“Twelve Highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion.”
I always imagined that the bagpipes were invented deep within the misty highlands of Scotland, a gift of the Celtic people to the rest of the world. But that is not so. Bagpipes are an ancient instrument dating as far back as Egyptian civilizations. Over the centuries they have had many iterations, originating from prehistoric reeded pipes. They are found in all parts of the world, and in many presentations. A reliable source told me that Nero did not play a fiddle when Rome burned. If indeed, he was playing an instrument, it would have been the bagpipes. Suetonius was quite clear that Nero played the bagpipes, which is confirmed by Roman coins that depict the notorious emperor with his bagpipes, known at that time as “tibia utricularis.” Some say that the bagpipe was used by the Roman army, which suggests the possibility that the bagpipe came first to England by way of the Roman conquest. By the 14th century, Scots had embraced the bagpipes.
Geoffrey Chaucer’s thick-set, rascally Miller, who wore a sword by his side, was a bagpiper. It was the Miller who led the company out-of-town and on their pilgrimage.
And yet he hadde a thombe of gold, pardee.
A whit cote and a blew hood wered he.
A baggepipe wel koude he blowe and sowne,
And therwithal he broghte us out of towne.
The bagpipe continues to lead the way, whether a festive parade, a formal gathering, or a funeral. The music brings the ancient and modern traditions together. When we follow the pipes we are walking with history.