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      General News

One of the most prestigious piping competitions in the world has returned to Stornoway in all its former glory. Top honours in the Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE Memorial Competition, held in the Caladh Inn on Friday, were taken by Dollar piping instructor Callum Beaumont, who was first overall and won the Ceol Mòr (piobareachd) and MSR (March, Strathspey and Reel).

Callum Beaumont receiving his prize from Susan Millar, one of P/M Donald MacLeod’s daughters

James Duncan Mackenzie, formerly of folk band Breabach fame and now a piping instructor in Lewis and Harris schools, was second overall and second in both these categories, and had already made history by being the first Lewis piper to ‘qualify’ for the invitational competition since its inception in 1994. 

James Duncan Mackenzie, left, and Callum Beaumont, right

Barra teen Eosaph Gailbraith was the third major winner, coming first in the Pipe Major Donald MacLeod MBE Junior Competition for youngsters from the Western Isles – held for the first time this year, and taking place on Thursday, the day before the main event. Eosaph is Pipe Major of the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band.

The town of Stornoway was singing to the tune of the pipes all day Thursday and Friday. While the junior competition was underway on Thursday, the Lewis and Harris Youth Pipe Band were at the airport to pipe the arriving competitor pipers and judges off the plane. 

The event commemorates the music of one of Stornoway’s most famous sons, Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, who was one of the most prolific composers of the last century and wrote 27 piobareachds. 

Lewis and Harris Piping Society Chairman Dr John Smith said it had been “a very successful revival of the Donald MacLeod Memorial Piping Competition after three years in abeyance due to Covid”, adding: “I was delighted that we were able to organise this competition again, to commemorate the music of one of the best pipers of the last century in his home town.”

Overall winner Callum Beaumont was a previous winner, having taken the title in 2013, while it was a very successful debut for James Duncan Mackenzie. Invited to take part in the Donald MacLeod competition after winning the Dunvegan Medal at the Skye Gathering in 2022, James’s performance of the Donald MacLeod piobareachd ‘Lament for the Iolaire’ was one of the most poignant moments of the day.

The other pipers who took part in the competition were Angus MacColl, Connor Sinclair, Willie McCallum, Glenn Brown and Finlay Johnston. Fred Morrison was also due to participate but had to withdraw. Judges for the senior competition were William Morrison, Murray Henderson and Colin R MacLellan. 

James Duncan Mackenzie said it had been “a great weekend”. He said: “It was an honour to be invited to such a prestigious solo piping competition and celebration of Donald MacLeod’s music. I grew up learning Donald’s music through the teaching of the late Pipe Major Iain Murdo Morrison and he was obviously a pupil of Donald MacLeod’s so it’s nice to carry on with that tradition. 

“I first attended the competition as an audience member when I was about eight years old and back then I was really inspired by the likes of Angus MacColl and Willie McCallum and it’s just a huge honour to be competing now at that level amongst these guys. They’ve been at the top level of solo piping for the best part of 25 years or more. I was just really delighted to even feature in the prize list.”

Now working towards the Gold Medal competitions at the likes of Oban and Inverness, James said competitive solo piping was “a different discipline” to playing on the folk scene. “When I was younger I did a lot of solo piping competitions and then moved away from it. I’ve not been doing as much on the folk scene. It’s great to get back to the solo piping side of things.” 

 

Senior competition results:
  

Ceol Mòr

1st Callum Beaumont 

2nd James Duncan Mackenzie

3rd Glenn Brown

4th Willie McCallum

 

March, Strathspey and Reel:

1st Callum Beaumont 

2nd James Duncan Mackenzie

3rd Angus MacColl

4th Finlay Johnston

 

Hornpipe and Jig:

1st Angus MacColl

2nd Willie McCallum

3rd Callum Beaumont

4th James Duncan Mackenzie

 

In the junior competition, Eosaph Gailbraith, age 17, won the Norman S Morrison trophy, to be retained for a year, and a silver long practice chanter donated by McCallum Pipes. Judges for the junior competition were Iain MacCrimmon and Colin R MacLellan.

Eosaph Gailbraith with dad Donny and sister Mairead, who also competed

Chairman Dr Smith said: “It is hugely encouraging for us that there are youngsters the length and breadth of the Western Isles taking advantage of the opportunities they are getting to learn to play the pipes. 

