The Royal Scots Cap Badge


Lament For The Harp Tree

At approximately 25 minutes, Lament For The Harp Tree is one of the longer piobaireachd. The history of this tune is murky. Trying to unravel the story is like trying to unravel a muddle in the middle of a dark room. However, it is not for want of trying by many experts in the field of cèol mor historical research. There are three threads to the tale that this writer is aware of:


  1. One has it that the tree is the frame of a harp and what is lamented is the demise of the traditional Gaelic harpist–poet–story teller, Bard to Chieftains and recorder of heroic deeds and profound sorrows.

  2. Another thread has it that there is a link to the Isle of Skye, to a place where pipers in a time long past were wont to meet to play in informal competition. This site was called Rudha Craobh nan Teud – the headland of the harp tree. The lament in this story is for the diminished art as well as for the forsaken meeting place.

  3. A more likely tale is posited by Bridget MacKenzie in her book Piping Traditions of the North of Scotland. Blind Ruairidh Morrison, harpist–poet–story teller, friend of Ruaridh MacKay and his son Iain Dall, composed the poem Corrienessan that is thought to be the source here. The story has it that two piobaireachd, the Lament for the Harp Tree and Corrienessan's Salute, flowed from Blind Ruairidh's song. The Salute is attributed to Ruaridh MacKay but survived only in a fragmented form. It was restored to what it may originally have been by the creative efforts of Dr. Charles Bannatyne in the 1920's.


It is not beyond belief that these three threads are each in their own way woven into the fabric of the history of the tune for it was in this period, circa the late 1600's – early 1700's, that profound changes began an inexorable march through the Gaeldom of the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland.


Donald MacDonald in the early 1800's had linked the theme of the tune to pre–Christian times and events. In doing so he may have been influenced by the poetry of Ossian as compiled by James MacPherson and published in several editions: in 1805 or the London edition of 1796, if not earlier editions of selected Ossian poems published in the 1760's. At the time when MacDonald made his linkage, Ossian was a sensation in Europe, although not well received in England.


It is a wonderfully fine tune that is a joy to experience when a master player can play it in the relaxed setting of a gathering of piobaireachd lovers.


Exit Lament For The Harp Tree and return to the Lament Piobaireachd Stories



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