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Some of the complexities and difficulties of delimitation when applied to Lowland and Highland piping territory are described by Keith Sangar.

What lies under a tartan cover? Certainly the large image of George IV swathed in a kilt during his visit to Scotland, orchestrated by the weil-kent border figure of Sir Walter Scott, during the year of 1822, must have presented a much less attractive sight than the reproduction ‘Montgomery’ chamber pipes, the subject of a tartan disrobing exercise performed by Julian Goodacre for the benefit of those who attended his recent talk to the Society. However, if a tartan cover does not ensure a Highland identity, where and how can the dividing line between Highland and Lowland piping be drawn? There is probably no simple answer, but using the 'Montgomery' pipes as the link it is possible to demonstrate some of the complexities of the problem.                                                                                                    

Kintyre is not the first place that would normally take precedence when discussing Lowland piping. Formerly part of the MacDonald Lordship of the Isles, it had, with the demise of the Lordship, passed during the early 17th century into the hands of the Campbell house of Argyle. Under the patronage of the Earl (later Marquis) of Argyle, Lowlanders, principally from Renfrewshire and North Ayrshire, had commenced settling in Kintyre from around 1650, so that by the beginning of the 18th century two distinct communities had developed. One Gaelic speaking and of Highland origin, the other Lowland Scots with family links back to their origins in the southwest mainland. Clearly then, from his name, a William Cathcart, piper, who was the subject of censure in the Campbelltown/Southend Presbyterie Session Book in 1692, would have been of this Lowland rather than Highland origin. (1)

The Official War office papers in London and the Montgomery of Eglinton manuscripts have very little to say about the Montgomery Highlanders and do not include any muster rolls which would supply the names of pipers. But from other sources two at least of these musicians can be named, one a Neil MacArthur (2) with certainty, the other, one William MacMurchy, a native of Kintyre with a fair degree of probability. MacMurchy was born around the beginning of the 18th century. By the time of the '45 rebellion he was piper to MacDonald of Largie and was among the Kintyre men who set out to join the Prince. Largie was persuaded to join the Government forces instead, but, since the only action the Kintyre men saw was an ignominious surrender to a reputedly smaller Jacobite force, it would seem that their hearts were really with the other side. MacMurchy probably died around 1778, certainly before 1782 when an outstanding debt for 12 shillings incurred by ‘William MacMurchy musicioner' in 1769 was wiped through the Kirk Balance sheet. (3) It is primarily as a musician that he appears in the records; however, he was far more than that. In the correspondence of the Highland Society at the beginning of the 19th century he was said to be a ‘great genius who put all the pibroch and many highland airs to music' and ‘a remarkable writer of ancient poetry and of being in possession of a manuscript collection’. After William's death some of his manuscripts passed into the hands of his brother Neil (formerly a schoolmaster in Kintyre, but latterly a weaver in Paisley), and it was through Neil’s son James, a Paisley manufacturer, that some of the manuscripts were recovered.                                                                                                                                      

The picture of William MacMurchy derived from his manuscripts is of a highly literate man. The manuscripts are written in both the old Gaelic script and conventional 18th century longhand. They mostly consist of Gaelic poetry including some of William's own verse. Among the entries in English are a short poem on the death of Handel (died 1759), the measurements of a harp, and a rather potent medical recipe for an unspecified ailment, In one poem, a Gaelic satire against MacMurchy composed by a merchant called "Bostain MacCairbre', William is described as a ‘piper, a fiddler, a harper, a tailor and a schoolmaster as well as a bard, and a man who according to his reviler was enjoying undeservedly the confidence of the Laird of Largie'. There are a number of poems on piping including one by MacMurchy himself, a satire on a ‘poor' (in the musical sense) piper who had just arrived in Kintyre from Ireland, reminding us of the cultural pathways that used to flow through that part of Scotland.

The connection between MacMurchy and Montgomerie's Highlanders, however, is derived from a different source. A letter written by the Rev John Smith of Campbeltown and quoted in the Highland Society Report on 'Ossian' (published in 1805) says that an old Gaelic poem and a collection of proverbs had been got about 1780 by him from Captain Alexander Campbell, then Chamberlain of Kintyre, who had them from William MacMurchy, a musician and an amateur of the ancient poetry. The poem has survived in the Stewart Collection and from the internal evidence of the poem it has been shown that it had been composed while William was in the army and serving with either the 100th regiment (Kilberry's Highlanders) or the 77th regiment (Montgomery's Highlanders) (4). The probability that it was the latter was increased by the fact that Montgomery's regiment was renowned for recruiting a large number of pipers at a time when the supply could not have been too abundant. It is probably significant also that Alexander Campbell, appointed chamberlain and baillie of North and South Kintyre by the Duke of Argyle on 11 November 1767, was a Lieutenant, late of the 77th regiment of foot, having engaged as an ensign in an additional company of Montgomery's Highlanders in 1759 and reaching a position as adjutant by August 1763.                                                                                                                            

Given these links it is evident that pipes of the “Montgomery” type could and probably did circulate in Kintyre. Indeed further evidence can be advanced to demonstrate the cultural milieu that existed there. Among the artifacts at Glen Barr house, the seat of the MacAlisters of Kintyre, there is a damaged set of bellows pipes with keyed regulators of the type usually referred to as 'Uillean'. The chanter is marked ‘'McDonald/Edin' which dates their manufacture to late 18th/early-19th centuries, and as they are to be found in Kintyre it can be assumed that somebody there once played them.

Perhaps of even greater curiosity is a picture, now in the local museum, of a view of Main Street, Campbeltown, on Fair Day. Painted by A. MacKinnon in 1886, it shows, among other events, a couple dancing to a piper, said to be one Domhall Michael. The pipe bag is held in a somewhat ‘high' position and while there is no evidence of an oral blowpipe the piper does appear to have a bellows attached to the elbow of his bag arm. An artistic aberration, no doubt, yet, generally in the picture the artist's attention to detail is remarkable. Could such an arrangement have worked?

1. Scottish Record Office CH2/1153/1, Page 48.
2. Piping Times Vol 38. No. 9
3. S.R.O. CH@50/5
4 .Conely, “A poem in the Stewart Collection” Scottish Gaelic Studies, Vol. 2