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The Bagpipes in the Highlands

The Bagpipes

Now generally acknowledged as the national musical instrument, bagpipes are of uncertain origin. Already in use in 14C Scotland they developed from the original one drone instrument to the modern example of three drones, chanter and blow stick (mouthpiece). Bagpipe music is unquestionably a Scottish art be it the eeo! mor (big or great music) or eeo! beag (small or light music).

The latter, more recent and common, covers the lighter music for marching and dancing (strathspeys and reelsl. The older or classical music of the bagpipes is known as Piobairochd (Pibroch). Many towns, police departments and Highland regiments have pipe bands which muster for Highland Gatherings and visitor entertainment. The best known are the Muirhead and Shotts, Dykehead, Glasgow and Edinburgh City Police Bands. Clan chiefs usually maintained a personal piper.

This tradition has given such legendary piping families as the hereditary MacCrimmons of the MacLeods and the MacArthurs. The earliest piping competitions were held at the annual Falkirk Tryst in 1781 at a time when a Highlander could still be penalised for wearing the kilt or playing that warlike instrument, the bagpipes.

The Northern Meeting Piping Competitions, Inverness and the Argyllshire Gathering, Oban, are the venues for today's piping competitions Spoken Gaelic. - Although on the decline there were 79 307 speakers in 1981 representing 1.6 % of the resident population. The majority of Gaelic speakers are bilingual. As a living language Gaelic continues to flourish in the North West Highlands, the Hebrides where 76 % of the population are Gaelic speakers and Skye (58 %). Outside these regions Glasgow has a pocket of Gaelic speakers. One of the oldest European languages and a Celtic one, Scottish Gaelic is akin to the Irish version.

The Gaeldom culture has given much that is distinctive to Scotland (tartans, kilt, bagpipes, and music. An Comunn Gaidhealach with its headquarters in Inverness promotes the use of Gaelic, its literature and music and organizes an annual festival, the Mod of Gaelic song and poetry.

The place of friendship

The Royal National Mod is Scotland's premier Gaelic festival, held every October at a different location in Scotland. The festival is competition-based celebrating the Gaelic language and culture through music, dance, drama, arts and literature.

First held in 1892, the Mod is now the second largest festival in Scotland attracting visitors and competitors from the UK, Ireland, Australia, Canada and the USA. It provides a major economic and cultural boost to the host area and attracts considerable national and international publicity.

Whilst the Mod is a competitive event it also provides the opportunity for Gaels and non-Gaels to gather and renew old friendships and forge new ones. It has evolved organically, responding to changes in the Gaelic world and acting as an incentive for individuals and groups to develop their talents in the public arena. Over the past century, the Mod has been a significant cohesive element in keeping the Gaelic community together.

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