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Pipe Major Peter Macleod Aird Uig Heritage blog

Pipe Major Peter Roderick Macleod, Aird Uig / Behind the Conundrum

At each piping recital, accordion or melodeon evening on the island of Lewis. At least a couple of the following tunes are played and recognised as being from the Lewis piping tradition. Lady Lever Park, Pipe Major Donald Maclean, John Morrison of Assynt House and The Conundrum.

Incredibly all the tunes were written by one man, Pipe Major Peter Roderick Macleod. P.M.Macleod was born in 1878 and with the local revival in traditional instruments those wonderful tunes are being taught to a further generation of island youngsters.

The composer was born in Aird, Uig on the 13th December 1878. The ninth child of Hector Macleod and Mary Macritchie who later went to live in Stornoway. His sister Ann was married to Donald Matheson (Domhnall Madson) of 10 Reef.

Peter Roderick joined the territorial army in the early 1900s, enlisting in the 17th Cameronians Scottish Rifles and achieved the rank of Pipe Major during World War One. He saw active campaign at that time in Egypt and Gallipoli. Apart from army service he was employed as a shipwright on the Clyde in Connell’s Yard, Whiteinch and at Fairfields from 1900-1927. At this time he was involved in an accident which necessitated the amputation of his right leg. He did not work again until 1941 when he returned to the shipyards.

PM Peter R. Macleod (Senior) had 3 sons, Hector, Ian, Peter (Junior) and 3 daughters Dora, Georgina and Christina. Hector, the eldest eventually gave up serious piping, was a notable composer and died in 1979. Ian became Pipe Major of the 9th Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Highlanders) and was wounded in the 2nd World War losing the use of his “E” finger. He continued to play, however, by substituting the little finger of his left hand in place of it. Peter (Junior) was taught exclusively by his father from boyhood (first being given a chanter at 3 years old) and was recognised as a top-flight professional player at the tender age of 12.

According to Peter Macleod Jnr, his father was an unknown quantity as a composer before 1928, when he produced his son before the best pipers in the world. From that time on his status as a knowledgeable man of piping never dimmed and he established himself as one of the truly prolific and good composers of this century.

This year at a Lewis and Harris Piping Association Recital, the visiting piper told of how he was planning his recital, while boarding the plane in Inverness. Compiling his sets of tunes in his head he needed another March to complete the set. His reverie was distracted by a heated discussion going on in the aisle.

The Inverness to Stornoway plane was a thirty two seater and thirty three people got on the plane. Impossible — how could this happen! Could an unaccounted person with malicious intent have boarded the plane? Sometime later they left Inverness Airport safe in the knowledge that at the check-in desk, two Donald Macleods had been allocated seat 12A! The Association’s guest piper decided on the final tune in the set. It had to be the Conondrum. Pipers have great stories!

The story of PM Peter R Macleod’s life are in the tunes he composed. About 200 tunes bear his signature. Amongst them are Highlanders Institute, Glasgow, The Tweed, The Lewis & Harris Gathering, Arnish Light, South Beach Stornoway, and Stornoway Castle. The tune The Conundrum is thought to have been inspired by his walking to work with his wooden leg. The tune is at least 70 years old and the displacement of rhythm with in it is, and will be, a challenge to the young musicians of the future.

@Magaidh Smith