Notes of discord after legendary piper's chanter finds its way to Scotland

A PRICELESS 17th century musical artefact that once belonged to one of Scotland's most revered pipers has returned to its native land after more than two centuries in exile in Canada.

But the homecoming of the bagpipe chanter once played by the legendary Blind Piper of Gairloch has led to a discordant note being sounded by piping enthusiasts in the New World, who believe that its move back to the Old Country is illegal.

To lovers of pipe music, the remains of Iain Dall MacKay of Gairloch's instrument represents a remarkable link to a golden age of Gaelic culture.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Of huge interest to musicolo-gists, the chanter has been examined and copied in attempts to recreate the sound produced by MacKay. But it is his descendants' decision to donate the chanter to the National Museum of Scotland that has caused anger in Canada.

Dr John G Gibson, a piping scholar based in Cape Breton and the author of Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping 1745-1945, believes that the transfer of the chanter has broken Canadian heritage law.

Gibson has taken legal advice and is hopeful that he will be able to repatriate the instrument.

"For us to lose this relic is a tragedy in piping and cultural terms. And in fact, I believe, it is against the law," Gibson said. "There is a Cultural Property Import and Export Act and this is part of the heritage of Canada. I have spoken to lawyers in Canada and Scotland on this. Perhaps we could come to a deal between the two countries that would see it lent to Scotland."

Gibson's views, however, are not shared by MacKay's family and on St Andrew's Day this Tuesday, they will present the chanter to the National Piping Centre. The most recent owner, Michael Sinclair, said: "It has been looked after by our family for a long time but there's great scholarship in piping associated with the museum and we felt that it would be a good location for the chanter to be seen and appreciated by young enthusiasts."

MacKay (c 1656 - c 1754) was not only a piper, but also a Gaelic bard, who accompanied his poetic songs on the harp.

But it is his compositions of piobaireachd or ceol mor, the classical music of the Highland bagpipe, that has established his reputation as one of the finest pipers that has ever lived. His chanter, the part of the bagpipe that pipers finger to produce the melody notes that harmonise against the drones, was passed down to his descendants, who emigrated to Canada.

A spokesman for National Museums Scotland said: "The donation of the chanter came about entirely at (Michael Sinclair's] instigation. It was an unsolicited and wholly unexpected gift, albeit a very welcome one for which we are extremely grateful."