June 30, 2002

Easdale, Argyllshire, Scotland

Argyllshire, on Scotland’s west coast, is rich with piping history. Among the historic sites is the village of Easdale, a serene and remote village just south of Oban. In some respects, it is the cradle of canntaireachd, the vocal depiction of piobaireachd, which was standardized into written form by Colin Mór Campbell.

Piping historian Dr. William Donaldson kindly provided the following piece to accompany our photo.

The district of Easdale, 16 miles south west of Oban, was home to Colin Mór Campbell, whose Netherlorn Canntaireachd is the largest early collection of ceòl mór. Easdale island is today a car-free holiday retreat, lying just off the neighbouring island of Seil, which is itself reached from the mainland by the famous hump-backed “Bridge over the Atlantic.”

The islands of Easdale and neighbouring Ellenabeich were opened up for commercial slate quarrying in 1744, by Campbell of Carwhin, factor of the western portion of the vast Breadalbane estates and heir to the Breadalbane earldom. He lived at Ardmaddie House across the Sound of Seil, where his son John, the 4th Earl, was born and latterly preferred to live, rather than at the family’s other—much grander—home at Taymouth in Perthshire. The quarries prospered mightily, under the direction of the brilliant engineer John Whyte, whose son was the piping historian Henry Whyte—’Fionn’, (1852-1913)—who spent his childhood in the house that is now Inshaig Park Hotel. By 1861 the population of the district had grown to 3000; Oban’s was 600.

The earliest account of Colin Mór’s family, probably originating with Angus MacKay, says:

“The first of whom there is an authenticated account was Donald who was sent by Colin Campbell of Corwhin [written elsewhere as ‘Carwhin’ or ‘Carwin’] to take lessons from Patrick òg MacCrummen in Skye. He remained with him a considerable time and was esteemed a performer of merit, as was his son Caillan Mòr or Great Colin, whose son John, late piper to W. F. Campbell, Esq., of Shawfield and Isla, was also an excellent piper.”

Colin Mór is thought to have succeeded his father as piper, first to Carwhin and then to John, 4th Earl of Breadalbane. His Canntaireachd MS. seems to have comprised three volumes containing well over two hundred tunes. One volume was taken by his son, John, in 1818 to the Highland Societies’ Edinburgh competitions where it was bought, and then lost, by Sir John MacGregor Murray. The other two remained with the family, passing to Miss Ann Campbell of Oban who sold them in 1909 to John Bartholomew of Glenorchard, a member of the music committee of the Piobaireachd Society. Bartholomew lent them to J. P. Grant who set himself to master the system with the assistance of John MacDonald of Inverness.

The Nether Lorn Canntaireachd quotations in the Piobaireachd Society’s Collection (second series), are not a reliable guide to Colin Mór’s music. But in the 1950s J. P. Grant (by this time President of the Piobaireachd Society) tried to publish the whole collection. He sought help from Francis Collinson of the School of Scottish Studies and R. L. Lorimer of the publisher Oliver & Boyd, who both felt their knowledge insufficient. He then consulted Pipe-Major R.U. Brown of Balmoral, who was enthusiastic, but limited by his employment as gamekeeper on the royal estates. The project finally fell through when the manuscript’s owner raised difficulties and the Royal Celtic Society withdrew sponsorship.

The sweet and subtle settings of the Netherlorn Canntaireachd are currently available in the original manuscript, now in the National Library of Scotland (MSS. 3714-5), and in microfilm at the library of the University of Aberdeen.


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