May 31, 2010

Willie MacDonald (Benbecula), 1927-2010

We are sad to report the passing of William MacDonald of Benbecula at the age of 82. He had been in failing health for some time.

Willie MacDonald was one of the great pipers of the 20th century. Born at Glasgow’s Stobhill Hospital on December 5, 1927, to Hebridean parents and, due to the early death of his mother and his father serving overseas in the military, he was brought up in Benbecula by his grandparents. That island’s name became synonymous with his own in piping circles so as to differentiate him from other William MacDonalds.

His father was Donald-James MacDonald, who was Pipe-Major of the 1st Highland Light Infantry. Willie MacDonald enlisted in the HLI as a teenager with his first overseas posting being Palestine. He also had tours of duty in Egypt, Cyprus, Portugal, Germany and England. When the HLI disbanded in 1958 he left the army, but re-enlisted to join the Cameron Highlanders.

MacDonald’s first teachers included Lachlan Ban MacCormick, who composed, among many other tunes, “The South Uist Golf Club.” In the military MacDonald was taught by P-M Frank Kennedy HLI, P-M Joe MacGrady HLI, and P-M Donald MacLeod. MacDonald had occasional lessons from John MacDonald (Inverness).

Willie MacDonald contends that he learned most from P-M Willie Ross when he was on his Pipe-Majors course at Edinburgh Castle.

Although not a frequent competitor, he won the Highland Society of London’s Gold Medal at the Northern Meeting in 1965 playing “The Vaunting,” and went on to add the Argyllshire Gathering Gold Medal in 1967 with “Mary’s Praise.” He won the Clasp at Inverness in 1967, and the Senior Piobaireachd at Oban in 1969 and 1973 with “Donald Gruamach’s March.” He won the Dunvegan Medal in 1956 playing “The Duke of Hamilton’s Salute.”

In light music he was equally adept, winning, among many other awards the Jig competition at the Northern Meeting in 1967 and 1972.

After his competing year, Willie MacDonald served frequently as an adjudicator of many piping competitions, returning to both the Argyllshire Gathering and the Northern Meeting to be on the other side of the table.

He is survived by his son Roderick “R.S.” MacDonald and daughter Isobel MacDonald. Funeral arrangements are to be confirmed.

On behalf of the piping and drumming world, our sympathies go out to Willie MacDonald’s family and many friends at this sad time.


  1. An astonishingly gifted and musical player and great fun to be with. Judging with Willie was always an opportunity to learn something, and like the best completely open minded. And what a great highland accent!



Forgotten Password?