Walking With History

Bagpipe in a Window

“Twelve Highlanders and a bagpipe make a rebellion.”

Scottish Proverb

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.

21 Comments

    1. Clanmother

      I love how the drummers lift their hands in the air and twirl their drumsticks. Their coordination is stellar. Thank you for your encouraging comments – they are so very much appreciated. 🙂

  1. Behind the Story

    I was surprised to see bag pipes in Galicia until I learned how early the Celts had traveled to Spain. It’s even more surprising to hear about bagpipes in Egypt.

    1. Clanmother

      You make a very important point, especially in this global world where communication travels faster and sharing is ubiquitous. Who can contain an idea? Anatole France, wrote tongue-in-cheek, “When a thing has been said and said well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it.”

      I agree – there has been so many instances where “borrowing” from different cultures has added depth and breath to the universal thread of knowledge acquisition. This is clearly evident in the bagpipe lineage, from Bulgaria’s Kaba gaida to the Irish uileann pipes to the Swedish sackpipa. 🙂

  2. ĽAdelaide

    Such a wonderful post and I loved the quote. It’s so perfect for so many posts, I may have to borrow it!!!! I think I will hold to the thought the pipes are celtic though. Somehow the idea of Nero and bagpipes, while true, just don’t fit my love of them…. 🙂
    xox

    1. Clanmother

      Thank you so much for stopping by!! I share your thoughts about Nero playing the bagpipes. I am finding that history has a great deal of surprises hid in the folds of the centuries. 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. judilyn

    I first heard bagpipes in person on Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina near Blowing Rock and Boone, where I went for the summer with my grandparents. Heard them only one other time – at a Veterans’ Day Memorial in Columbus, New Mexico a few years ago. Always fascinated with them. Someday maybe I’ll give it a whirl! ;->

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    1. Clanmother

      You have just sent me on a mini-research project when you said that you heard bagpipes in North Caroline. Did you know that when the Highland Scots migrated to America, North Caroline was the popular place to settle because of the advantageous tax exemptions. What was even more interesting to find out – Flora McDonald (the women who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape) was one of those who settled in North Carolina. And of course, The Skype Boat Song.

      http://www.northcarolinahistory.org/commentary/110/entry

      “Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
      Onward! the sailors cry;
      Carry the lad that’s born to be King
      Over the sea to Skye.
      Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
      Thunderclouds rend the air;
      Baffled, our foes stand by the shore,
      Follow they will not dare.”

      The Skype Boat Song

  4. cindy knoke

    I’ve been to Oban and I am from the McKay Clan, so of course I love this post! My paternal grandmother was a proud Scot. I didn’t know about the Egypt-bagpipe connection, which is why it is important that you post. I can, however do the Highland Fling….
    Your rock!

    1. Clanmother

      Thanks, Cindy! You always make my day pure sunshine. I am finding out so much about the bagpipes these past few months. Have you ever tried to play one!???? I have tried the chanter, but alas, it is a very difficult and precise instrument. And yet, I have heard little children play a full bagpipe loud and clear. They say that the bagpipe picks the the bagpiper, not the other way around! I think I have been chosen to enjoy the music. 🙂 I am not surprised that you are a highland dancer! 🙂 🙂 🙂

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