According to Alex Campbell’s journal, Donald MacLean was among those ‘best bagpipers of the Border’ listed by Thomas Scott around 1816. Here Keith Sanger looks again at the de- tails of his story.

The tradition that the piper Donald MacLean used a method of pinching the back hole of his chanter to produce the high notes in the tune 'Sour Plums of Galashiels' has been well noted along with the suggestion that the piper had some connection with William MacLean, Master of the Revels in Edin- burgh around the end of the 17th century. However detailed information about both the piper and the 'Master of Revels' is lacking with the knowledge that William MacLean even existed being based mainly on one record of a Court case dating to 10 January 1694 between MacLean and a Mr Beck over the rights to hold concerts in Edinburgh.1
That is where the matter has rested but as is often the case finding one contemporary document leads to another and some things then start to drop into place. It therefore seems a suitable time to take a good look at the evidence and that means not just the two characters already mentioned but also another piper called MacLean who may be connected but in any case makes an interesting early study of a piper in a Lowland setting. So to start we go west to deal with the piper John MacLean before moving on through William MacLean and then to Donald MacLean in Gala before linking back to examine how they might all connect.
In 1666 the Burgh of Rothesay on the Isle of Bute appointed one 'Johne M'Art M'Clane to be commoune pyper in the towne... and he is to have sax schilling out of ilk reik and fra ilk tredsman within the towne'. Exactly how long he stayed there is uncertain but being upwardly mobile his next move was in 1675 to look to Glasgow where on the 3 April
'The said day the Magistrats and Coun- sel being conveined , In answer to the deszre and supplicatioune given in be John M’Claine, pypper, craving to be admitted as the tounes ministrell, They have given and granted, and hereby gives and grants to him that office as commoune pypper, or ministrell, within the said burgh ordaining him hereby to goe throw the towne every day, morning and evening, or at such tymes the Magistrates sall appoint vsing his office for quhilk they are to pay to him yearlle during his service therintill the soume of ane hundredth merks Scots moneyat at twa termes in the year Lambes and Candlemes, be equall portiounes beginning the first terms payment therof at Lambes nixt, and sua to conteinow during the will and pleasour of the said magistratis and councell.'
However he had not totally severed his links to Rothesay because an agreement was recorded in the Books of Council and Session, (now the Register of Deeds), on the 30 day of May 1676 between 'John Mclean musicioner in pyping in Grenock on the ane part and William Wright serviter to Collen Campbell of Ellangrieg with the consent of the said Collen Campbell to take Willam Wright as a prentice in that trade and vocatie of pyping. This agreement was restated in a further entry recorded on the 7 May, the following year, after the piper had moved to Glasgow in an indenture between 'John Mclean musician in pyping ..... now in Glasgow' on the one part and Colin Campbell of Ellangreig on the other to indenture Campbell's servant one 'Wm Wright in the trade and vocatie of pyping.' It was of course no great distance from Rothesay to the north end of the Isle of Bute and to Ellangreig which was just across the Kyles of Bute in the entrance
of Loch Riddon.2
Evidence of payments to MacLean as the town piper appear in the Glasgow records to at least 1681 when it was recorded that 'To John Macklain the touns pypper of fiall this last yeir as by discharge £66-13-4'. The merk was a common unit of reckoning in Scotland although it did not actually exist as a physical currency but was nominally worth 13 shillings and 4 pence. Hence £66-13-4 equalled the 100 merks of his original contract and was fairly substantial sum at that time. According to the index of Documents relating to Glasgow there are a number of receipts signed by the piper, for 1 May, 12 July and 16 November 1678, where he writes his name in the varied forms of 'M'lane, M'Lean and M'Laen and has apparently imitated printed capital letters.3
Moving to the next member of the MacLean trinity, William Mclean, 'Writ- ter' and Anna Pettindreich were married in Edinburgh on the 29 June 1683.4 Since at that time in Scotland to marry the male had to be over fourteen years of age it means that Maclean must have been born sometime prior to 1669 at the latest, a point of relevance when looking at his relationship to the Gala piper. On the 2 June the following year the couple had a girl christened Mary but in that record William MacLean is now described as a 'Dancing Master'. Among the witnesses was a James Pettindreich, musician, presumably a relation of Mrs MacLean.5 McLean was also described as a 'Dancing Master in Edinburgh' when that same year a loan agreement was recorded.6 In 1687 he was still described as a 'dancing master' when the Burgh Council of Edinburgh agreed he is to be freed as formerly, from payment of the annuity imposed upon him for his house in Gray's Close where he teaches children to dance. The Council also free him from all public burdens as long as he keeps a public school within the City for teaching children to dance. 7

