24/02/2016
Share this story Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

How did the bagpipes become a symbol of Scotland?

b913227a-0bda-4abd-96ac-2b5aa91f049f

Ahead of this weekend’s International Bagpipe Conference, we talk to Dr Vivien Williams about how this iconic symbol of Scotland came to be so strongly associated with the country. For history, heritage and archaeology news, sign up for our free e-newsletter.

The skirl of the Highland Bagpipes, perhaps played by the Lone Piper at the Edinburgh Tattoo, at Highland Games up and down Scotland, and even on the battlefield, has become a globally-recognised symbol of Scotland.

But despite the strong association between the bagpipes and Scotland, this ancient instrument, which many experts believe originated in India at least 3,000 years ago, reached Scotland relatively late in its history.

‘The bagpipes spread from India across the Mediterranean and into Eastern Europe, says Dr Williams. ‘The spread happened via traders and through general migration, as people and their customs were absorbed into other cultures.

‘The bagpipes probably arrived in Britain with the Roman invasion of 43AD and were gradually picked up as an English tradition, although there’s no reliable written reference to them in Scotland until the fifteenth century.’

BAGPIPE VARIANTS

Most people are most familiar with the Highland Bagpipe, which is so strongly associated with Scotland, however there have been hundreds of variations of the instrument over the centuries, possibly only a fraction of which still exist today.

Recently, the instrument is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity in Britain and mainland Europe, a fact demonstrated with the presence of international bagpipe experts who will be giving presentations at this year’s International Bagpipe Conference in Glasgow.

Among the best known current-day bagpipes with a British connection are the Northumbrian Small Pipes, the Pastoral Bagpipes, Welsh Bagpipes, Cornish Pipes and Zetland Pipes. There are many bagpipe societies outside Scotland, including groups in Cornwall, London and Northumberland.

THE BAGPIPES AS A SYMBOL OF SCOTLAND

So how did this ancient instrument come to be so strongly associated with Scotland? ‘This is still something of a mystery, says Dr Williams. ‘However, there are two strong reasons for the popularity – the decline in the bardic tradition in Scotland and Ireland, and the growing trend for the bagpipes being associated with Highlanders.’

‘During the bardic era, the Celtic Harp was a common instrument in Scotland and Ireland but as this tradition began to die out, the bagpipes were growing in popularity and became associated with the great bagpiping families and with warfare.

‘The Highlander acquired an international visibility and renown on the battlefield and with this, the bagpipe began to be a recognised symbol – after all, the Celtic harp would never cut it as a battlefield instrument.’

For many centuries, bagpipe music was passed down through the generations via the oral tradition. Syllabic notation was one way of preserving the music, and canntairreachd is something which is unique to Scotland.

THE INTERNATIONAL BAGPIPE CONFERENCE 2016

The 2016 International Bagpipe Conference will be held from 26 to 28 February 2016 at the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. This is the first time that the bi-annual conference has been held outside London, and the event is open to the public.

Among the highlights are talks, workshops, concerts and even a bring-your-own-bagpipes music session. The evening of 27 February will be dedicated to informal music exchanges and a ceilidh by the finest local musicians. Expect thought provoking ideas, instrument stalls and curious sounds from all around the world…

For more information, visit the website.

Dr Vivien Williams is a historian and bagpiping expert based at the University of Glasgow and has helped co-organise this year’s conference.

Bagpiper image © Hartlepool Marine 2014; bagpipes © MacAlpine)

 

 

Back to "Features" Category

24/02/2016 Share this story   Share on Facebook icon Share on Twitter icon Share on Pinterest icon Share on Google Plus icon Share on Linked In icon Share via Email icon

Recent Updates

Mary of Guise was born - On this day in Scottish history

Mary of Guise, mother of Mary Queen of Scots, was born on 22 November 1515. ...


Celebrate St Andrew's Day, Hogmanay and Burns Night with VisitScotland Winter Festivals events

Scotland's Winter Festivals will comprise twenty events across seventeen local authority areas after funding ...


On this day in history - James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, died

Scottish poet James Hogg, the 'Ettrick Shepherd', died on 21 November 1835. ...


Photos from the premiere of Mary Queen of Scots at the American Film Institute Festival in Los Angeles

The cast and crew of the upcoming movie Mary Queen of Scots gathered in LA for the movie’s world premiere at ...


Other Articles

James Bruce, 8th Lord Elgin died - On this day in Scottish history

James Bruce, the 8th Lord Elgin, died on 20 November 1863.


The history and legend of the Saltire

How did the Saltire become Scotland's national flag? When was the flag first used? Find out with this special ...


The Making of a French Queen of Scots

In our latest guest blog to mark the release of the movie Mary Queen of Scots, Moniek Bloks, editor of ...


A Better World? Scotland after the First World War - new exhibition at National Library of Scotland

The scale of demobilisation, struggle for better living & working conditions and the changing political ...