Famous Stornoway bagpipes on show at Donald MacLeod competition

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A historic set of bagpipes with a special Stornoway provenance will be on show for piping enthusiasts to see and hear at this year’s Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE Memorial Competition, taking place this Friday (April 5) in the Caladh Hotel, Stornoway.

The set to be showcased are connected to another famous Stornoway piping son, as well as to Pipe Major Donald MacLeod himself, and they will be played during a break in the competition proceedings later in the afternoon.

These are pipes that were owned by John Morrison of Assynt House in Stornoway, having been made in 1843, and John Morrison himself was one of the most important influences on Donald MacLeod’s early piping career. John Morrison of Assynt House was immortalised in a tune composed for him by another well-known piper from Lewis, Peter R MacLeod Senior originally from Uig in Lewis, but who lived most of his life in Partick, Glasgow.

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John Morrison’s pipes from 1843 had been made by Donald MacKay who was piper to the Duke of Sussex at Kensington Palace 1834-1843. He was the brother of Angus MacKay, the first piper to Queen Victoria.

The Lewis and Harris Piping Society.The Lewis and Harris Piping Society.
The Lewis and Harris Piping Society.

Amazingly this set of pipes is still in playing order, with a pipe chanter made by John Ban MacKenzie (1796-1864), and they are now owned by Mrs Tabby Angier who will kindly be bringing them to Stornoway for the competition, which she regularly attends. Stuart Liddell, one of the eight pipers taking part in this year’s invitational competition, will play them in the afternoon.

Copies of an article detailing the provenance of the pipes, by Jeannie Campbell MBE, Retired Curator, Museum of Piping, Glasgow, and another article about John Morrison by Malcolm Macdonald of Stornoway Historical Society will be available at the competition for anyone who wishes to find out more.

Piping Society chairman Dr John Smith said: “It’s amazing that a set of pipes that are nearly 200 years old are still in playing order, in particular a set of pipes that were once played by a man who was immortalised by the tune that was composed for him.

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“Peter R MacLeod composed a lot of tunes, many of them unpublished, and there’s scope there to maybe try to publish more of his music. But of equal importance, however, is the man who is being commemorated at the competition and John Morrison of Assynt House was a very important influence on Donald MacLeod in his early career. It’s also of poignant relevance because Assynt House is only 50 yards from where the competition is being held.”

Dr Smith said the featuring of a particular set of pipes had “never happened before” at the competition, adding: “We’re very grateful to the owner of the pipes, Mrs Tabby Angier, who offered to bring them to the competition as she thought they would be of interest to piping enthusiasts.

“I think it will be very exciting to hear them being played. We are aware that the chanter pitch may have changed over the years and the authentic drones of nearly 200 years ago will be very interesting to hear.”

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