Sometime between then and 1692 his status had changed and on the 2nd November that year a petition given in be William Mclean master of their majesties ravells within this Kingdome, Mentioning that John Arnold Carner doctor of Medicine was arrived to this City and hade procured licence from the petitioner in order to the setting up of a stage. And therefore humbly craved the Council to grant warrand for breaking of the calsey in order to the setting up of the said stage in any place of this City as the Council should think fit... . The Council granted permission to erect a stage in the land market below the weighhouse well where he may sell his medicines until 20th December next.8
It would seem that his remit as 'master of the Revels' was quite wide ranging and also profitable as in 1693 there was another loan agreement, but this time made by William McLean Master of the Revels for himself and on behalf of his spouse Anna Pittindreich, for Three hundred merks Scots money.9 This would no doubt explain MacLean's action against Mr John Beck as an attempt to protect his apparent monopoly, however losing that particular action does not seem to have affected Maclean's income too much since in July 1696 described as 'master of his Majesty's Revells', he and his wife Anna Pittendreich were again involved in lending Two Thousand merks Scots in a deal involving William McDowall of Garthland and Lord Bargany.10

At some point during 1696 'William Macklean, Master of the Revels' also signed up to the subscription book of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies, (the Darien Scheme).11 Clearly not one of his better investments as he was unlikely to have even got his money back, but as an indication of his relative wealth, he was the only 'musician' noted in the subscription lists. There was though at least one musician in the actual expedition, the ships piper onboard the 'Rising Sun', the flagship of the relief expedition which sailed in August 1699. Ironically, the piper John McFie who had died during that expedition was described in his testament as formerly 'musician burgess of Rothesay', so would seem to have been the replacement town piper in Rothesay after John MacLean had moved to Glasgow.12
William MacLean continued to appear among the Edinburgh Burgh Records including on one occasion an attempt to have his dispensation from paying burdens, (which had been removed) restored. The last records of him occur in 1715; what happened to him after then is unclear as neither he or his wife seem to appear in the Edinburgh burial records which are fairly comprehensive.13
Moving on now to Donald MacLean, the third of this trilogy of whom quite a bit is known but mostly through second or third parties rather than solid contemporary references. He was stated to have been the piper to the 'Laird of Galashiels' and in Alexander Campbell's notes on border pipers taken down from Thomas Scot, the uncle of Sir Walter, the piper is said to have been the father of William MacLean the Edinburgh dancing Master.14 However this last statement looks improbable since the Gala piper was suppose to have died around the middle of the eighteenth century and as we know that William MacLean was born at the latest in 1669 the dancing master appears to be a generation earlier than the Gala man. This does not necessarily mean that there was not a connection between the two men but that Campbellhad mistakenly managed to reverse it.  If in fact Donald MacLean was the son of William MacLean rather than his father then there would be three generations of MacLeans starting with the John in first Rothesay then Glasgow. Admittedly there is no record of such a birth/baptism, but it has to be remembered that prior to Statutory Registration in 1855 it is estimated that the old Parish registers, even where they survive, failed to record nearly a quarter of the actual births. Furthermore there is some, albeit more circumstantial evidence, to link the first and last of that trio together. A mock heroic poem on the piper of Galashiels was composed by William Hamilton of Bangour, (1704-1754), around 1720. The poem twice links the piper, or his pipes to 'Old Glenderule' as well as a linage back to the battle of Harlaw in 1411.
Although the Rule Water flows near to Gala and has given rise to several combined place-names none of them fit with that particular structure which looks far more like Glendaruel in Cowal.15 Certainly a long way from the borders, but so usually is the surname of MacLean and it is possible to strengthen the connection and to do that we go back to John MacLean the piper who first appears in Rothesay and his indenture agreement with Colin Campbell of Ellangreig. Descended from the Campbells of Ormidale, Colin Campbell took his 'title' from the place now known as Eilean Dearg; close to the east shore and about a mile up Loch Riddon, while Ormidale is at the far north end of the Loch. But Riddon is a fairly modern name for the stretch of water whose original name was Loch Ruel, while the adjacent mainland opposite the island was called Kinlochruel and the whole area up to and including Ormidale and the river Ruel beyond it is known as Glendaruel.
So it is possible that the poet William Hamilton was deliberately linking the Gala piper to a Maclean ancestor at Glendaruel and there is another internal clue in the poem which could enhance that probability. The poem is meant to be amusing and therefore not to be taken too seriously as historical fact.

