At this year’s Collogue in November, Pete Stewart told the story of ‘The Thornhill Piper’. Here he reprises the sorry tale of this well-travelled image, which for the time being we should perhaps call ‘The Abercairny Piper’

In the December 2008 issue of Common Stock, I told how, at the last moment before publication of my book ‘Welcome Home My Dearie’, I was shown the story of the carving which I had come to know as the ‘Thornhill Piper’, and which I had reproduced on the cover. That issue of Common Stock featured a reproduction of the photo in the library of the Royal Commission for Ancient and Historic Monuments for Scotland, where it was identified as the ‘Fowlis Piper’ and was said to be located in the Stables at Abercairny House. Ever since that discovery I had been intending to visit Abercairny in the vague hope that the stables had escaped when the house was destroyed in 1960. This was still my intention when earlier this year disturbing news came through that this carving, having survived in 1960, had fallen and broken earlier this year. Eventually Keith Sanger and I managed to get to Abercairny where we found the strange sight shown here. The carving had sheared off, probably during a thaw after the intense frosts of March this year. We were then introduced to the broken pieces where they are currently held, in two cardboard boxes.
A feasibility study is now being prepared for the restoration of this important, early 17th century carving, probably the earliest depiction of a common stock bagpipe in Scotland. It is hoped that the funds to restore the piper can be raised by a combination of grants and individual donations.

The photo above was taken in 2009. A comparison with that on the December 2008 Common Stock cover shows that the intervening 86 years had worn away the paint that had been added to the piper’s tunic. There is plenty of evidence of multiple layers of paint, as is visible in the cover picture of my book. Another intriguing aspect of this restoration project is that, as I interpret what we know of its history, this carving, though it may appear to have been a relief for the past 150 years or so, is in fact a free-standing, 3-dimensional figure, as one might expect from a carving said to have stood, at different stages of its career, on a gate post and a bridge parapet. Should this be the case, it adds even more challenges to the contentious process of restoration, not least because, being short of a leg, it is far from free-standing now.
By the time of the next issue of Common Stock it is to be hoped that these issues, and those of the funding of the project, will have been resolved sufficiently for the fund-raising to have been launched. I also hope that the June 2011 issue will contain a more detailed description of the history of this carving, and several other 17th century examples which have hitherto been undescribed.