Book Reviews

A Collection of the Ancient Martial Music of Caledonia – Piobaireach by Donald Macdonald, 1882.                                     

This well-known collection, on which more modern books have been founded, is now reprinted and is available in a fine coat with very good reproduction of the original notation of the tunes. The foreword by Seumas MacNeill, Principal of the College of Piping, gives a full account of the author and his work, which I found most interesting.

The first piper to write down the tunes in staff notation was another MacDonald – Joseph who worked in 1760 before the ban on the playing of the bagpipe was lifted. This release came in 1782, and in 1803 Joseph’s work was published. Donald MacDonald, who was the son of John MacDonald, herdsman to Kingsburgh, was born in 1749 and spent his early life in N. Skye where he must have come under the influence of the last of the MacArthurs of Peingown, hereditary pipers to Macdonald of Sleat. Charles, last of that family, was Lord Macdonald’s piper until 1800. Donald must have known Alan of Kingsburgh and his famous wife, Flora: and he may well have attended Flora’s funeral and perhaps played a lament there in 1790.

The staff notation replaced the old system of canntaireachd used by the MacCrimmons and MacArthurs and still used at times. But that old system had its limitations, and Joseph, Donald and Angus MacKay after them, rightly decided that staff was the best method of recording tunes in book form.

This is a book any piper studying Ceol Mor should own. There are 22 tunes, some with many variations rarely played now, and many of interest to Clan Donald. (D.J.M.)

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The Clan Ranald of Lochaber – A History of the MacDonalds Or MacDonells of Keppoch by Norman H. MacDonald FSA Scot.

A valuable little book packed with details of the lives of the chiefs of Keppoch from Alasdair Carrach of the 14th century to the last known chief who died in 1848. Stories and legends, with the authorities and sources in the text to save looking up footnotes or appendices. For example, the truth of the Keppoch murder and its sequel; the doings of Coll of the Cows; and other new light on the romantic history of the Keppoch MacDonalds. We hope it will be followed by more such short handbooks on the branches of Clan Donald as they will meet enquiries from overseas which are difficult to answer, because the better known books on the subject are out of print. (D.J.M.)

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The Troublesome MacDonalds by Angus McDonald.

In this selective history by an American Clansman the author has attempted to cram as much MacDonald history as he can into some 204 pages of narrative – no easy task. He has written his history in the form of a story to be easily digested by all his readers and although written in an American idiom. With a Trans-Atlantic public in view, the book should also appeal to Clansmen and Highlanders throughout the world.

Carefully combining fact and tradition, the author at times becomes deliberately controversial. He boldly states what he considers to be the reasons for the decline of MacDonald influence and the rise of the Campbells in the West Highlands. Heroes, villians and prominent battles from the days of the mighty Somerled in the Middle Ages down to Flora MacDonald and the Forty-Five are dealt with at length.  (N.H.M.)

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The Curries of Cowal, A History of the District by William Currie of Balilone.

This booklet of some 22 pages, with illustrations and the music of Macilwham’s pipe-tune “The MacMhuirrich” is principally about the family of John MacMhuirrich of Garrochoran, but it is set in the context of interesting information about Curries and other families in Cowal.

It appears that his ancestry traces back to the great MacMhuirrich family of bards and historians, his own particular branch having been in Kintyre until this lordship passed from Clan Donald to Clan Campbell under Gilleasbuig Gruamach, 7th Earl of Argyll. In 1616 the head of this house went to Balilone (in Ireland) from which his successors took their territorial designation.

May I conclude with one suggestion? This is the kind of booklet which will be of special interest to Curries in many parts of the world who have, or think they have connections with Cowal. It would be a service it Mr Currie would sometime collect in a separate paper – for publication perhaps in Clan Donald Magazine? – all the names mentioned, indicating when possible their relationships, and giving the documentary references which could be useful for further genealogical research. (W.D.L.)