Bagpipes, Ossian, Gaelic and Tartan: Sir John MacGregor Murray as a Mediator of Highland Culture

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Sir John MacGregor Murray of Lanrick Castle is perhaps primarily known by Scottish music historians as the man who brought Joseph Macdonald’s Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe back to his brother Patrick a few years after Joseph’s death.

However, this act of transmitting a work about Highland culture was, in fact, just one instance of the Highland chieftain’s involvement in facilitating the artistic output of his native country. A founder member of the Highland Society of Scotland, we find him traversing the Highlands in pursuit of James Macpherson’s Ossian poetry, assisting song-collector Alexander Campbell in planning his own itinerary in the Highlands and Western Isles, and helping establish a piping competition in Edinburgh – to name but a few of the projects in which he was involved.

In this regard, Sir John can be regarded as one of a number of individuals who played such a mediatory role in the collecting and publication of Scottish music. Those who transcribed tunes, translated or wrote lyrics, compiled anthologies and wrote contextual notes owed a debt of obligation to these individuals, who might not have played an active role as editors or performers, but certainly ‘oiled the wheels’ for them.

In this paper, I shall outline Sir John’s significant role in facilitating the codifying and promotion of Highland culture, which embraced literary endeavours every bit as much, if not more than in music; and I shall introduce some of the other individuals who were to play a similar role in Scottish song-collecting during the Georgian and Victorian eras.

Bibliographic note

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Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished or Performed - 28 May 2019
EventJohn MacGregor Murray (1745-1822): Persianate and Indic Cultures in British South Asia - Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales Centre d’études de l’Inde et de l’Asie du sud, Paris, France
Duration: 28 May 201928 Jun 2019


WorkshopJohn MacGregor Murray (1745-1822): Persianate and Indic Cultures in British South Asia

Author keywords

  • South Asia, Cultural Heritage, Highlands, Gaelic, Sir John Macgregor Murray