The Music

Side 1
Side 2


The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute, composed by Seaforth’s Piper, Finlay Dubh MacRae for William Dubh Mackenzie, 2nd Jacobite Marquis of Seaforth.

Mackenzie of Fairburn’s Strathspey

John Ban Mackenzie’s March

Brahan Castle

Cabar Fèidh (reel)

Captain Mackenzie’s Jig

Donald Mackenzie’s Reel

John Ban Mackenzie’s Strathspey

John Mackenzie’s March

Miss M Mackenzie of Delvineside’s Reel

John Ban Mackenzie’s Strathspey

Ronald Mackenzie’s Strathspey

There are also many Mackenzie tunes connected with the Mackenzie Regiments. The following list of the Martial Music of the Clan is said to be entered in the orderly book of the 72nd Regiment ( the first that was raised from the Clan):

Daybreak – Surachan”

Gathering, or Turn on – Tulach Ard

Salute – Failte Mhic Coinnich”

Slow March – An Cuilfhionn

Quick March – Caisteeall Donan

The Charge – Cabarfèidh

While engaged – Blàr Strom

Lament (burying dead) – Cumha Mhic Coinnich

Sunset – Siubhal Chlann Coinnich

Tattoo – Ceann Drochaid Ailein

Warning before dinner – Blàr Ghlinn Seile

When dinner is ready – Cath Sliabh an t-Siorram

When Kenneth Mackenzie, the last Earl of Seaforth was accompanying his Regiment, the 78th Highlanders, to India, on 27th August 1781, he died and was buried at sea. A lament is known to have been composed in his honour by his piper for the occasion.

A number of pipe tunes traditionally associated with the Clan Mackenzie are Seaforth Highlanders’ tunes, mainly from the period of Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, MBE (1916-19820) and these are linked to the recruitment grounds of the regiment of that time. While Clan Mackenzie is probably more represented in all forms of pipe music than any other clan, particularly in Pìobaireachd, this may be largely owing to the fact that most of the Pìobaireachd  were recorded through MacLeod’s pipers, the MacCrimmons. Indeed, there was no specific piping family within the Mackenzies, but there was a considerable number of piping families that were pipers to Mackenzie households. Although there are no discernible indigenous roots to Ross-shire piping, by the 1800s much tradition appears to have been attached to these tunes – this at a time when much tradition was invented in line with the fashion to identify the Gael as the archetypal heroic soldier.  

Owing to the MacKays having been for several generations hereditary pipers of the Mackenzies of Gairloch, the fame of the Mackenzies have been to some extent eclipsed in this art. Nevertheless, the list of prizewinners at the competitions for Pìobaireachd playing instituted by the Highland Society of London as early as 1781 reveals a fair number of accomplished Mackenzie pipers. One of the most celebrated pipers in Clan Mackenzie was:


John Ban Mackenzie.

John Bàn Mackenzie (circa 1797-19864) as a celebrated piper in the 19th century. Born in Dingwall and dying in Munlochy on the Black Isle, he was a descendant of the Achilty branch of the family, who was married to the Mackenzie heiress of the Applecross estate. He was piper to the Marquis of Breadalbane from 1843 and for the Highland Society of Scotland. he was a prize winner at the Edinburgh Competitions in the 1820s and in 1835 won the first Gold Medal ever awarded at the Edinburgh Competition. He was famous for being able to make every component part of the bagpipe and playing the resultant instrument as “a master of his creation”. A number of these bagpipes are still preserved at the College of Piping (see

On one occasion Queen Victoria invited John Bàn to become her personal servant and accompany her wherever she travelled. The piper, however, declined the offer, for which he became known as “The Man who said No to the Queen.” When the Queen asked him “But where will I find another as accomplished as yourself, and as handsome?” John replied “Madam, I fear your search will fail on both accounts.”


While they were inevitably exceptions, the more elite members of the Mackenzie family were more privileged and someone like the last Earl of Seaforth was in the enviable position of being able to devote pretty much his entire life to the pursuit of pleasure, participating in the highest levels of European culture. A highly accomplished connoisseur, unusually liberal for someone of his social status in his marriage to the actress, Harriet Powell, which challenged the conventions of his day, he he was a man who is admirable for his artistic and scientific patronage and appreciation of Roman antiquity in particular.  He was depicted by the artist Petro Fabris with his good friend William Hamilton being entertained by the Mozarts, father and son, in his palazzo in Naples. He was also a patron of the Neapolitan composer Niccolo Jomelli who appears in the foreground of Pietro Fabris’s companion painting.

