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MacFarlane's Gathering

Historical commentry and notes compiled by Ron MacLeod

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MacFarlane's Gathering

Below are 3 transcripts for MacFarlane's Gathering. There is a common theme in all three transcripts and I have included them for your interest.

MacFarlane's Gathering I

This piobaireachd is also known as Togail nam Bo, is reported to have been preserved by John MacDougall Gillies, one of the outstanding players of his day, i.e. the late 1800's and first quarter of the 1900's. Gillies wrote down the tune as sung by the mother of two brothers who had played it in 1895 before Robert MacFarlan, Provost of Dunbarton, who subsequently commissioned Gillies to notate the tune.

Archibald Campbell, Kilberry, was of the view that Togail nam Bo and MacFarlane's Gathering were different tunes, the Gathering being a lost tune that may have been composed by Andrew MacFarlane, son of Clan Chieftain John MacFarlane who fell at Flodden 215133. Kilberry wrote that Togail nam Bo was too much a copy of Too Long in this Condition to be a discrete tune and, if it was, it wasn't an orthodox piobaireachd.

Bridget MacKenzie has an interesting commentary. In her book, Piping Traditions of Argyll, pages 271⁄272, she notes that John MacDougall Gillies held to the view that the tune was one that was known in the glens of the Cowal area and if there were mistakes in the translation of the mother’s singing, they were minor. Gillies died in 1926 while Kilberry (a pupil of Gillies) was in India and their different opinions were not resolved.

Clan MacFarlane carried the sobriquet, “fiercer than fierceness itself”. However, the name Togail nam Bo, the Lifting of the Cattle, suggests that the Clan also gathered for a purpose other than war. As to the lifting of cattle, it could have been classified as an ‘occupation’ for many Clans. The MacFarlanes, like their neighbours, the MacGregors, were masters at the cattle lifting; these two clans often worked together for mutual benefit. If one is left perplexed about the origin of the tune, well, that is the way of it for much of the historical background of ceòl mor.

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MacFarlane's Gathering II

I. History of the Clan

Skene states that the Clan MacFarlane is “the only one, with the exception perhaps of the Clan Donnachie (Robertsons), whose descent from the ancient earls of the district in which their possessions lay, can be proved by charter, and it can be shewn in the clearest manner that their ancestor was Gilchrist, brother of Maldowen, the third Earl of Lennox”

The following history is quoted from Frank Adams history as revised by Sir Thomas Innes of Learney:

“The Clan appear to have derived their name from the chief, Parlan (or Bartholomew), who lived during the reign of King David Bruce. Their territory was at the head of Loch Lomond between that loch and Loch Long, and the seat of the Chief was at Inveruglas; then afterward at Tarbert, and lastly, at Arrochar.

In 1373, the death of Donald, 6th and last of the old Earls of Lennox, without male issue, is said to have left the Chief of the Clan MacFarlane the male representation of the old Lennox family. The claim was not allowed. however, and ultimately the Earldom of Lennox was confirmed to Sir John Stewart of Darnley, who married Elizabeth, one of the daughters of the last Earl of Lennox of the old line. The resistance of the MacFarlanes to the Stewart Earls of Lennox appears to have led to serious losses of their own lands, That the MacFarlanes were not entirely deprived of their territory was in consequence of the marriage of Andrew, head of one of the cadet branches. to the daughter of John Stewart, Earl of Lennox. By this marriage Andrew MacFarlane obtained possession of the duthus territory of Arrochar. His son Sir John MacFarlane, assumed in 1493 the designation of the Captain of the Clan MacFarlane, which at that period was synonymous with ‘Chief’. Sir John, fell at Flodden, and his grandson. Duncan, 13th of the MacFarlane, at Pinkie, 1547.

The Clan MacFarlane became one of the broken clans towards the end of the sixteenth century. They appear to have been as turbulent as their neighbors, the Clan Ian Gregor, and, like them, were proscribed and deprived of lands and name. Not an acre of MacFarlane Clan territory now remains in MacFarlane possession. The last MacFarlane of MacFarlane emigrated to America during the eighteenth century.”

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II. The History of the Tune.

