM MacPhee, Glasgow
  3. A M Calder, Edinburgh.

At Strathaven Sports on the same day the result of the Pipe Band Competition was:

  1. 32nd Lowland Division
  2. 5th HLI
  3. 6th HLI

Ardkinglass Games

At Ardkinglass Games on 25th July the piping results were:

  1. A Currie, Ardno
  2. Walter MacCallum, Lochgoilhead
  3. Ian MacCallum, Lochgoilhead

Special Prizes

  1. Walter MacCallum
  2. Ian MacCallum
  3. G Maclean

Correspondance about Cumha Phadraig Og

On July 28th the Oban Times had a letter from John MacCallum, Taynuilt saying: “A few years before the War there was a special competition at the Oban Games at which Cumha Phadraig Og was one of the prescribed tunes. John MacDonald, Inverness, was the only piper who played it, and I can well recollect how everyone present who had some knowledge of the music was electrified before he had played many bars. The late Mr Fraser of Lochawe Hotel was beside me at the time, and was greatly uplifted. John MacDonald deservedly got the first prize and I am surprised no one has taken up the tune since then.”

South Uist and Barra Games

At the South Uist and Barra Games on July 17th, the judges for piping and dancing were Brigadier General Cheape, Mr John Bartholomew and Pipe Major John MacDonald. A novel feature was a competitive exhibition of old Highland dances which are remembered in South Uist and Barra, but which are almost forgotten in other parts of the Highlands. There were two competitors, Mr Archd Macpherson, Eochdar, South Uist, who was over 75 years of age, and Mr Donald MacDonald, Daliburgh. This event was much appreciated by the judges and spectators, and will be suitably developed at future gatherings. The prizes were presented by General Cheape as follows:

Piobaireachd (prizes by Brigadier General Cheape)

  1. G MacMillan – 60s
  2. Roderick MacDonald, Daliburgh – 40s
  3. J Steele – 20s
  4. Angus Campbell, Frobost – 10s

March, strathspey and reel (prizes by Royal Celtic Society)

  1. J Steele – 60s
  2. Roderick MacDonald – 40s
  3. G MacMillan – 20s
  4. Finlay Martin, Daliburgh – 10s


  1. J Steele – 20s
  2. Angus MacAulay, Benbecula – 15s
  3. Finlay Martin – 10s
  4. Roderick MacDonald – 5s

Strathspey and Reel

  1. A Lindsay, Garryhillie – 20s
  2. Donald Currie Lochcarnan – 15s
  3. A Macdonald, Garryhillie – 10s
  4. Rod. MacAulay, Creagorry – 5s


  1. J Steele
  2. G MacMillan
  3. A Lindsay

Old Highland Dances (prizes presented by Royal Celtic Society)

The First of August – Archd. MacPherson, Eochdar £2.

Over the Water to Charlie – Donald MacDonald, Eochdar £2; Archd. MacPherson.

Scotch Blue Bonnets over the Border – D MacDonald £2.; A MacPherson.

Juniors. March, strathspey and reel.

  1. Neil Smith, Howmore
  2. John Smith
  3. Donald MacInnes, East Gerinish

There were also the usual dancing events for Fling, Sword, and Reel.