Kenneth Mackenzie, 6th Earl of Seaforth in his Neapolitan Palazzo

When considering the status of many of the musicians who would have been active in the Highlands in the 17th and 18th centuries, one should note what has been said of Roderick Morison, the “Blind Harper of Dunvegan”, who died in 1714 and whose close Mackenzie relatives included his mother, foster-brother and sister-in-law. Although he has been dubbed “Gaelic Scotland’s last minstrel”, recent musicologists recognise that his role as a gentleman musician should be regarded as representative of the cosmopolitan drawing-room music of the period, cultivated by the upper ranks of society throughout Europe. Like many exiled Highland Jacobites, the 5th Earl (and 2nd Jacobite Marquis) of Seaforth William Dubh and his sister Lady Mary Mackenzie’s musical education at St Germain would have been remarkably advanced.  William Dubh was thus an exceptionally hybrid character culturally. As well as the traditional pipers who would have accompanied him on his progress throughout his Highland fiefdom, such as Finlay Dubh MacRae, who composed for him The Earl of Seaforth’s Salute, we know that he employed the classical Irish harpist, Daniel Melville, who would have played for him such French music (now perceived as “high-brow”) as is still preserved in the Scottish gentry of the time’s manuscripts, such as the Rowallan, Straloch, Wemyss, Panmure House and Balcarres lute books.  The latter manuscript was in the possession of the Seaforth family’s Lindsay cousins.  And from having attended the courts of St Germain and Versailles when in exile, he and his sister, Lady Mary Mackenzie would have had an experience of “high culture” more developed even than the most exalted ranks of Highland society.  Louis XIV employed between 150 and 200 musicians to glorify his cultural pre-eminence as the Sun King, and in the process were created many of the supreme masterpieces of Jean-Baptiste Lully, Marc-Antoine Charpentier, Marin Marais, François Couperin, Michel-Richard de Lalande and Robert de Visée.

In 2004 a manuscript dating from 1716 was discovered in the archives of Berkeley Castle which contains six, fully-scored and hitherto unpublished arias from Vivaldi’s opera, La Costanza Trionfante.  The plot of this opera, which is concerned with “dethroning usurpers and restoring lawful kings” is a setting of Floridante, and Edward Corp has convincingly argued that it was most likely copied for William’s cousin, the Duke of Mar, in order to be performed at the Jacobite court, which at that time was at Urbino.  As Eileen Cassavetti records: “Mar was … quite a good musician, a talent which he shared with the King [James].  They formed a chamber orchestra to enliven the long winter evenings.  Describing his musicians, Mar said in a letter to his brother: ‘We have an excellent violin, one that plays well on the harpsichord and one voice tolerably good.’  Before the snow came, to keep them almost prisoners, James and Mar would sometimes slip away to hear an opera at the nearest town, Fano, on the coast.”

We know that the Berkeley family, as descendants of the last Earl of Seaforth’s daughter, Lady Caroline, inherited Seaforth’s art collection.  Because certain other related arias continued to be held in the Earl of Panmure’s collection, it seems most likely that these musical manuscripts were brought back from Urbino by the 4th Earl of Panmure, who was the Duke of Mar’s nephew, and the section that now comprises the Berkeley Castle manuscripts was given to William when he was living in Paris in the 1720s.  James Maule (the future 4th Earl of Panmure) and his brother Harrie (the future 5th Earl) were both viol players who, in the 1680s paid a visit to their viol-playing cousin, David Nairne in Paris.  Nairne was then living in the Rue St Antoine, where the local organists were the eminent court composers Michel-Richard de Lalande and François Couperin, who are thought to have introduced the Maules to the celebrated but reclusive viol player Jean de Ste Colombe.  The Panmure manuscripts provide us with a unique record of the music of both Ste Colombe and his pupil, Marin Marais, none of which was actually published and known to the wider world until 1973.  (The impact of their subsequent fame resulted in the acclaimed 1991 film Tous les Matins du Monde, in which Gerard Depardieu played Marin Marais).  It may be significant that we even find William at a later point giving the Rue St Antoine as his Paris address. Moreover, John Caryll I, the uncle of Lady Mary’s future husband, was himself a viol player, having previously been the King’s ambassador in Rome.  He had even been responsible for recruiting Innocenzo Fede as master of James’s music, and went on to be instrumental in organising concerts at the court in exile. 

The research conducted by Kevin and Andrew McKenzie into their own Mackenzie ancestors was able to shed some light on the social life of these people and their family circles. Anne Mackenzie, the daughter of Donald Mackenzie, the Inverness merchant, married the Tutor of MacLeod, John MacLeod of Contullich and Muiravenside.  The Tutor’s daughter Christian married John MacLeod of Talisker (in Skye), whose hospitable household was the subject of eulogy in several poems of the time, which are quoted in the volume which William Matheson edited for the Scottish Gaelic Texts Society, entitled An Clarsair Dall or The Blind Harper: The Songs of Roderick Morison and his Music.  