The MacFarlane's Gathering was best known by its Gaelic name Togail nam Bo which means “the lifting of the cattle” for the MacFarlanes were well known cattle thieves. Their reputation in this regard was so great that the Michaelmas moon was known as “The MacFarlane's Lantern.” Most cattle reiving in the border country occured around the end of September. That was the time of the Michaelmas moon – and by coincidence the time of year the cattle were at their fattest. One of the verses of “Togail nam Bo” sings out:

“We are bound to drive the bullocks,
All by hollows, hirsts, and hillochs.
Through the sleet and misty rain
When the moon is shining low
On frozen loch and driften snow.
Boldly and heartily we go,
Though small is our hope of gain”

The MacFarlanes would on occasion work jointly with the MacGregors to plan an exchange of separately lifted cattle. This way they “Could lift closer to home and yet dispose of the cattle farther away thus reducing the danger. According to Dewar the MacFarlanes raided south into Cowal while the MacGregors raided north–east into Strathearn”. Through good planning they would arrive at the same time at Inveran. The cattle were then exchanged and driven to market. If the rivers were at spate they would then hide the cattle in a glen behind Ben Vorlich ) at Loch Sloy – “Loch Sloidh” was the MacFarlane's battle cry) or perhaps in the corrie of the Snaid Burn. They also had this arrangement with other clans such as the MacDonalds of Glencoe. But the MacFarlanes and the MacGregors preferred to work only with each other because they were both skilled at their ‘profession’. Other clans tended to allow their tempers to overcome their better judgment

Sir John, the Ilth Chief, who died at the Battle of Flodden (1513) had a son named Andrew who succeeded him as Chief. Andrew was educated at Rome, but while in Italy supposedly studied the “black arts” at the famous institute in Padua. According to tradition Andrew sold his soul to the devil, and as proof it was maintained that he “threw no shadow”.

Apart from this “evil” tradition, Chief Andrew MacFarlane is also considered by many to be the composer of this piobaireachd, which places it at an early date. There are those who maintain that The MacFarlanes' Gathering is an imitation of Too Long in This Condition.

However, Too Long in This Condition is attributed to either Donald Mor MacCrimmon in 1612, or Patrick Mor in 1715, both much later dates.

To show the popularity of this air a third similar tune was composed by Thomas Linley who was lyricist for Sheridan's “School for Scandal” which had a successful run in the Drury Lane Theatre in the 1770's. Col. Thomason, who compiled Ceòl Mor, was the first to point this out. It was written for Sheridan's play: the first verse of which is:

“Here's to the maiden of bashful fifteen,
Here's to the widow of fifty;
Here's to the flaunting extravagant quean,
And here's to the housewife that's thrifty
Let the toast pass,
Drink to the lass,
I'll warrant she'll prove an excuse for the glass.”

To sum it up, The MacFarlane's Gathering is a bright and proud tune which portrays an ancient Clan's pride in carrying out its profession with daring and boldness. Indeed, they were of old called "fiercer than fierceness itself."

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The MacFarlane's Gathering

By Archibald Campbell.

Judging from the Oban Times reports of the weekly meetings of the Glasgow piping societies, and from reports of competitions in it and other papers, this tune is a great favourite with budding pipers of today. It was brought forward about the beginning of the present Century by the late John MacDougall Gillies as a genuine piobaireachd, known in Cowal for years and picked up by him there. In 1911, Sandy Cameron brushed it aside as a mere version ƚI am not sure that he did not say a garbled version) of “Too Long in this Condition”. It is published in the Piobaireachd Society's Book 7, and references in the following discussion will be to the setting there printed.

The name “Too Long in this Condition” first appeared in Donald MacDonald's book, of which the first edition was published between 1810 and 1820, and it was stated to have been composed by Patrick MacCrimmon after being stripped of his clothes by the English at the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715. Angus MacKay's M.S. adopted the same name subsequently. No.77 in Volume 2 of the Campbell Canntaireachd M.S. is called “MacFarlane's Gathering” and is precisely the same tune as “Too Long in this Condition” except that in all 3 lines of the Crunluath singling and doubling the two successive half bars “headily” and “cheddar” are “hind are” and “hinder” and there is a palpable omission of half a bar in the last phrase. The watermark on the paper of this volume 2 is dated 1814, so the book cannot have been written before that year, but there is evidence (too long to explain here) that it is a fair copy of an earlier volume. There is no written record of Gillies' “MacFarlane's Gathering” (which hereafter will be alluded to as “Togail nam Bo” to distinguish it from the Canntaireachd “MacFarlane's Gathering”) before it was published by General Thomason in his book.

