Scottish Bagpipes

scottish_bagpipesThe origins of the pipes in Scotland are uncertain. Some say it was a Roman import. Others believe that the instrument came from Ireland as the result of colonization. Another theory is that they were developed there independently. Historians can only speculate on the origins of the Scottish clans’ piob mhor, or great Highland bagpipe, but the Highlanders were the ones to develop the instrument to its fullest extent and make it, both in peace and war, their national instrument.

As a musical instrument of war, the Great Pipes of the Highlands were without equal, according to historians. The shrill and penetrating notes worked well in the roar and din of battle and pipes could be heard at distances up to 10 miles. Because of the importance of the bagpipes to any Highland army, they were classified as an instrument of war by the Loyalist government during the Highland uprising in the 1700s. After the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745, kilts and bagpipes were outlawed, the pipes being classified as instruments of war.

When the Black Watch was first formed in 1739, each Company maintained its own individual pipers. Scotland was at that time still Scotland. The Black Watch was formed by the English Hanoverian King, of companies of men from the Highlands to “Watch” the Highlanders Thus the name “Black” – for dark use, and “Watch” – for watching the Highlanders.

It was not until the Napoleonic wars that drummers were introduced and together with the pipers formed what is now known as the Pipes and Drums of the Black Watch. Throughout the history of the Black Watch, pipers and later the Pipes and Drums have remained an integral part of the Regiments and as such, have played an important part in its victories and battle honors. Pipers were to be seen leading the Black Watch and other Regiments in action many times since their inception. It is no longer unusual to find an American who plays the pipes and, indeed, several units of the American Army and Navy and Air Force have their own pipe bands, and have had for more than 40 years.

The Black Watch Pipers wear the Royal Stewart tartan, the official tartan of Scotland’s Royal Family, an honor bestowed on the Regiment by Queen Victoria in 1889. The Black Watch soldiers and drummers currently wear the Black Watch tartan; an adaptation of the Campbell tartan, brought about because three of their six Generals at the time of its founding were Campbells.


A Scottish Highlander in authentic Highland long kilt. The portion of the kilt hanging down in back is used as a blanket when out in the glens and is pulled over the shoulders to keep out the cold and wet.

The Lands of  my Ancestors, the Carmichaels

Carmichael map

In the southern uplands of Lanarkshire, Scotland, are the lands of Carmichael, my ancient ancestral lands where all Carmichaels had their beginning. From that place, the clan has traveled far from their native lands to encompass the globe.

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Me near the cottage gate on the Carmichael estates

The surname “Carmichael” was given to the lords of that land by Queen Margaret of Scotland in the 12th century. At that time, a “care” or fortress was established for protection from invasion and a Kirk (church) was built on a high hill overlooking the picturesque countryside. Queen Margaret named the Kirk, St. Michael’s. Combing that name with the “care” for the lands, the clan became known as “Care-Michael” or Carmichael.

Ruth on Kirk Hill_Lanarkshire Scotland

Climbing Kirk hill to see the monument where the original Kirk once stood

The view from atop the ancient site of the Kirk on the lands of Carmichael is breathtaking. It seems that in times past, it was significant to locate a church on the highest point of the hill. While researching my g-g-grandparents, both churches I located where Carmichaels had worshiped and were buried, were on the highest hills and not easily accessible. Perhaps they felt closer to God atop a hill. But for whatever reason, the Kirk site was magnificent.

carmichael Kirk

Today, the original Kirk for which my family was named is no longer standing but a monument was erected on the spot where the Kirk once stood. It burned some century ago and was raised. When the new Kirk was erected in the 1700’s, the outside staircase to the balcony was saved and dragged down the slopes to the site of the “new” Kirk.


While visiting the new Carmichael Kirk, the contrast of the new stone building with the old stone staircase was striking. I give credit to whoever voted to locate the new Kirk in the valley so people could get there with greater ease than having to climb that long, high hill in bad weather. Even if you had a horse or carriage, the way to the top was quite arduous. We had to climb to the monument on foot and I wondered how it was accomplished in the earlier centuries. Hearty people, those Scots!

In the Kirk yard with Carmichael grave plots. Note the ancient staircase dragged down the slopes from the original Kirk site and attached to the “new” Kirk. These steps to the balcony were 12th century.

Outside in the Kirk-yard are the burying grounds. It was customary to bury close to the Kirk so most churches are dotted with graves. Carmichaels are buried here…so many laid to rest in this ancient land. So much history, so many stories. I wash I knew them all. I will leave mine behind in a land far from our family’s beginnings.

Kirk window

The beautiful stained glass

Even more impressive than the new Kirk whose outside is like so many other stone structures in Scotland, the inside is beautiful. The windows are stained glass depicting Biblical scenes as well as the Carmichael coat of Arms and Carmichael history. The woodwork  is ancient, lovely, and gleaming with polish. The ceiling is like the bottom of a ship turned upside down with timbers naked and exposed. It is quite awesome. The balcony with the ancient outside staircase, is where the Lords of Carmichael sat to view the service and to keep a watchful eye on his people to make certain they were in attendance. Tenants must attend Kirk as well as the family of the day.