Matheson’s study sheds valuable light on a society in which a coterie of poets and musicians were in the habit of foregathering under Talisker’s sociable roof.  One such member of this “Talisker circle” was John MacKay, known as Am Pìobaire Dall (or the Blind Piper), from the family who were pipers to the Mackenzie lairds of Gairloch, continuing the musical tradition of their chief, Lord Reay: celebrated as both musician and bard, MacKay came to the MacLeod country in his youth to study bagpipe music under the elite tuition of Patrick MacCrimmon and wrote the following lines that refer to this Christian Lady Talisker, who was evidently also an accomplished harper:

“I am a guest just now,

like the sound of a wave on the shore,

where beguiling to me were the harp-strings,

of the lady without blemish,

daughter of the Tutor of MacLeod.”

Another poet, John MacLean (Iain mac Ailein) journeyed to Talisker from his native Mull and in a song called Oran do Mhac Lùgais he recalls the hospitality he received from the chief of the MacLeods, Iain Braec in company with Roderick Morison in the following verse:

“I was one day in Dunvegan

With bountiful John of Harris

Among devotees of the harp,

Where poets kept pace with its music;

Roderick and I would compose

rimes of a few verses,

and would receive potent drinks

that I preferred to a sizeable bannock.”

Another house that Roderick, the Blind Harper is thought to have frequented was that of Mackenzie of Coul, whose house was situated in the parish of Contin, just to the west of Strathpeffer, of which his brother, the Rev. Angus Morison was incumbent.  This is the present day Coul House, rebuilt at the end of the 18th century and now a hotel.

Angus was married to Mackenzie of Coul’s cousin, Anne and a song connected with a girl of this household runs as follows:

“The family of Coul and Applecross

is close in your reckoning of kinsfolk,

the most hospitable family in Scotland,

who won that fame and place;

the high nobility and renown that you inherited

cannot be related in this song;

whatever it lacks in proclaiming your fame –

it is the Harper who could sum it up.”

This conveys the almost mystical and sacred place both the harp and the bard held in Gaelic society.

Although unfortunately less documented, we know that the local inn or ceilidh house would also have been on the itinerary of a number of these celebrated bards and musicians, and here the more ordinary clansmen would have warmed themselves beside peat fires and met their friends, neighbours and cousins to exchange news and gossip, and would have been transported from the drudgery of their daily hardships, taking pleasure in the entertainment of such skilled artists as Am Pìobaire Dall and An Clarsair Dall as they shared their treasured stories and songs.

So, we see that after the Reformation the secular popular tradition of music continued to flourish by popular demand, despite attempts by the Kirk, particularly in the Lowlands, to suppress dancing and the playing of music at events like weddings.  What is more, the Highlands in the early seventeenth century saw the development of piping families including the MacCrimmonds, MacArthurs, MacGregors and the Mackays of Gairloch. There is also evidence of the adoption of the fiddle in this region with Martin Martin noting in 1703 in his Description of the Western Isles of Scotland that he knew of eighteen players in Lewis alone. Interestingly there was a Donald Mackenzie who was a violer in Edinburgh, whose children were buried in Sir George Mackenzie of Rosehaugh’s tomb in Greyriar’s Kirkyard (which the Society paid a visit to a few years ago). It was earlier recorded that, on his return from Buchan to Balnagown in 1663, the chief of Clan Ross was entertained by the “violer”, or fiddler, John White at the Chanonry and only three miles south-west of there, William Robertson of Kindeace was a patron of the “viol” in the first half of the 17th century.

This tradition continued into the 19th century, with celebrated figures such as the fiddlers Niel and his son, Nathaniel Gow, who, along with a large number of anonymous musicians, composed hundreds of fiddle tunes and variations.

The post-Reformation period also saw the creation of the Ceòl Mór (or great music): the pibroch style, a slow, more classical form of traditional bagpipe music, which reflected its martial origins, with battle-tunes, marches, salutes and laments, which were usually heard at official gatherings and formal occasions. The Ceòl Beag (or little music) included jigs, reels, strathspeys as well as slow airs played at a ceilidhSeaforth’s Lament, for example would fall into the category of Ceòl Mór; whereas the tune for I will Return to Kintail, which is believed to date back to the early 17th century, would perhaps have been a favourite example of a slow air from the Ceòl Beag. This piece of music is popular today in bagpipe, harp and violin recordings but hundreds of years ago, it was above all the harp or clàrsach that was the important instrument played in the Scottish Highlands. Eventually its place in society was taken by the bagpipes, but many tunes we now think of as pipe or fiddle tunes are thought to have begun as harp tunes. The function of the clàrsach in a Hebridean lordship is illustrated in the songs of the 17th century poet, Màiri Nic Leòid in which the chief is praised as one who is skilled in judging harp-playing as well as the theme and sense of a good story. The music of harp and pipe is shown in these poems to have been intrinsic to the splendour of the MacLeod court at Dunvegan, along with wine in shining cups.

