Iain McInnes’ introduction to the pìob shionnaich led us to investigate further the history of this term. There is no mention of a bellows-pipe in the Highlands in Joseph MacDonald’s manuscript, written in 1760; MacDonald is particularly scathing about the ‘insipid’ bagpipe of the ‘low country, where they use bellowses to their pipes’; however, only 20 years later the Rev William Shaw’s  Galic [sic] and English Dictionary included the entry “Piobshionnaich. A pipe blown with bellows”.1
The term remained in use into the 21st century; Tiber Falzett recorded a conversation with Calum Eaiedsidh Choinnich Beaton of Stonetbridge, South Uist, who “remembered hearing about and seeing sets of bagpipes known as a’ piob shionnaich in his youth”.2 He noted the local use of the term as both blowpipe valve and as a species of bellows-blown bagpipe that had gone out of fashion. However, Falzett goes on to point out that “although bellows-blown bagpipes are remembered in the Scottish Gaidhealteachd this does not infer that they are the same in form as the common stock Scottish bellows-blown bagpipes known today”. To illustrate his point he reproduces a picture of the bellows-blown set of Highland Bagpipes that Seamus MacNeil collected in Canada and which are now in the Museum of the College of Piping in Glasgow. However, Falzett also includes a photo of a set of bagpipes that very definitely are of the kind known today: the photo is the same as that reproduced here on page 21.
Bellows-pipes were not completely unknown in the Highlands from an early date - witness the famous musette owned by Prince Charles Stewart; moreover, it now seems that an instrument very much like that of Malcolm MacPherson was known in London perhaps 100 years before Shaw’s dictionary. According to Joseph MacDonald’s brother Patrick there was a ‘smallpipe’, “on which dancing tunes are played that is Compleat, the same in form and apparatus with the greater, differing only in size”.3  It seems likely that it was around 1770 - 1780 that the bellows were introduced to power this ‘smallpipe’; the disdain shown by Joseph MacDonald for the ‘low country’ pipe may well explain why it took so long for the advantages of the bellows in sustained informal playing to be acknowledged.



1. Shaw, Rev. William A Galic and English Dictionary containing All the Words in the Scotch and Irish Dialects of the Celtic, that .could be collected from the Voice, and Old Books and MSS., 1780.
2. Falzett, Tiber F. M., Aspects if Indigenous instrument Technologies and the Question of the Smallpipe in the Old and New World Gadhealtachds. We are grateful to Tiber for supplying a copy of this paper.
3. The quotation is from the 1803 published edition of Joseph MacDonald’s MS, but as Falzett points out, Patrick is re-working an essay by John Ramsay of Ochtertyre, which Patrick had published in 1784.