The Pipers Press
Saturday, October 25, 2014 Pibroch

The MacCrimmon legend

Once upon a time a beautiful lady fairy found a tragic young MacCrimmon sobbing on a stone outside Dunvegan Castle from which he had been banished for not playing well enough to become hereditary piper to the powerful MacLeod chiefs who owned the castle on the misty Isle of Skye.


When the beautiful fairy discovered what had befallen the sad young man she asked if he would like to become the finest piper in the world?

Oh, yes, he breathed, and she reached under her petticoat and gave him a magic Silver Chanter, the part of the bagpipe hanging down the front on which the notes are formed.  And when he touched it out flowed a never-ending cascade of wonderful melodies when played by him and his descendants, who thus became the greatest pipers and composers the world has ever known, for all time to come.

The legend also purported  the MacCrimmons  ran a famous piping college at Borreraig on Skye for 300 unbroken years from 1500 to 1800,  and  there, clan chiefs from all over the Highlands and Islands  sent their best pipers for seven years’ tuition.  That was where the MacCrimmons reputedly invented the musical form, pibroch, and naturally composed all the best tunes, including their own famous lament, MacCrimmon No More. But no matter how gifted their students, the legend asserted, none could ever excel the natural genius of the family whose like would never be seen again.

Undoubtedly the legend was a pretty one and, as I stressed in my book, MacCrimmon pipers had certainly lived on Skye, but the book also scrutinised every facet of the "legend" and found it spurious. The truth was they simply hadn't done what was claimed for them.


Yet it had been manipulated by a pair of unscrupulous lairds to destroy the traditional styles of the music, in one of which the MacCrimmons may themselves once have played. Simultaneously, the same lairds ruthlessly brainwashed pipers into swallowing the legend almost as their religious credo, part of which was that the “new” style came from the legendary family.


But no outsider was allowed to know where the confusion really came from.


Pipers were gripped in a sort of mental stranglehold and dared not deviate by even a single grace note from the dishevelled scripts made available to them. This was, they were bawled at,  how the MacCrimmons played it, and so must they.


These lairds were also possessed by the feudal concept of territorial titles where a laird was called by the name of his estate which was never to be separated from his real name by a single impudent comma.


The first was an Archibald Campbell who at all times in the piping world falsely demanded to be called by the family estate name of Kilberry, to which he was not entitled, and to distinguish him from the other Campbells he is here called Campbell-K. The second was Colonel J.P. Grant of Rothiemurchus who was actually entitled to use the title, much to the chagrin of his outrageous accomplice.


(No-one realised it also made it easier for these sub-musical lairds to “judge” a competition as anyone who played a wrong grace note could be struck off – unless they played in the false style.)


Behind their backs they were laughed at and known as Sausage Fingers and Bones , but never to their faces, otherwise as you will learn, they would have the law on you, which they owned along with the music.


The legend had also effectively forced pipers into believing they were third-rate performers and composers at best. No matter how hard they practised, they were scornfully told, they could never play as well as a MacCrimmon, and as for the crazy notion they could even compose a pibroch, perish the sacrilegious effrontery. It was nonsensical, they were scolded by the same lairds.


It was Pipe Major Robert Reid, the final doyen of pibroch, who became the first piper to penetrate the MacCrimmon hoax, an integral part of the scam. As Robert Reid wrote to me on 5 July 1954: “The MacCrimmons and such imaginary tripehounds must be left out…The aforementioned ‘tripehounds’ can be used as ‘ghosts’ – nothing more. They have strangled the great music for too many generations – in secrecy.”

Alistair playing the MacCrimmon pipes in 1971
Alistair playing the MacCrimmon pipes in 1971


He should have known. He was chosen as the finest piper of his generation to play at the unveiling of the MacCrimmon memorial cairn at Borreraig in 1933. Years later he wrote to me: “That was the first time I doubted the ‘great men’, and it happened when Sir Reginald Macleod led me up to gaze on the ‘McC’ pipes...As a materialistic Lowland Scot, I knew that no human being ever played ‘Children’s Lament on such a bunch of firewood. From then onwards, I gradually peered behind the curtain with the results you already know.”  

