1815-28 – The Canntaireachd of John MacCrimmon (AC & G)

This page presents sources of the canntaireachd of Iain Dubh MacCruimein (c.1731 – c.1822), grandson of the famous Pàdruig Òg. AC.1, AC.2 and G contain vocables for 22 pibrochs transcribed in full. GN contains historical notes on the 20 pibrochs in G. A narrative introduction is found under the Alphabetical and Numerical lists below.

AC.1 – Pioberach Dhomnuill Duibh, or The Cameron’s Gathering (PS 177). EUL ms La.II.51, ff 172r–176v.
On page 1, Alexander Campbell noted the words and melody of the song related to the pibroch. Immediately below this, the laird of Gesto wrote the following endorsement:

Gesto Sky 29th Septr 1815

On the following ten pages, is a genuine sett of the Camron’s Gathering in sylables as taught by the Mac Cremmens of Sky to their Pupils, as nearly as I could posibly write it from Mac Crummen’s repeating it, & first noted to the Pianoforte without the sylables by Miss Jean Campbell at Gesto, & now copied & noted down more sientifically in my presence by Alexr Campbell Editor of Albyn’s Anthology.
Niel Mac Leod J. P., Capn 1/Pay Indpts & M. H. S.

AC.2 – The Macgregors’ Gathering (PS 202). Stirling Archives, PD60 / Bundle 845.
The covering letter is signed ‘Alexr Campbell / Regaster House [Edinburgh] 25th July 1816.’ Alexander Campbell copied this pibroch from his own papers at the request of Sir John MacGregor Murray, chief of Clan MacGregor. It was discovered in 2008 by Keith Sanger while working through a MacGregor archive in Stirling.

GN – Remarks by Capt. N. McLeod on the pipe tunes published by him as far as he has been informed by the late John M’Crimmen piper Dunvegan, Isle of Skye. NLS ms Mus.D.s.138.
These 20 historical notes by Gesto are bound into a copy of G; they were probably written around the time of its publication in 1828. A slightly different version was printed in The Celtic Magazine VIII, No. XCIII (1883), pp. 434–435.

G  A Collection of Piobaireachd or Pipe Tunes, as verbally taught by the McCrummen pipers in the Isle of Skye, to their apprentices; now published, as taken from John McCrummen, piper to the old Laird of MacLeod and his grandson, the late General MacLeod of MacLeod, in the hope that these ancient relics may be thus preserved for future generations, and tend to keep up and foster that spirit which they have in former times, and are still so well calculated to excite.
First published in Edinburgh, 1828.

Alphabetical (source titles and spellings)

Donald Groumach G.9: 21, PS 102
Head of the little Bridge, The / Kiaunma Drochid a Beig G.12: 28, PS 169
I hiem dodin tra, hio drodin bodrie  G.15: 33, PS 246
Isabel Nich Kay G.16: 35, PS 32
Kiaunidize G.7: 16, PS 118
Kilchrist G.20: 41, PS 170
Lament, a / Caugh Vic Righ Aro G.14: 32, PS 245
Lament for King James having left the Crown of England and Scotland and going to France G.17: 37, PS 247
Lament for the Laird of Ainapole G.18: 38, PS 197
Lamentation for Donald McLeod of Greshernish G.8: 20, PS 231
Lamentation of Mac Vic Allister, commonly called Allister Dhu of Glengary, Esq. G.13: 30, PS 100
Lassan Phadrig Chiegch G.10: 25, PS 244
Luinagieh / Auiltich G.1: 1, PS 54
Marquis of Talibeardin’s Salute at Dunvegan Castle G.11: 26, PS 157
Macgregors’ Gathering, The AC.2  PS 202
McLeod Gesto’s Gathering / Mac Vic Horomoid G.4: 8, PS 16
McLeod Gesto’s Lamentation / Mac Vic Horomoid G.5: 10, PS 136
Pioberach Dhomnuill Duibh, or The Cameron’s Gathering AC.1, PS 170
Royal Oak that saved King Charles G.2: 4, PS 83
Tumilin o’Counichan, an Irish Tune G.19: 40, PS 124
Union of Scotland with England, The G.6: 13, PS 234
War or Peace, the True Gathering of the Clans G.3: 6, PS 204