The significance of the harp to the Mackenzies can also be seen, for example, in the symbolism found on the the ornate fireplace lintel at Kilcoy Castle, which bears the date 1679 and is carved with three MacKenzie coats of arms along with the two mermaids playing harps, one at each end of the lintel. Kilcoy is part of a triangle comprising of Kilcoy on the East and Balvaird on the West with Kinkell Castle at the apex in the North, all approximately two and a half miles from each other in the Mackenzies’ territory on the Black Isle and all with harping connections. Balvaird translates as the township of the Bard, and the Mackenzies of Gairloch’s property at Kinkell was historically known as Kinkell Clarsach. As well as their celebrated patronage of the MacKay pipers, my early Mackenzie of Gairloch ancestors would evidently have enjoyed a significant tradition of harp music.

The Mermaid Harpers at Kilcoy Castle, carved in 1679 a little before the use of the clarsach went into decline 

The ancient, improvised tradition of “clarsach” playing was handed down through the generations as an aural tradition, and like the legends, family genealogies and other spoken recitals at ceilidhs was not written down. Clarsach players, such as the early seventeenth century Irishman, Rory Dall O’Cahan, or his later namesake, Rory Dall Morison, were often from gentry backgrounds, but their blindness led them to pursue a career other than the usual professions or trades, living by travelling around Scottish castles and mansions where they entertained and were given a generous welcome.

The burial of the violer, Donald Mackenzie’s children in the particularly grand tomb of Sir George Mackenzie suggests a close relationship to this nephew of the Earl of Seaforth, and thus a relatively high status for such musicians. In fact, a number of the clan élite were themselves amateur musicians, as we have seen with Christian Lady Talisker and both the families of Mackenzie of Gruinard and of Applecross boasted celebrated performers of the viol.  

Applecross House

Some of the more cultivated laird’s houses had a clarsach player in residence as well as a piper, although the latest research shows that many such musicians were itinerant and not necessarily tied to the Highlands and Islands even. An entry in the Kintail accounts under the date of the 15th March 1571 records that Colin Mackenzie of Kintail was accompanied on his travels by Lachlan Bayne, “clarsear”, along with the laird of Glenmoriston’s piper. Rorie Mackenzie of Applecross (who lived in the first half of the 17th century) and his son, John, the second laird of Applecross also enjoyed a reputation for generously rewarding visiting harpers, such as the Earl of Antrim’s musical protégé. The Scottish lute manuscripts are an invaluable record of the sort of eclectic music that may well have been the attempts of amateurs to write down tunes which they heard played on the harp, thus giving us a precious insight into the otherwise lost musical tradition that must have played an essential part in the lives of our Mackenzie ancestors, who would have enjoyed a rich musical diversity even within the single instrumental field of harp music.

Because the tradition was aural, it is frustratingly difficult to find original manuscripts for music by specific bards to play here, especially since Rory Dall Morison has so often been confused with his namesake, Rory Dall O’Cahan, an Irish blind harper working in Scotland and living 70 years earlier, who to confuse things further was also employed by a MacLeod of Dunvegan.  There are, however, two archive recordings from old tradition bearers made in the 1950s of Rorie’s song Òran do Iain Breac MacLeod, which the harp scholar, Simon Chadwick has identified.  One song, which praises Iain Breac MacLeod of Dunvegan was composed on behalf of the clan and is a lament on being parted from their chief.

They are probably the closest we are to get to the music of Rorie Dall that many Mackenzie ancestors would have heard.

Having said that, although William Matheson’s scholarly study has identified several pieces of music that can be associated with Rory Morison, it is as well to remember that such bards were essentially part of a tradition in which more attention was focused on performance than composition and they did not claim to be composers in the sense that we would think of today. The very existence of variants known to have been associated with Rory’s name suggests that he simply made use of airs already existing in his repertoire, a repertoire deriving from a tradition of minstrelsy that had crossed many frontiers long before his time, which brings us back to the highly sophisticated, diverse and cosmopolitan nature of Highland culture during this early modern period.

Inspired by personal research into Andrew McKenzie’s own family history, his talk challenges the widespread depiction of Highlanders in this period as ignorant savages and reveals many of the Mackenzies and their close relatives and associates to have been remarkably cosmopolitan Europeans. While they continued to enjoy their own proud traditions – which, in fact, went on to be celebrated by intellectuals abroad, the Highland Scots also participated in some of the most sophisticated cultural movements of their day.

Mackenzie’s Farewell to Sutherland

Return to Kintail

Return to Kintail, or I will go home to the Chro (or Cattlefold) of Kintail, to translate its original Gaelic title is said by some to have been written at the Battle of Sheriffmuir during the first Jacobite uprising in 1715; others have suggested that the tune may have been known to our Mackenzie ancestors as early as 1600.