He had just played the same lament as part of the unveiling ceremony.


The letter, written on 18 March 1956, was quoted in my book, the full title of which is The MacCrimmon Legend or the Madness of Angus MacKay. The second part of the title is continually censored out in an attempt to conceal the truth from pipers for reasons which should be increasingly blatant.


After the book was published I was smothered in international waves of smear and defamation, which I could not understand, for I knew I was telling the truth. To discover the facts about the book at long last and what it really revealed go to How the book discredited the legend and you will discover why the scamsters were convulsively driven to attempt to annihilate the book and my reputation as a writer before pipers read it. Otherwise the straightforward truth would have annihilated the scamsters in turn, many of whom appeared to have taken up permanent residence in the BBC where the fairy-tale legend was publicised  as the unassailable truth while anything reflecting on its veracity was utterly wrong.  All at the expense of the licence-payer.



Where have all the BBC’s  missing MacCrimmons gone?           

In May 2009 the General Registrar for Scotland made available the Scottish Parish Records from 1553 to 1854 for the first time, meaning in turn the BBC could at last authenticate beyond a doubt the existence of the individual MacCrimmon hereditary pipers.

I had hoped the BBC, which had vainly spent up to £1m. of public money in failing to prove that a false legend was Gospel truth, would have sprung to its own defence and prowled  through the records with its customary religious fervour in search of the latest MacCrimmon piper to be disinterred and proclaim its breath-taking findings to the goggle-eyed world.

The names of the individual MacCrimmon hereditary pipers had already been set in stone in the booklet Piobaireachd, written by Seumas MacNeill, and published in 1965 by the BBC itself. 


Here was a glorious opportunity for the BBC to celebrate by customarily hiring yet another vast Scottish castle, or better still, keeping it in the family by paying a substantial fee to rent Dunvegan, and holding a great banquet  to applaud themselves for their vital contribution to the fabric of  the Scottish nation.

Tragically it was not to be, for certainly no announcement was made of its astounding findings.

Accordingly, the known permutations of the “MacCrimmon” name were checked against the registers by the Piper’s Press, and the results were astounding all right.

No mention whatsoever of the MacCrimmon name, nor its variants, could be found of the famous hereditary pipers to the chiefs of the MacLeods of Dunvegan, between 1538 in Skye and Scotland in general until the 1800s, and then without their mandatory middle names like Ban, Mor, or Og. 

The Piper’s Press stresses that it cannot, like the BBC, afford to instruct professional genealogists, but points out that our numbers include experienced investigative researchers, and that the computerised research facilities now available indicate that the advanced skills, formerly  required to prove the existence of the MacCrimmons, are no longer needed.

These previous “finds” caused much self-appreciative glad-handing  in BBC circles, inevitably proving that a MacCrimmon found, say, selling dinosaur eggs in The Shambles at York, was certainly a member of the spectral family at Borreraig, who had lost his way home from the Battle of Hastings a few years earlier in 1066. Or could that be Worcester in 1651, as the much later legend has it?

What is so revelatory is that not one word of shock, surprise or shame has emerged on this occasion from the BBC, apparently crammed with serial intellects, who have yet to explain their silence over the non-appearance of these hereditary pipers, vital to the safe-keeping of the spongy legend, and the entire integrity of the BBC.

The Piper's Press is more than happy to Stand Corrected here. Any reasonable explanation will be guaranteed publication.

The Missing MacCrimmons with their accepted dates of birth, who cannot be found, include legendary pipers like: Donald Mor (? c. 1640); Patrick Mor (c.1595-c.1670); Patrick Og (1645-1730); Malcolm (1704-1760) and Donald Ban (1710-1746).

If the name of only one of the purported hereditary pipers could not be found, it might have mitigated the findings.

The truth was that not one of them can be identified during the postulated 300 years the college was averred by the BBC to have taken in pupils for an alleged seven-year apprenticeship at Borreraig, already proved false. 

Now, the BBC publications and programmes are riddled with other claims about the impeccable provenance of the MacCrimmons; of how they invented pibroch at Borreraig where they naturally composed all the best tunes on specific dates.