The questions are:

  1. Whether there is extant a separate tune “Togail nam Bo” which can be divorced from “Too long in this Condition”.
  2. If so, is it music of the character which we call piobaireachd of Ceòl Mor?
  3. If not, what is this undoubtedly attractive piece of music picked up by MacDougall Gillies and propounded by him?

Points to consider are:

  1. I have heard mention of a tradition that such a tune was composed by Andrew MacFarlane who fell at Flodden but, for the reasons detailed below, I do not believe that it is the “Togail nam Bo” of the Piobaireachd Society Book 7.
  2. The Ground of “Togail nam Bo” is full of departures from orthodox ceòl mor music.
    1. Discussing the tune years ago with General Thomason, I found him derisively critical of the second half of Line 1, Bar 2. He called it ridiculous and not piobaireachd music, and proposed to substitute for it a simple E, C, B cadence, but ultimately refrained in deference to his respect and admiration for Gillies.
    2. The doubled high A after Low A taorluath (“hiodarid”) in line 2, bars 1 and 3, and line 3, bar 1 are unorthodox. In every corresponding place in other piobaireachds which I know, the High A is plain. (e.g. “Earl of Antrim”, “Scarce of Fishing”).
    3. The first halves of Line 2, bars 2 and 4, and line 3, bar 2 (“edre dare”) are also unorthodox. These two (“throws”) should not be imposed on successive notes The orthodox composer of piobaireachd did not overload his Ground with embellishments.
    4. The “throw” on F (“dare”) after B open taorluath, first half of line 3, bar 3, is surely grotesque in a piobaireachd Ground.
    5. Low A, the first note of Line 3, bar 4 would be in keeping with the rest of the tune if it were E. I mentioned this to Gillies in 1925, the last time I saw him, and he said that it was possible, and indeed likely that there was a mistake, and he would refer to Mrs. Leitch from whom he got the tune. But I went straight off to India and Gillies died three months later. I never mentioned the other criticisms to him. That is not the way for a pupil to talk to his master. The first variation, called, perhaps not correctly, in the Piobaireachd Society book the Urlar Doubling, is a common form, found e.g. in “The Bells of Perth”), “The Vaunting”, “The Battles of Sherriffmuir”, “Auldearn”, and “Waternish”, “MacDonald's Tutor”, “Mary's Praise”, “The Blue Ribbon”, “The Earl of Antrim”, “The Prince's Salute”, “Scarce of Fishing”, etc. In none of these, nor in any others, have I found such a variation followed by a Taorluath and Crunluath breabach. Another piece of unorthodoxy. True it is said that “Too long” has a peculiar crunluath and no taorluath, but so does the “Flame of Wrath”.
  3. My answer to the question (3) is to submit my own personal opinion that there is only one genuine orthodox piobaireachd, namely that Donald MacDonald and Angus MacKay call “Too long in this Condition” and the writer of the Canntaireachd M.S. calls “MacFarlane's Gathering”. “Togail nam Bo” is not a separate and orthodox piobaireachd. It may be an adaptation of the real tune derived from a fiddle or piano arrangement. The curious placing of gracenotes in the Ground certainly suggests imitation of the twiddles often introduced by a pianoforte player of pipe music. Its popularity entitles it to be respected as a piece of pleasing music, but it is not ceòl mor. The tendency to elevate it to that status is regrettable, and those who follow that tendency mislead themselves more especially when they have available for their piobaireachd education that infinitely greater composition which nowadays we call “Too long in this Condition”, but which, for all we know with certainly, may possibly be named correctly in the Canntaireachd M.S.“MacFarlane's Gathering”.

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