War or Peace

The folks over at Pipes|Drums published a link to Jack Lee performing “War or Peace”, a tune used at Archnacarray in 1745 to send the general alarm to the combined Jacobite forces under “Spanish” John Macdonnell that an impending (and unexpected) attack was imminent.

[How do we know this? Macdonnell wrote about this in his memoirs!  It is the earliest, direct documentary evidence we have of the role of the GHB as a means of military signals that we have.  It is also the earliest record we have of this tune as a military call.]

We hope you will enjoy Jack Lee’s  performance!



5 thoughts on “War or Peace

  1. If ‘Cogaidh no Sidh’ was a military call in 1746 for the remnant of the Jacobite army, it might be presumed there were other tunes used for similar signalling. What might these have been?
    A look at the Argyllshire Fencibles’ list of duty tunes also contains ‘A Glas Mheur’ (The Finger Lock), used for Reveille, a possible candidate.

  2. The setting Jack Lee plays here is from the 2011 Piobaireachd Society tune list. A PDF can be downloaded here.

    Barnaby Brown demonstrates an interpretation on YouTube.com that seems to reflect Peter Reid’s MS. Search YouTube using: Visual Canntaireachd 2: Cogadh na Sidh

    Barnaby has also posted his interpretation, both canntaireachd and played, at Triplepipe.net.

    It has been suggested, from the fatalistic lyrics demonstrated by George Moss, that this may have been a soldier’s drinking song. It is reputedly quite old, and may date to a time when pipers were influenced by the learned bardic tradition. Considering the classical allusions that crop up in late 17th century Gaelic verse, such as the Grameid (a tribute to the Aeneid of Virgil), I wonder if the title may be a reference to the early scene in Livy’s War with Hannibal, in which Quintus Fabius Maximus, as Roman emissary to Carthage’s senate, raises the two corners of his toga, saying “I hold in my hands war or peace–Choose!” and flings the toga at the senators, who rise to their feet an a man shouting “War!”

    1. This interesting reference to The Grameid implies that it is ‘late 17th century Gaelic verse’, when in fact it is a Latin poem written by a Mr. Philip; eg



      BELLA Caledonios civiliaque arma per agros ^
      Instructasque acies, variisque horrentia signis
      Agmina, et horriferae canimus certamina pugnae,
      Magnanimumque Ducem, pulso pro Rege cientem
      Arma, acresque viros, ipsumque in saeva ruentem
      Vulnera, terribilemque in belli pulvere Gramum
      Ingentemque heroem animis armisque potentem,
      Pangimus et saeclis Mavortia facta futuris.

      So, it is unlikely to be the source of the title of the Gaelic song ‘Cogaidh no Sidh’.

      In general, lowland Scots had little or no appreciation of Gaelic, which they considered barbarous and deserving of extinction. And Gaels generally did not read, in those days.

  3. Dear Mr, Smith,

    Thank you for injecting a degree of factual evidence and indeed common sense on this topic. The proposition that Quintus Fabius Maximus provided the inspiration for Cogaidh no Sidh is a step too far. Especially for an Elephant.


    1. How interesting that you should mention an elephant; it is recorded in The Annals of Innisfallen that in the year 1105AD King Edgar of Scotland gave an elephant to the King of Ireland. Sadly, no record, musical or otherwise, exists of it before or after this point. However, an imaginative account of its arrival can be perused here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/93126

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