The Royal Scots Cap Badge


MacCrimmon's Sweetheart

Many sides of the popular life of the ancient Highlands are represented in our classic pipe music, and in many of the compositions the composer gives expression to his own feelings.

Poetry undoubtedly was the earliest form in which human feelings were expressed, and what was sung in Gaelic verse, in the early days, was imitated in rhythmical strains, by bagpipes, and other instruments.

The rhythm of the tune, MacCrimmon's Sweetheart, follows the old Gaelic rhythm, where a line in poetry is divided into two parts, the last part ending in a sort of plaintive sound. It reminds one of the singing of the Gaelic psalms, where the precentor chants, and the congregation sings in response.

This tune is also known as Maol Donn, and is said to have been composed in memory of the son of an early day king, a pipe-bag, or a favourite cow of that name, but there is greater reason to believe that the old bard – Maol Domhn Aich – who was with the MacLeod of MacLeod Chiefs during the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, was the principal source of inspiration, and MacCrimmon's admiration for the poetic accomplishments of the bard, whose talent is eulogised in the composition that provides us with this fine piece of piobaireachd music, which itself is MacCrimmon's Sweetheart, and so named by someone who could possibly have been none other than Angus MacKay.

Maoldombnaich's love of composing poetry is reproduced in MacCrimmon, when composing his “Sweetheart” and to the bard's verse he adds rhythm, which we follow as we in fancy hear him speak to us from his heart, in the Urlar:

Employing my best composer's skill,
In canntaireachd sublime.
Pipe-strains of music sweet evince,
An air of olden time.
The "groundwork", slow, of plaintive sound.
With "Suibbail" of steady beat,
"Taorluath" distinctly clear and firm,
"The Crunluath" not too quick.
In type synonymous of love, it set all hearts aflame.
The tune - "MacCrimmon's Sweetheart" has devotion in its name."

It is not known if MacCrimmon or Maoldomhnaich, would show any affection for the son of a king in those days , but one could take a liking to a friendly cow, and can chat away to a pipebag when putting on the tartan cover the same as you would to a “wee bairn”, when adjusting its little cover, so that may have been what stole MacCrimmon's heart, and kindled the love that caused him to express his gratitude for the Gaelic poetry, that could be imitated by the “Ceol Mor” melodies, and he now addresses the bard in the Suibhail “of steady beat”.

Not bold Poetic Rhyme
But proud You wove
With pipes Did speak
To praise and joyfully acclaim Of love in days of old
In strains In strains Your heart
A “Ceol Mor” Sung often
Laurel wreathe Martial song,
No more enhance your fame To extol heroes bold

The MacLeod of MacLeod Chiefs were good patrons of the “Ceol Mor” music, and they had professional bards who got free grants of land, but the “bardachd” (poetry-making) was far from being remunerative. This MacCrimmon knew well, and suggests that Maoldomhnach because of his “bardachd” ability to compose poems, whose airs can be heard in “Ceol Mor”, is entitled to at least wear the garb of his profession. This is in the “Taorluath”: “distinctly clear and firm”.

“Your poems – well merit – Poet's robes,
Of Royal purple hue.
Ancient airs – ‘Piob Mor’' – Sends forth,
A tribute bring to you.
Canntaireachd – in phrase - is set,
To match the poetry's rhythm.
Ringing pipes – sound forth – with joy,
The &lsquoSweetheart of MacCrimmon&rsquo.”

This portrait of Maoldomhnaich in his royal colours shows him off in splendour, and MacCrimmon carries his praise through the different variations in this melodious composition.

In the “Crunluath” we get another portrait of the bard, but it is his gift that is now predominant, and, although we don't know the words or air of any of his poems the rhythm chosen by MacCrimmon for this fine tune is undoubtedly the air of one of them.

Now for the Creantuath; “and not too quick”!
Maoldomhnaich truly dowered with gift.
talent could unfold.
The simple, humble, homespun rhyme,
of his own mould.
More than the man I praise the gift,
that richly did abound.
I loved that verse of mother tongue,
bagpipes freely sound.
The Gaelic poetry thrilled my heart, and it was not in vain.
‘MacCrimmon's Sweetheart’, in ‘Ceol Mor’ forever will remain,

The name Maoldomhnaich should be dear to the hearts of all those who love the old bards, whose poetry has given us many of the airs, which we find in “Ceol Mor’. We owe them a debt which we can do much to pay if the tunes are more often played, and from the heart, with the same “Sweetheart” thought MacCrimmon had, when composing this tune. The love may influence one's own life, for it is said the more love you give away, the more you have left.

Piobaireachd has been built on the pattern of ancient Greek orations. The great orators never placed the climax of their speech in the closing words. The oration ended on a minor note, designed to please the audience, so we assume that a great orator has been speaking, and, in closing, pays his respects to the bard, and to the reader of this article, who are “Ceol Mor”" players.

With this thought we return again to the “Urlar”",
Hail bard Maoidomhnaich's Gaelic verse,
depicting ancient ways!
Hail music's structure of “Ceol Mor”,
reflecting the heart's praise!
‘MacCrimmon's Sweetheart’, down the years,
will earn our love's reward,
Passed on to our posterity, with all credit to the bard."

I meant to say: “I hurl a challenge etc.” but humbly I say; “I lay a challenge at the hearts of ‘Ceol Mor’ players“, as I don't hear


Exit MacCrimmon's Sweetheart and return to the General Piobaireachd Stories



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