Piobaireachd Club – Undetermined date between February and November 2005

Those who gathered at the home of Ron and Eileen Sutherland enjoyed a wonderfully fine evening of cèol mor. It is an occasion like this that reminds the writer that living to an old age isn’t all downhill.

Colin Lee, fresh from winning the Nicol-Brown Memorial in Troy, New York, led off the evening with The Desperate Battle of the Birds. There are two well-known inspirations given for this tune. However, there is also a less well-known third source for which I draw on an article by the late Roderick MacLeod, a Lewis man. (He was a founding member and first President of the B.C. Pipers’ Association). His story is based on the folklore of Lewis. A lady of Ardvrek Castle, Assynt, was given to partying and liked to keep the dancing going as long as possible. One evening she ordered that the beaks of the roosters be tied so they couldn’t announce the breaking of day with their crowing, thereby bringing the dancing to an end. She sent a team of servants – piper, maids, shepherd, smith – to the henhouse to carry out her order. There was a terrific battle in the henhouse before the servants could capture all the roosters and tie their beaks. The dancing that night went on and on and didn’t stop until noon the next day. The tune that sprang from this event is said to reflect the attempts to woo the birds with soft words, the initial low key reaction of the birds to the intrusion, followed by an explosion of concern that raised a storm of dust, noise and flying feathers from cackling hens, screeching roosters and screaming servants. Just another heather myth in the jungle of piobaireachd mythology. This particular tale could probably have its origin in the late 15th or 16th century when Assynt was still in the possession of the Lewis MacLeods.

Jack Lee rose to play the Earl of Ross’s March, a tune attributed to Donald Mor MacCrimmon. The hero it celebrates forfeited the earldom 87 years before Donald was born. A thought that comes to mind is whether this is one of the ancient tunes that may have grown over a period of time. It is not beyond credibility that Donald’s grandfather (Iain Odhar) or great grandfather (Findlay of the Plaid) may have composed the original melody that subsequent generations expanded until Donald put the final touches to the major tune we now know as the Earl of Ross’s March. Speculation about the unknown and unknowable can lead to wild surmises about things that never happened, but, the mind does have a tendancy to wander.

Andrew Lee played Grain in Hides and Corn in Sacks, followed by Edward McIlwaine with Lament for Mary MacLeod and Alex Galloway with MacLeod of Raasay’s Salute.

The next meeting of the Club will be Friday, December 9th at the home of Jack and Christine Lee. This is the Club’s traditional pre-Christmas meeting featuring the children. Details and map to follow in the fullness of time.