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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Curling and Bagpipes - Together Forever

How did bagpipes evolve to lead curlers onto the ice?  A very good question.  It seems that curling historians have not addressed the issue.  Which seems fair since piping the curlers onto the ice has nothing to do with the game itself. 

The evolution of bagpipes and the connection to Scotland is one that is very much part myth and part legend.    The first clear reference to the use of the Scottish Highland bagpipes is from a French history, which mentions their use at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh in 1547 (ed note:  that would make a good name for a piper). It was claimed that they had replaced the trumpet on the battlefield. This period saw the creation of its martial origins with battle-tunes, marches, gatherings, salutes and laments.  Bagpipes found their footing in Scotland firmly in the 1700's. 

In more recent history the expansion of the British army, which included Highland regiments, is thought to have brought the bagpipes to many cultures. Bagpipe regiments were active in WWI and WWII.  After the two world wars the highland bagpipes became increasingly popular.  The tradition of pipe bands in the British Army today, as well as any number of ceremonial and traditional occasions at which pipers are required, is clear indication of just how closely the Scots value their bagpipes.

The oldest references of bagpipes at curling bonspiels that we have found include:  1839 – a team of Scots went to Belfast to challenge the Irish.  The Scots brought “a piper and made him march round and round the pond during the game, playing Scotch airs”; in 1886 in Aberdeen a piper led the curlers off the ice and to a banquet of beef and greens. 

During the first Scots curling tour to Canada and the USA in 1902 we know that pipers greeted the visitors in at least Montreal, Toronto and Guelph.  We are not sure if the pipes were used in Detroit for that visit.  During their next visit in 1912 The Detroit Free Press reported that “The Scots were met at Central Station and the curlers marched up Fort Street to the music of the pipes and were received at city hall by Mayor Thompson and other city officials.  They preceded to the St. Andrews’ society rooms where another reception was held.”  We have photographs of pipers at The Club for the Scots visit in 1940 (see below).

Hhmmm.  We have not answered the question. 

What we do know is that Bagpipes and their skirl is always associated with Scotland.  We know that in the 1800’s and early 1900’s nearly all curlers were of Scotch descent.  We know that pipers had been used to lead warriors into battle.  Roll those three facts together and we have a tartan clad piper named Pinkie Cleugh leading curlers into battle playing ‘Scotland The Brave’ at the 129th Detroit International Bonspiel.

Good curling to all,

Angus MacTavish

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