March 2020 (Vol. 43, Number 09)
The Banner Says…
Bagpipes-The world’s instrument
This month we can’t go past mentioning March 10th
and International Bagpipe Day. Anywhere across the
world the bagpipe is synonymous with Scotland.
Love them or hate them (who could?), bagpipes are
considered the national instrument of Scotland.
However, they truly are a global instrument with historians believing they can be traced back to Egypt and introduced into Scotland by Roman armies. Others have looked at the possibility of them originating in Ireland. The then powerful Emperor of Rome from A.D. 54, Nero, was said to be quite a skilled piper. What is certain however is that ancient bagpipes have existed in various forms in a variety of places around the world for many years.
The pipe band movement flourishes across the world today with bands across Europe, Asia, North America, the South Pacific, Africa, South America and the Middle East. Interestingly, some Celtic regions have individual national versions adapted to suit their own unique sound. For example, the Scottish Highland pipes are the loudest, and most played in large pipe bands worldwide. However, in Ireland, the quieter uilleann pipes are
more popular, in French Brittany they favour the binou and in the Spanish Celtic regions of Asturias and Galicia, the local bagpipe is the gaita. It is thought that there are approximately 130 distinct varieties of bagpipes across the world.
Traditionally, bagpipes were made from the skin of a sheep or goat, turned inside out, with the pipes attached where the legs and neck would be.
Today you will find both synthetic and leather varieties available, with fans of each.
A weapon of war
Bagpipes were originally used on the battlefield. It is the only musical instrument in history that has ever deemed a ‘weapon of war’. The bagpipes have been banned twice in Scotland, once in 1560 and again in 1746. James Reid, a Scottish Jacobite piper, was hung by British authorities for having a bagpipe during the Battle of Culloden in 1746.
Incredibly there are stories of the brave pipers, who during WWI, climbed out of the trenches, unarmed, to play bagpipes for the Highland regiments going over the top and into battle. This remarkable feat earned the respect of German troops who dubbed them ‘Die Damen aus der Hölle’ or ‘Ladies From Hell’ due to the kilts worn and fighting spirit of the Scots.
More recently the then Mayor of London, and now Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, attempted to ban busking pipers in London as he felt the pipes were ‘annoying’. Though I am sure Londoners are still able to enjoy busking pipers across the city.
I was surprised to hear from a US reader recently who advised his local McDonald’s restaurant in Sacramento, California blasted bagpipe music to ward off homeless people from outside its restaurant, which led to many complaints by residents. Some readers however may just think that is the best thing to go on the menu!
In this issue
The sound of Scotland made its way recently across the Atlantic Ocean as three Scottish brothers rowed their way into the record books. Ewan, Jamie, and Lachlan Maclean
rowed across the Atlantic Ocean to help raise money for two Scottish charities. A set of pipes travelled with them as they faced a variety of challenges and whilst doing so became the first three brothers, the fastest and the youngest trio to row across the Atlantic Ocean. We are fortunate to catch up with the Jamie, who happens to be the piper of the trio, and perhaps we can add a fourth record for the only set of pipes to be rowed across the Atlantic as well?
Another mode of transportation altogether different is rail. 298 years ago, Scotland’s very first railway was taking shape. In 1722 transporting both coal and salt was an important business. The Wagonway track connected the coal pits in Tranent to salt pans in Cockenzie and harbour at Port Seton. The recent discovery of the remains of Scotland’s first railway
is considered as one of the most important Scottish archaeological discoveries lately.
We also examine the Highland/ Lowland divide: what it is, when in history it really got ingrained in people’s consciousness, what makes the Highlands the Highlands and the Lowlands the Lowlands, and what, historically, people of the Lowlands had to say about those in the Highlands and vice versa. We look at some cultural, geographical, and historical insights and bust some myths.
March is of course always a month we share in the celebrations taking place with our Celtic cousins. Wales, Cornwall and Ireland will mark celebrations this month. We have so many common connections with these places through language, music, food and literature we can easily slip into their celebrations, as they can slip into ours.
I have no doubt bagpipes will play at events for these national days. For many, a
St. Patrick’s Day parade would not be complete without the sound of bagpipes. Proving the global appeal of the pipes, and how it really is an instrument that connects us all.
Enjoy your March!
Do you enjoy the pipes? Do you have a bagpipe related story or are you celebrating one of the Celtic celebrations taking place in March?
Share your story with us by email, post, social media or at: www.scottishbanner.com/contact-us