Glass Mheur

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GLASS MHEUR (Finger Lock). AKA and see "Finger Lock (The)." Scottish, Pibroch. A favorite pipe piobaireachd in the late 18th century, attributed to Ranald MacAilean Og of Cross on the Island of Eigg (c. 1662-1741), said to have been a good performer on harp and fiddle, though he was best known as a piper. The tune is sometimes associated with Calum MacRaibeart, the son of an Irish armorer who had been imported (along with his brother David, a harper) to Muckairn by the Earl of Cawdor. There are numerous stories and legends about Ranald, colorful and robust. He is said to have been a man of enormous physical strength-he stopped a mill-wheel turning at full speed, and was called upon to hold down the dying chief of Clanranald, Evil Donald (Domhnall Dona Mac 'ic Ailean), when the Devil came to claim him in payment for a debt Donald owed. Ranald was supposed to have overcome the ghost of a headless woman which was terrorizing the district of Morar and Arisaig. He was known to have been on good terms with the local witches (though he avoided participating in their rites), and they warned him that they had forseen impending danger, saving him from drowning on the river Lochy. In his old age he became blind and bedridden, but scarcely diminished in temper, for if he thought himself neglected by his kin he would lull them into approaching by his pleasant talk and calm demeanor, then cuff them a terrible blow about the head (Sanger & Kinnaird, Tree of Strings, 1992).

A journalist for the Scots Magazine of October, 1784 (553), records that at the Exhibition of Martial Music held in Dunn's Assembly Rooms, twenty-four pipers played the tune (along with "Failte a' Phrionsai" and "Grim Donald's Sweetheart;" all long-standing favorites). The piece was a set test piece, which the article identifies as "a much admired composition, but difficult of execution." The supposed difficulty led Donald MacDonald to translate the Scots Gaelic title as "The Fingerlock" in his collection of pipe tunes, although the tune actually may not pose such a challenge as its reputation holds.

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