Pibroch of Donald Dhu (1)

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PIBROCH OF DONALD DHU/DOMHNALL DUBH/DONUIL DUBH [1]. AKA – "Black Donald Balloch of the Isles's March to Inverlochy 1427," "Piobirachd Dhònill Duibh," "Piobaireachd Dhomhnuill Duibh Black Donald Balloch of the Isles March to the First Battle at Inverlochy 1427." AKA and see “Black Donald the Piper,” “Cameron Gathering,” "Donald's Pipes," “Lochiel's March (2)," "Locheil's Warning," "Lord Forbes March," “Piobaireachd Dhomhnaill.” Scottish, Air, Jig or March (6/8 time). A Major (Gunn, Kennedy, Kerr, Martin): E Flat Major (Emmerson, Graham). Standard or AEae tuning (fiddle). One part (Emmerson, Kerr): AABB (Kennedy): AABBCCDD (Gunn, Martin): AABBCCDDEEFFGG (Sharpe MS). As "Lord Forbes March," an earlier pipe version of the march, it is still played by bagpipers today. The original air was a ceol mor (large music) piece called "Pilbaireachd Dhomhnaill Dhuibh" (The Pibroach of Black Donald), reworked into a ceol beag (small music) setting, a march. In scordatura (AEae) tuning it was meant to be played with drones throughout. A pibroch is a type of elaborate pipe tune, and this is an old set of variations "having the pronounced rhythm of the Single Jig" (Emmerson, 1972), and the categorization ‘pibroch’ is somewhat misleading with regard to most fiddle versions of the melody, which are not true pibrochs. Christine Martin (2002) says her settings are “fiddle setting(s) based on the bagpipe version of the popular 6/8 pipe march,” and that the version falls into the category of ceòl beag (little music), a simple march. Rev. Patrick MacDonald writes in his Collection of Highland Airs (1781) of the pibroch:

A very peculiar species of martial music was in the highest request with the Highlanders. It was sometimes sung, accompanied with words, but more frequently played on the bagpipe. And, in spite of every change, a pibrach, or cruineachadh, though it may sound harsh to the ear of a stranger, still rouses the native Highlander, in the same way that the sound of a trumpet does the war-horse. Nay, it sometimes produced effects little less marvelous than those recorded of ancient music. At the battle of Quebec, in April, 1760, whilst the British troops were retreating in great confusion, the General complained to a field officer of Fraser's regiment, of the bad behaviour of his corps. 'Sir,' answered he, with some warmth, 'you did very wrong in forbidding the pipes to play this morning; nothing encourages Highlanders so much in a day of action. Nay, even now they would be of use.' 'Let them blow like the devil then,' replied the Genera, 'if it will bring back the men.' And, the pipers being ordered to play a favourite ccuineochadh, the Highlanders, who were broken, returned the moment they heard the music, and formed with great alacrity in the rear.

The name Mac Dhomhnuill Duibh (Black {Mac}Donald) is the Gaelic patronymic of Cameron of Lochiel. Some title variants mention the 'First Battle at Inverlochy 1427' but there is no evidence that the march is associated with that conflict (in which the MacDonalds defeated the royalist forces of the Scottish king) nor that it has that antiquity. The association may be the product of Victorian imagination, which could be powerful. An example of this may be a passage from the Pall Mall Magazine at the beginning of the Boer War, in an article on regimental marches[1]:

"The Pibroch of Donald Dhu," the march-past of the Cameron Highlanders, is one of the oldest of the Highland marching airs. It was composed in honour of an early chief of the Clan Cameron named Donald Dhu, or Black Donald, and is to be found in Scott's works under the title of "The Gathering Song of Donald the Black." The very opening words breathe the spirit of that descendant of Donald Dhu who, when the Duke of York, Commander-in-Chief [ed. son of King George III] told him that it was the King's intention to draft the old 79th into another regiment, replied dauntlessly, "Ye can tell the King your father that he may send the regiment to hell, if he likes, an' I'll go at the head of it; but he daurna draft us." And his Majesty dared not. The old 79th to this day remain undrafted..."

Sir Walter Scott (1771–1832), as just mentioned, wrote words to the tune, published in Alexander Campbell’s Albyn’s Anthology (1816). They commence:

Pibroch of Donuil Dhu,
Pibroch of Donuil,
Wake thy wild voice anew,
Summon Clan Conuil.
Come away, come away,
Hark to the summons!
Come in your war array,
Gentles and commons.

Scott was hugely popular in his day and his words, set to the basic 6/8 ground of "Pibroch of Donald Dhu," were set symphonically and sung in London concert venues, and thence around the world. It is because of Scott that the pibroch was one of the first of the genre to receive recognition outside of Scotland. Scott was no musician, but he did have access to piping sources (he employed a piper at his home in Abbotsford in the Borders, although, by contemporary accounts, his chosen piper looked the part but played poorly). It may also be that he had the tune from his publisher, Alexander Campbell, who was also a music collector and composer and who had visited Skye and Glenelg on a collecting expedition in the autumn of 1815 where he met pipers Niel MacLeod of Gesto and Donald Roy MacCrimmon. Scott was on the committee of the Highland Society of Scotland which had sponsored Campbell’s activities.

Irish collection Francis O’Neill printed the tune as a double jig entitled “Black Donald the Piper.” Pipers have historically known the march under the names “Cameron Gathering” and “Lochiel's March (2).”

Source for notated version: Sharpe Manuscript, c. 1790; p. 44 [Johnson].

Printed sources: Emmerson (Rantin' Pipe and Tremblin' String), 1971; No. 74, p. 156. Graham (Songs of Scotland, vol. 1), 1848; p. 96. William Gunn (The Caledonian Repository of Music Adapted for the Bagpipes), Glasgow, 1848; p. 86. Johnson (Scottish Fiddle Music in the 18th Century), 1984; No. 53, p. 130. Kennedy (Fiddler's Tune-Book: Jigs & Quicksteps, Trips & Humours), 1997; No. 153, p. 37. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 1), c. 1880; No. 9, p. 31. Martin (Ceol na Fidhle, vol. 1), 1991; p. 24. Martin (Traditional Scottish Fiddling), 2002; p. 69.

Recorded sources:

See also listings at:
Alan Snyder’s Cape Breton Fiddle Recordings Index [1]
Jane Keefer’s Folk Music Index: An Index to Recorded Sources [2]




Back to Pibroch of Donald Dhu (1)[edit]

  1. Walter Wood, "The Romance of Regimental Marches", Pall Mall Magazine, vol. 9, 1898, pp. 421-430.