November 30, 2010

Oldest Highland pipe chanter comes home to Scotland’s National Piping Centre

The oldest Highland bagpipe chanter known to exist, a 17th century instrument that belonged to the great composer Iain Dall MacKay, has returned to Scotland after many years in Canada after the MacKay-Sinclair family of Nova Scotia decided that the piece should have a new home in Glasgow at the National Piping Centre’s museum.


The chanter has been handed down through eight generations of the MacKay family, finally ending up with brothers Donald and Michael Sinclair. The Sinclairs handed over the chanter a special ceremony at the National Piping Centre, whose museum is run by National Museums Scotland, curated by the well known piping historian, Hugh Cheape.


“There’s great scholarship in piping associated with the museum and we felt that it would be a good location for the chanter to be seen and appreciated by young pipers,” said Michael Sinclair. “We hope that its story will inspire them in their piping schooling.”


Iain Dall MacKay (1656-1754) is considered one of the most important Highland pipers and composers, with as many as 30 piobaireachds attributed to him. Known as “The Blind Piper of Gairloch,” he was taught by the MacCrimmons, and one of his sons, John Roy MacKay, immigrated to Nova Scotia in 1805, taking the chanter with him.


“We are delighted that the Iain Dall MacKay chanter is to be housed in the Museum of Piping in The National Piping Centre,” said Roddy MacLeod, director of the National Piping Centre. “Iain Dall MacKay was a hugely significant figure for piping and his compositions are regularly performed in competitions to this day. It is incredible to think that classics such as ‘Lament for Patrick Og MacCrimmon,’ ‘The Unjust Incarceration’ and ‘Corrienessan’s Salute’ are still to the fore and to imagine that the chanter that he played them on perhaps for the first time is here for piping enthusiasts to look at  and to learn from is just fantastic.”


  1. Exellent idea Piperjde! I sincerely hope, if they have not already done so, make an exact replica(s) of the chanter, so that we might hear the sound produced, much as they have with some of the old highland violins. I, and I’m sure others would love to hear the sound from such an old instrument, even though I suspect that it would require special reeding. Several years ago I bought an original Angus Mackay Piobaireachd Collection. The old piper that sold it to me, also gave me a reed, that he claimed, was made for him, by Johm MacColl. The blades are much longer than the present day chanter reed. Hence, a much flatter sound, probably closer to A” than the “B Flat” and higher than we hear today. I suspect that the old chanter to be of this ilk. I suspect that that is why our music of today is written in “A”

  2. Does anyone know if the College of Piping (in PEI) still has their ridiculously old set of pipes that was donated to them back in 99? I remember them being the most god awfull looking set I had ever seen. Chanter about the same size around as a McDonalds coke cup

  3. I would enjoy seeing exact copies of this chanter produced and made available to pipers. Imagine capturing the feel and sound of pipe music as it was played several hundred years ago. What a tremendous gift.

  4. PiperTom1, exact copies have been available for at least five years from Goodacre. This is obviously a controversial subject, but I don’t think the majority of pipers understand all the ramifications of the move. [Edited] Wasn’t the chanter home in Cape Breton, where the bearer’s of a Gaelic tradition made a home after being cleared from their home in Scotland to make way for sheep?

  5. I am truly appalled that an artifact of this significance has been sent back to Scotland. I can’t help wondering how Iain Dall, and his son Iain MichAoidh would feel about sending the chanter back to the country that cleared their clansmen. I’m sure that they must be turning in the grave. The infamous Patrick Sellar, who so ruthlessly, cleared and burned Sutherland, must be down below laughing! However, how many pipers in Canada knew of its existence? Where in Canada could we display it, so that many pipers, and non pipers could view it? Our country is so large that it is impossible to pick a central location. Hence, the National Piping Centre is probably the best place for it. It might be time to have a Canadian National Piping Centre.

  6. It is better to display an artefact in a museum where many can view it alongside similar and related items than to have it in the possession of private owner(s) where it may come to harm or even disappear. The fantastic story that accompanies this particlular one makes it all the more interesting as a display item and worthy of preservation and display. And I’m sure that the original owner wouldn’t mind sharing what was once simply a personal possession (think of how many chanters that you have or had and where are they now?”…) of no special significance with many others who would see it with such reverance.”

  7. Maybe, Ian is having the last laugh, as he is forever honored and displayed in the country that ran him off? I would love to see an old style contest with the premier players. Sort of how the NHL, has the classic played out doors, or how Tony Stewert runs the open wheel drit track race in Nascar for charity. It would be amazing to see what the top players of our time would make of a tune with only an ancient instrument, and ancient tools too work with (i.e. hemp or bees wax for tape, and cane reeds) only allowing them to have a modern reed maker make them the chanter reed? Piping Centre…be on top of this.



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