Scottish Travelling Folk Pipers

Travelling Folk Pipers - When did I first play the pipes is something I have thought about over the years. As a child of 10 years old a Travelling piper offered me a chance to blow on his pipes in Crieff, Perthshire. I did manage to get a sound out of them, although music was nowhere to be heard. However, it started me down a road and after many years the music appeared in my piping. So, maybe we could say my piping life was brought about by Travelling Folk!

There is a website about the history of Gypsies - Travelling Folk - Poetically known as 'The Summer Walkers" - in gaelic Ceàrdannan and luchd siubhail. Quote - The Gypsies of Scotland are part of a close-knit communal people who have a shared background, but are scattered throughout the world. Their origins have been the subject of controversy throughout the centuries, but in modern times, we have discovered, from research into their language, that the gypsies originated in Northern India, from whence they spread throughout Europe and the Middle East. No one knows when the first gypsies left India or, indeed, why........

As an indigenous group Highland Travellers have played an essential role in the preservation of traditional Gaelic culture. Travellers' outstanding contribution to Highland life has been as custodians of an ancient and vital singing, storytelling and folklore tradition of great importance.

Following some great information sharing on social media, we felt that we could tell some of the story as this blog post. This may be an article that people can help us expand. If you have any information and photos that you would like us to look at adding to the blog, please drop us an e-mail.

Notable pipers from Travelling Family roots

Pipe Major Alex Stewart - Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders ( Gordon Highlanders - 51st Highland Signals )

Three generations of Stewarts - Donald Stewart who was a big man of 6'2 " he served in the Boer war and WW1 - James Stewart ( Gordon Highlanders and RAMC ) with the Desert Rats during WW2 at Tobruk and Burma and his son Huey

Another branch of the Stewart travelling family, again served in the Gordon Highlanders. Andrew Stewart - David Stewart who was the winner of the Haig Cup held in France competition for pipers of the 51st Highland Division.

Scottish Travelling Folk Pipers
Vintage Glencoe Piper and grandchild - Scottish Travelling Folk

Scottish Gypsy families and culture

The lowland gypsies had a 'Royal' family, from an early date. The Faa family occupied this role until 1847 when it passed to the Blyths, commonly called Faa-Blyths. The last 'king' died in 1902 and there has been no more recent claimants. Besides the Faas and Blyths, common Border Gypsy surnames include Baillie, Tait, Douglas, Gordon, McDonald, Ruthven, Young and Fleckie.

In Scottish Gaelic they are known as the "Ceàrdannan" ("the Craftsmen"), or less controversially, "luchd siubhail" (people of travel) for travellers in general. Poetically known as the "Summer Walkers", Highland Travellers are a distinct ethnic group and may be referred to as "traivellers", "traivellin fowk'", in Scots, "tinkers", originating from the Gaelic "tinceard" or (tinsmith) or "Black Tinkers". Mistakenly the settled Scottish population may call all travelling and Romani groups tinkers, which is usually regarded as pejorative, and contemptuously as "tinks" or "tinkies". Highland Travellers are closely tied to the native Highlands, and many traveller families carry clan names like Macfie, Stewart, MacDonald, Cameron, Williamson and Macmillan.

Scottish Travelling Folk Pipers
1930's Scottish Travelling Folk family

Scottish Gypsy families and culture

On the roadside on Loch Fyne side between St Catherines and Cairdow is a traditional traveller marriage site, marked with a heart pattern in stones. In 2016 after a 6 years campaign The Tinker's Heart ( HOTT Heart of the travellers ) of Argyll was scheduled as a national monument.

Travelling folk have competed in piping competitions and Highland Games around the country and looking back at the photos, they won many prizes. In the 70's and early 80's the MacPhee pipers always competed at Dunoon during Cowal Games. The head at that time was Eckie MacPhee who is still regularly seen on postcards, piping in No1 dress at Glencoe. During Boer War, WW1 and WW2 travellers often joined regiments as pipers and some of the great regimental pipers of The Gordon Highlanders, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, Seaforth Highlanders and Cameron Highlanders were from travelling families.

For more details you might like to or the website of author and traditional storyteller Jess Smith

Scottish Travelling Folk pipers
Jock Stewart nine time Scottish Pipe Champion at the Highland Games
Scottish Travelling Folk Pipers
Member of the Stewart family - 3rd Battalion Gordon Highlanders circa 1900
Member of the Stewart family - Gordon Highlanders - Scottish Travelling Folk Pipers
Member of the Stewart family - 3rd Battalion Gordon Highlanders circa 1900
Piper Jock Stewart - Gypsy piper
Piper Jock Stewart - Traveller piper
Stewart family with wife - Gypsy piper
Stewart family piper with his wife - Traveller piper
Scottish Travelling Folk Piper
Scottish Travelling Folk Piper
Donald Stewart family piper with his wife - 19th century Traveller piper with a wonderful array of piping medals
Stewart family piper who served as Pipe Major Atholl Highlanders in the 19th C
Sandy Stewart family piper who served as Pipe Major Atholl Highlanders in the 19th C
Eckie MacPhee playing at Glencoe - Scottish Travelling Folk Piper
Robert Stewart - Travelling Man piper who served in the British army
Robert Stewart - Travelling Man piper who served in the British army with the Gordon Highlanders
Members of the Stewart family - Gordon Highlanders circa 1900 - ( Robert Stewart on the left? )

4 Responses

  1. Chris McNeilly
    | Reply

    well done for publishing these pictures. I found them very interesting and informative.

    • House of Labhran
      | Reply

      Great to have been sent some of the information from the families.

  2. Malcom Ferris-Lay
    | Reply

    A truly excellent and interesting article. Congratulations and love the addition of the photographs.

  3. Gavin
    | Reply

    Tip of the iceberg.

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