As a follow up to Keith Sanger’s article in the previous issue of Common Stock, Stewart Gaudin sent us these thoughts on the role of Bessi the Piper in Knockdollian

At the last two LPBS Competitions in Glasgow I have made a special effort to draw from the musical repertoire of songs and tunes of South West Scotland as I have  felt that the piping history of these parts has always been overshadowed by that of the Lothians and Borders.
You can imagine my absolute delight in reading Keith Sanger's excellent piece on uncovering a rare reference to a "Lady" piper from Knockdollian, South Ayrshire, in Court of Session papers dated 1709.  Given that pipers have historically been tarred with a licentious or debauched nature (I am obviously missing something) it is somewhat ironical that Bessie McJanet emerges from history as a result of Double Fornication!

Knockdollian Tower
Photo Keith Brown

Even in today’s relatively densely populated Scotland, Knockdollian, a conical hill rising just short of 900 feet, is very much a byway and in the early 18th century would have been isolated from any main centres of population.  Ballantrae then was little more than a clachan and Girvan was an eleven mile overland trudge.
Given the Court reference to her as a "pyper" it is reasonable to infer that she has supplied this detail as being her occupation.  This then begs the question where was she employed, given the absence of any sizeable "toon" nearby.
The most obvious possibility may be at Knockdollian Castle (photograph courtesy of Keith Brown) which though now abandoned was mercifully never demolished when the new "big hoose" was built in 1842.  In Bessie's time Knockdollian Castle was owned by the McCubbins and under the stewardship of Fergus McCubbin whose family had a long history in the south west.  Its ownership passed to the Cathcart's in the year 1715 and Bessie may well have played for two lairds in her lifetime?
A walk through the shell of Knockdollian's tower causes all sorts of conjecture as to what her pipe would have sounded like and what tunes she would have played!  Were women more likely to have been pipers than we now presume?    

 Stewart Gaudin.