Numerical (by number and page)

AC.1  PS 177 Pioberach Dhomnuill Duibh, or The Cameron’s Gathering
AC.2  PS 202 The Macgregors’ Gathering
G.1: 1  PS 54 Luinagieh / Auiltich
G.2: 4  PS 83 Royal Oak that saved King Charles
G.3: 6  PS 204 Coghiegh nha Shie, War or Peace, the True Gathering of the Clans
G.4: 8  PS 16 Mac Vic Horomoid / McLeod Gesto’s Gathering
G.5: 10  PS 136 Mac Vic Horomoid / McLeod Gesto’s Lamentation
G.6: 13  PS 234 The Union of Scotland with England
G.7: 16  PS 118 Kiaunidize
G.8: 20  PS 231 Lamentation for Donald McLeod of Greshernish
G.9: 21  PS 102 Donald Groumach
G.10: 25  PS 244 Lassan Phadrig Chiegch
G.11: 26  PS 157 Marquis of Talibeardin’s Salute at Dunvegan Castle
G.12: 28  PS 169 Kiaunma Drochid a Beig / the Head of the little Bridge
G.13: 30  PS 100 Lamentation of Mac Vic Allister, commonly called Allister Dhu of Glengary, Esq.
G.14: 32  PS 245 Caugh vic Righ Aro, a Lament
G.15: 33  PS 246 I hiem dodin tra, hio drodin bodrie
G.16: 35  PS 32 Isabel Nich Kay
G.17: 37  PS 247 Lament for King James having left the Crown of England and Scotland and going to France
G.18: 38  PS 197 Lament for the Laird of Ainapole
G.19: 40  PS 124 Tumilin o’Counichan, an Irish Tune
G.20: 41  PS 170 Kilchrist

Click here to download all the PDFs above


The sources AC.1, AC.2 and G contain canntaireachd vocables transcribed by Niel MacLeod of Gesto from Iain Dubh MacCruimein (John MacCrimmon) sometime before 1815. They are of unique importance because, unlike Colin Campbell’s notation, they capture what a master piper sang more or less verbatim. No other source is closer to pibroch’s leading teaching dynasty. Gesto made no attempt to render his written record more intelligible, for example by introducing a graphic means of distinguishing ho and ho when these are sung at different pitches (B and C). This approach contrasts with that of Colin Campbell, who found the written record of canntaireachd unsatisfactory and transformed vocables wholesale in pursuit of a scientific, unambiguous, graphic encoding of bagpipe fingering. The result is no longer canntaireachd in the sense of ‘singing’ but a silent notation system divorced from traditional vocabelising. The difference can be summed up as follows: Campbell’s notation serves the purpose of silent communication via pen and paper, whereas Gesto’s vocables serve the purpose of audible communication via the human voice.

There is no scribal interference in Gesto’s record of canntaireachd. In other words, he does not attempt to compensate graphically for the lack of audio; his vocables are perfectly adapted for the human tongue and ear and they clearly evolved in an oral medium. To judge them by the criteria of written notation is a mistake that intellectuals enamoured of writing have made consistently since 1815. Highland piping now pays the price of two centuries of misunderstanding: appreciation of Iain Dubh’s canntaireachd has been undermined by an intellectual culture that places writing on a pedestal and treats oral transmission as second class.

Gesto’s manuscript collection does not survive, only material drawn from it. The staff notation element of sources AC.1 and AC.2 appears to be an incompetent attempt to translate Gesto’s vocables and can be disregarded. The vocables below the staff, however, are of great value. Like source G, they represent Gesto’s best effort to capture Iain Dubh’s expressive vocabelising. As such, they add much to our understanding of the canntaireachd of master pipers in the eighteenth century and are one of pibroch’s most undervalued sources. A critical edition by Roderick Cannon, currently in press, will hopefully change this. I would go further than Cannon, however, by suggesting that the greatest value in these documents today lies not in what they tell us about Iain Dubh’s fingering, but rather in what they reveal about his singing – the craft of vocabelising pibroch.

Barnaby Brown, 17 May 2016

Note by Roderick Cannon (2008)