Yet the Beeb refuses to admit  that almost all of the tunes had earlier and different names, indicating they had been stolen to buttress a false legend, after which a MacCrimmon name and fantasy were glued on to the event, at whichever date was assigned to it.  Using the same parameters the pre-determined MacCrimmon had to be the composer because, according to the invented dates, he must have been the hereditary piper at  the time.  It should be reluctantly admitted that even Aesop’s fables were raided to supply the stories to certain tunes, creating its own ancestral problems.   

The wheeze was first codified by Walter Scott  in the MacCrimmons’ theme song, which he wrote and published in 1818, not until almost a century  after the purported event took place.

The words falsely claimed the MacLeods of Dunvegan were going off to avenge a “feud” from which their “MacKrimmon” piper would return no more. The truth was the MacLeod of Dunvegan Militia, wearing redcoats, were factually going off in 1745 to “fight” for Butcher Cumberland and commit the most appalling atrocities on their fellow Highlanders to ingratiate themselves with “The Butcher” in their hunt for Prince Charles Edward Stuart, and to punish those who had aided him when he was on the run.

The lament, I Shall Return No More, cynically came instead from the victims of The Clearances, who would sing it ankle-deep in the sea as they waited in tears for the emigrant boats to ship them off to the Americas. And it gets worse. Truth is the first casualty in war, they say, but why was it enacted in such a degenerate fashion? The then chief of the MacLeods of Dunvegan, known as “The Wicked Man”, and the chief of the Skye Macdonalds, had already been exposed as accomplices in kidnapping and transporting their own clanspeople to sell on the slave blocks in America, and were anticipating being tried on slavery charges.

The "Wicked Man" later betrayed the arrival of the Bonnie Prince and his meagre following in writing to the chief law officer of Scotland before the prince had actually set foot on the Scottish mainland, the ultimate treachery, for the chief had already incited the prince to come to Scotland and claim the crown.

Somehow, the slavery charges were dragged out and eventually dropped. Naturally I included the hushed-up account of the slavery in my MacCrimmon book because it was generally unknown, yet seemed to exemplify the times. The book also mentioned that the same chief then tried to blackmail Flora MacDonald’s future father-in-law into betraying the prince for the “£30,000 of English gold”; i.e. the British government reward for his capture, all of which had been concealed from the Scottish people.  

They were emphatically told that “no Highlander of high or low degree would ever have betrayed the prince for the (same) £30,000 of English gold”  to explain why they couldn’t catch him, despite all their  treachery

Scottish history had already been corrupted while Walter Scott shielded and rehabilitated the MacLeods of Dunvegan chiefs for political and commercial reasons from the consequences of their own treachery, and their compulsion for “get rich quick” schemes, which the Wicked Man implored MacDonald to take up “to aggrandize your family beyond many in Scotland.”



When it became evident the BBC somehow could not afford to instruct a team of genealogists after all, presumably the main reason for not informing the Scottish  nation, ( the preferred description of its friends, the Scottish National Party,  for  the Scottish voters) ,  about the missing MacCrimmons it was decided to ask the General  Records Office to confirm the accuracy of our researches. 

The Piper’s Press wrote:   “I have searched to OPRs from 1538 for the family name MacCrimmon and cannot a find a trace of them in Scotland, and in particular Skye, until the early 1800s.  Could you please inform me that this is the case?”

The GRO first claimed that a possible reason for the missing MacCrimmons was that the records were “for the established Church of Scotland (Presbyterian) only. – Skye and other islands often had the Free Church as prominent and this could be why you cannot find any entries for MacCrimmon until the early 1800s – also it was not compulsory to baptise  or register the events.”  Other reasons were that the clerk was drunk or couldn’t spell the name correctly.

We replied that another search had been made, adding:  “Your remark about the Free Kirk (Church) was not understood as the Disruption did not occur until 1845 and could not have affected the result.”

Snippily the GRO replied:  “I regret that we are unable to answer your specific enquiry.  For further information about this Department and the services we can provide please see our website.”

We looked in the website but could not understand what they meant.  We haven’t bothered looking in the BBC website for its explanation.  We already knew the BBC was never wrong, but were too modest to admit it.





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