The suggestion in the poem that Donald MacLean's bagpipe had been played by an earlier relative at the battle of Harlaw cannot be taken at face value, not least because the Gala pipers instrument was a bellows pipe. Indeed it is a moot point whether any bagpipe was played at Harlaw, although it should be noted that just about a hundred years later the earliest firm reference to a 'bagpipe' appears in the vicinity of
Selkirk16 while around the same time a piper occurs in the name list of musicians in the Gaelic manuscript known as the Book of the Dean of Lismore. Likewise some hundred and twenty years before Harlaw the bagpipe was on record at the court of Edward I, so its presence at the battle was quite possible.17
But the poem's claim that Donald was 'indirectly descended from the piper who played at the battle of Harlaw' looks more like a way of alluding to his name of 'MacLean' which otherwise does not actually appear in the poem. The 'muckle sang' about the battle was well distributed throughout Scotland as was the folk history surrounding the battle. This would have included the story of most famous MacLean present, the clan chief, Hector MacLean of Du- art whose single handed combat with Sir Alexander Irvine of Drum resulted in the deaths of both and ensured they passed into legend.
So to end by adding another touch of 'spice to the potage'; the well known MacLean piobaireachd 'Cumha Eachinn Ruaidh nan Cath' or the La- ment for Red Hector of the Battles, is usually connected with the 'Hector MacLean' who died at Harlaw which would incline anyone who knew of the tune to therefore assume it was also played on the pipes around that time.


1    National Archives of Scotland, (NAS). CS201/4. The petitions to the court were first entered in December 1693 and the courts decision was reached in January 1694
2    NAS. RD2/41 pp 604-605; RD2/43 pp 574-576; It may be significant that in a list of Fencible men in the parish of Inverchaolane, Cowal, compiled in 1692    there was listed under 'Ellagrieg', an Ard Mclaine in Achlyan. (NAS SC54/20/2/6) This would seem to be 'Achinlean' which is no longer on the map but was roughly a little to the south of where the Colintaive to Bute ferry now runs. Since Achinlean was part of the Ellangrieg lands this is prob- ably further confirmation that the piper John Maclean's family were tenants of Campbell of Ellangrieg.
3 Maclehose, J, Memorabilia of the City of Glasgow, selected from the Minute Books of the Burgh, (1868), p 220; Marwick, Sir J D, and Renwick, R, eds, Extracts From the Records of the Burgh of Glasgow,AD 1663 - 1690, Scottish Burgh Records Society, (1905), p 197 and 505; Charters and Other Documents Relating to Glasgow, p 373, 829, Bundle of Discharges granted by John Robesoun treasurer of Glas- gow, number 3.
4 Old Parish Records Marriages 685/0104400240 Edinburgh.
5 OPRs Births, 685/0100900243 Edin- burgh.
6    NAS RD4/54 f.601-602.
7 Wood M and Armet H, ed. Extracts From The Records Of The Burgh Of Edin- burgh. 1681 - 1689. (1954), p 204
8 Armet H, ed. Extracts From The Records Of The Burgh Of Edinburgh 1689 - 1701. (1967), p 104.
9    NAS RD3/80 f.430-431.
10    NAS. GD109/2243
11 RBS Group Archives, Lists of subscribers to the Company of Scotland Trading to Africa and the Indies, 1696-1700. (RBS 2013).

12 Sanger K, 'John McFie 'Ships Piper',
Piping Times. vol 39. No 11, (August 1987).

13 Armet H, ed. Extracts From The Records Of The Burgh Of Edinburgh 1701-1718, (1967). p 51, 67, 90 and 291; NAS. RD3/144 p 129
14 MacInnes Iain, Campbell's Border Sketches, Common Stock, vol 1, No. 2 (November 1984), p 6-7; Stewart Pete, Welcome Home My Dearie, (2008), p32-33.
15 Stewart, op cite, part quoted at p 55; For the full poem see Paterson, James, Poems and Songs of William Hamilton of Bangour (1850), online at gswi03hamigoog
16    Pitcairn R, Criminal Trials in Scotland, (1833), vol 1. p 70.
17 Sanger K, The Origins of Highland Piping, Piping Times, vol 41. No 11 (August 1989), pp 47-48.

Keith Sanger, 7 September 2013