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!
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 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 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.