January 31, 2008

Rare piobaireachd manuscripts to be available online

Dr. William Donaldson, author of the seminal Set Tunes Series on pipes|drums and The Highland Pipe & Scottish Society, has worked with the National Library of Scotland to make four classic and rare piobaireachd manuscripts available online.

Scanned versions and complete indices to four manuscripts will be online:

  • Angus MacKay (pictured right) – compiled 1830-’50, containing approximately 200 tunes.
  • David Glen – published circa 1907, with 191 tunes.
  • Peter Reid – 1826. Forty-three tunes in the MacArthur style.
  • Colin Campbell’s Instrumental Book, 1797 – the “Nether Lorn “Campbell Canntaireachd” compiled by Colin Mór Campbell. Two volumes of 169 tunes, 70 of which are not recorded elsewhere

With the permission of the National Library of Scotland, the works will be made available at and Ceol Sean CDs for free access. According to advance information provided to pipes|drums, the Library stipulated “strict non-commercial conditions” for their use.

The National Library of Scotland owns the four manuscripts, and the online versions of the manuscripts will be supervised by Donaldson.

“This is a great step for piobaireachd enthusiasts the world over,” said Donaldson. “These important documents are primary sources for the piobaireachd tradition, but they have long been almost inaccessible to the performer community. They provide piobaireachd players with a major tool in deciding how they will play the tunes. Unfortunately, there are more such manuscripts that remain in private hands, available for consultation only at considerable expense or by in-person viewing at the National Library of Scotland.”

The works will appear indexed to Donaldson’s “Index of Piobaireachd Manuscripts,” a list of settings from 18 manuscripts. Notes to the tunes will also be available, with the actual documents comprising scans of the originals grouped into pages for faster download.


  1. This is great news and it shows the tangible benefit in having tax payers money funding institutions like the National Library of Scotland. What a shame it would have been if these manuscripts had been hidden away in a private collection somewhere! My personal feeling though is it’s rather disappointing that the only download locations are commercial websites. How much nicer if downloads had been available on people power” sites like

  2. They are up on already. The index is hyperlinked so you can look up the tune and click on its MS listing and it will bring up the tune (only works on the 4 MSS online obviously). This will save you scrolling through page after page of illegibly titled MS. I haven’t given them a thorough inspection but I did find it interesting that in the Angus MacKay setting of Lament For Mary MacLeod that the E cadences are noted out fully and the timing fits with the contemporary style of playing that cadence. The timing of these cadences has been an issue of debate bought up by both William Donaldson and Allan MacDonald. I shall have to do more research to see if the case of this tune is an anomaly.

  3. Chris: First thing I want to do is clarify that access to and downloading of these manuscripts on and Ceol Sean CDs is free of charge. I think as time goes on you’ll see resources like this more available on more locations. Once the owners of the documents are willing to make them public — as the NLS has been — then it’s anybody’s ball game. One thing about ‘commercial’ websites, is that the owners are accustomed to working their tails off for no guarantee of return, and that’s exactly what Dr. Donaldson, Steve Scaife and I were willing to do — particularly Dr. Donaldson, who personally scanned every single page of every single manuscript before turning them over to Steve and I to organize and set up. Our small team put in countless hours. Aside from that, both sites posting the manuscripts are devoted specifically to the accurate dissemination of pipe music, so it seems appropriate that the documents be posted there. The sites you mention are largely news and information sites. Indeed that’s exactly how the news that these manuscripts are available is getting out and that’s why we’re having this discussion here. That seems appropriate as well. Cheers, Jim



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