After the Uprising of 1745, the playing of the pipes was forbidden in Scotland.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard and read this about the pipes. In fact, it’s one of the most prevalent legends about bagpipes – or bagpipe, which some say is more correct. A lot of mighty impressive scholars and historians have given credence to this legend and its a commonly accepted truth; even the Scots take it as gospel.
However, with St. Patrick’s Day upon us, I point out that the bagpipes were never, repeat never, banned in Scotland. Not after the uprising of 1745, not before the uprising and in fact, not ever. This is one of the myths about Scotland that has been perpetuated for centuries and it isn’t true in the least.
Now if you said the pipes were once banned in Ireland, you’d be speaking the truth; of which fact I’ve been reminded since we’re celebrating St. Patrick’s Day this month. But first, let’s look at the myth that pipes were banned in Scotland.
Although the Disarming Act of 1746 clearly bans “arms and warlike weapons” as well as any clan plaid, the bagpipe is never specifically mentioned. The Nova Scotian historian, John G. Gibson, makes this clear in his book on the history of piping, Traditional Gaelic Bagpiping, 1745-1945. Gibson gives the entire text of the Disarming Act and supports his claim with well-documented evidence. From his documentation, Gibson also proves that piping and dancing continued in Scottish culture throughout the 18th century and beyond.
The Irish, on the other hand, can claim with some justification that the bagpipe was banned in their country by the British. For centuries the bagpipe was used as an instrument of war in Ireland. Aware of the pipe’s ability to rouse men, the British banned its use in 1366 by the Statues of Kilkenny.
In the piping manual of the Royal Irish Rangers, the introduction reads that the Kilkenny Statues made it a “penal offence to have, play or entertain pipers in Ireland on the plea that they acted as ‘Irish agents or spies on the English, whereby great evils have often resulted’.” Thanks to the miracle of the Internet, I found the entire text of the Statues of Kilkenny and as well as banning the playing of pipes, it also bans “story-tellers, bablers, rimers (and) mowers.
It seems fitting to quote here another line from the Royal Irish Rangers piping manual: “The bagpipe is usually associated with Scotland, but in fact the instrument came originally from Ireland.”
True or not – how can it ever be proven? – the pipes are thought of today as being Scottish and not Irish. It was the hardy Highlanders who rebelled against the English who carried the bagpipe to the far reaches of the earth.
But again being reminded of the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations, I must point out that while the Scots popularised the bagpipe and claim it as their own, many of the traditional pipe tunes are Irish in origin. Countless pipe tunes thought to be of Scottish origin can found in old collections of Irish music.