Story of Lewis Pipe Band establishment

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The Lewis Pipe Band are currently undertaking fundraising in order to attend the World Pipe Band Championships this August.

As part of their efforts to fund their participation in the championships the Pipe Band continues their series of fundraising events with a concert in An Lanntair, Stornoway on April 23rd, to showcase the musical talents of the Band themselves, as well as a wealth of other local musical talent.

The Band, as one of Stornoway’s oldest community organisations, is a registered charity and relies entirely on public support.

This week we took a look through our archives and discovered this feature from our sister title ‘Back in the Day’ (from June 2006) about the history of the organisation.

Pipe Band History

On the 5th of July 1904, a group of piping enthusiasts called a meeting in Stornoway to consider the formation of a Pipe Band.

After some discussion the meeting agreed to bring the Lewis Pipe band into existence, with a complement of six pipers and three drummers.

Today, over a hundred years later, the Lewis Pipe Band is still going strong as one of the oldest of its kind in Scotland and, until recently, one of the only independent Bands in the north.

The band first wore Hunting Stewart Tartan (Royal Stewart from 1926) and Matheson Badges presented by Major Duncan Matheson of Lews Castle. The tunics were bottle green. Each Band member paid 6d (2.5p) per week to Band funds.

From the beginning the Band’s Constitution stated that no charge would be made for their services. This clause is still in the Constitution today although donations are very welcome.

One of the Band’s first engagements was to entertain the blue jackets of the Home fleet when it called at Stornoway on a courtesy visit in October 1904. The Band’s first public concert took place on the 31st December 1904.

A strange entry for two shillings was noted in the Balance Sheet of the Pipe Band in 1908. The money was for ‘a pair of pants for Piper D. Murray to wear under his kilt’.

Over the years, except during the two World Wars, the Band appeared at all notable events and occasions.

In the 1920s and early 30s, the band paraded on Monday evenings. At this time the herring curing and kippering trade was in full swing. Several members of the Band were employed in this trade and as Monday was their half-day, parades were arranged for their convenience.

By the mid 1960s the Band was in a fragile state with few playing members and the uniforms and equipment were past their best. Under the auspices of the local Rotary club a determined attempt was made to resurrect the Pipes & Drums.

An ingenious scheme was thought up where employees in Stornoway were asked to contribute 6d (2.5p) per week from their wages. Almost everyone agreed to this and Norman MacDonald along with Donnie ‘Leody’ MacLeod went round the businesses every Friday to collect the money and within 6 months there were sufficient funds to purchase 21 uniforms, four sets of pipes, three side, two tenor and one bass drum at a total cost of £1,740.

The cost of the 21 uniforms (£1,345) was £338 less than the cost of one Piper’s uniform today.

The re-formed Band first paraded on Saturday 25th June 1966.

In addition to the 6d weekly collection, the Band received donations from individuals and local businesses. One very generous benefactor was Bain, Morrison & Co, Timber Merchants.

A family member, John Morrison, Assynt House, was a founder member of the old Band. He later became Treasurer and was well known in the Piping world.

To mark his life-long association with the Band, the committee chose Ancient Morrison as their new tartan. The Morrison crest was chosen for the Band’s cap, badge and plaid brooch.

The Band’s Latin motto – Praetio, Prudentia, Prestat – translates to ‘Wisdom is Beyond Price’.

Whilst on parade, the Band carries some ceremonial items of local interest.

Pipe Major John M. MacDonald of the Rhodesian regiment presented the Drum Major’s sash to the Band in 1935.

He was a member of the MacDonald family of Stoneyfield farm, near Stornoway, and later in life became Mayor of Bulawayo.

The sash carries the crests of Bulawayo, the Burgh of Stornoway, the Seaforths and the 2nd Rhodesian Regiment.

The ornate embroidery is on silk using gold and silver wire.

In 1993 the Stornoway Round Table funded the cost of restoring this historic asset.

The local branch of the Royal British Legion presented the present Drum Major’s Mace to the Band in 1993.

It replaced the original mace, which dated from 1926 when the Band’s first Drum Major, Alex Murray, was appointed.

The Pipe Major’s pipes were gifted to the Band in the late 1960s and are full ivory mounted.

In 1998 a donation from the family of the late Pipe Major, Angus ‘Boxer’ MacLeod was used to refurbish the pipes and add silver tuning slides.

A silver plaque commemorates Angus, his brother, Pipe Major Donald ‘Dotts’ MacLeod MBE, 8 times Gold Medal winner, and their father, Pipe Major Angus Doyle MacLeod. All were playing members of the Lewis Pipe Band.

Bain, Morrison & Co. presented the Pipe Major’s Banner in 1970. It is of blue silk, backed with Band tartan, and carries the embroidered Band crest and the initials J.M.

The Pipe and Drum Majors and Sergeants carry highland dirks, of which, the Majors are more ornate and incorporate a small knife and fork.

They were purchased after donations from two well known ‘Stornowegian’ families – Johnny ‘Lux’ MacLean, Band Secretary for 36 years, and John ‘The Chemist’ MacDonald, a long serving committee member. Both were Honorary Life Members.

Kenny Sutherland, ‘Mine Host’ at the Lewis Bar, presented the Sergeants dirks. All dirks are appropriately engraved.

The Bass and tenor drummers all wear leopard skins, two of which are imitation.

Of the three genuine skins, one has been with the band beyond living memory, committee member and Honorary Life Member, Jack Beaton presented one, and past Chairman and Band Quarter-Master, John MacQueen presented the last skin to the Band.

In July 2004 the Band celebrated their centenary with a weekend of events. On July 2nd a parade was held in Stornoway Town centre.

The following day, the Isle of Skye Pipe Band joined the celebrations with individual and joint performances. In the evening both Bands paraded in Tarbert, Isle of Harris.

Pictured are The Band in the Lews Castle Conservatory in 1905.

Pictured in 1904 is the Band’s first Pipe Major Charles Maciver and (right) John Morrison one of the founder members of the Lewis Pipe Band.

Pictured is the reformed Lewis Pipe Band on Cromwell Street Quay in 1966.

Pictured is the Band parading through Stornoway town centre on Carnival Day 2002.