“There is a huge amount of time spent learning to play the pipes and to get to that level of performance is testament to the enthusiasm and commitment the youngsters have to maintaining our musical heritage. Eosaph Gailbraith was very relaxed and I’m sure has a very bright future if he continues to play. If they continue with the same determination they showed on Thursday, they will all reach a high level of skill.

“We have been talking about staging a junior version of the Donald MacLeod competition for some time and we are delighted that it finally came to fruition. It reflects the aims and objectives of the Piping Society, to promote piping in all its aspects, and we have always encouraged the teaching of piping amongst the young. And that is also in line with Donald MacLeod’s philosophy with encouraging, motivating and supporting youngsters to play the pipes.”

Dr Smith said some members of the audience had travelled far for the main competition. “There were visitors from Ness to Barra in the Western Isles, from Skye and Inverness, from the Central Belt in Ayrshire, and three visitors from Germany who had come specifically for the competition.”

One enthusiast described the day as “just magic” while another, who took a taxi from Inverness to Ullapool after missing their bus connection for the ferry, declared the extra cost was worth “every penny”. 

The competitions were also attended by P/M Donald MacLeod’s daughters, Susan Millar and Fiona MacLeod, pictured at top of page, Susan on left and Fiona on right. 

Dr Smith added: “We are extremely grateful to our main sponsor Point and Sandwick Trust, and its general manager Donald John MacSween, for their continuing support of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society and the Donald MacLeod competition in particular.”

John Wilson, Fear an Taighe of the competition, expressed his “delight” that the competition had returned to all its pre-pandemic glory – and that the audience had returned too, its enthusiasm undimmed. 

“It was great,” he said. “I’ve seen piping competitions going under the radar for various reasons over the years but in our case it was the pandemic that we never saw coming. You always worry when events are revived that they never quite get back to the level of expectation, the level of financial support that they had, the atmosphere, that the occasion isn’t quite what it was.”

For him, the touchstone had always been the size of the audience turnout for the piobareachd competition in the morning – and whether they stayed for the whole day. He was delighted to see they did.

He added: “The standard of playing was so high, especially in the March, Strathspey and Reel. On another day, any one of those competitors would have been capable of winning a competition. It’s these absolute fine margins that define who is in the prize list. You couldn’t have put a credit card between some of these performances.”

John Wilson hailed the whole “ethos” and “uniqueness” of the competition, and paid tribute to the appreciation of the audience and the efforts of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society in keeping it going.

He also congratulated the society on implementing the junior competition. 

“It was delightful to be back. I was just so glad that all these milestones were still there – the audience, the atmosphere, the warmth of the crowd. That’s the difference with that competition. It’s more like a ceilidh than a competition. The audience are with you. There are not there to be critical, to see someone have a bad day in the office. They just want to hear the music. It was as if it had never been away.”

He also mentioned the impromptu extra competition category – Gaelic Airs and a 6/8 March, judged by the audience and won by Lewis piper James Duncan Mackenzie. “When it came to the audience voting on James Duncan Mackenzie, all the hands shot up. I said, ‘to your delight, obviously because it’s a home town decision, James Duncan Mackenzie wins this marag!’”

Ashley MacDonald, Comhaire nan Eilean Siar Piping Instructor and the Lewis and Harris Piping Society Piping Secretary, said the junior competition had been “a long time coming” and recognised the “growth in youth piping across the islands”. 

She said: “The six youngsters all played very well and the standard was very high and they all conducted themselves with dignity and decorum. I believe wee Donald would have been just as proud as we are of them all.” 

The junior players with the daughters of P/M Donald MacLeod. Left to right, Eosaph Gailbraith, Padruig MacMillan, Fiona MacLeod, Susan Millar, Eilidh MacDonald, Ruairidh MacDonald, Innes Begg.

In addition to the winner’s prizes, the Piping Society also had specially made Pipe Major Donald MacLeod Junior medals. McCallum Bagpipes also donated another six varieties of chanters, one for each player, and the Gordon Duncan Memorial Trust also donated six books, one for each player. The event was sponsored by David Wood of Woody’s Express.

Ashley said: “We would sincerely like to thank all of the sponsors.”

 

Junior competition results:

 

Ceól Mor:

1st Eosaph Gailbraith - Barra

2nd Eilidh MacDonald - Harris

3rd Innes Begg - Lewis

4th Mairead Gailbraith - Barra

5th Ruairidh MacDonald - Lewis

 

March, Strathspey & Reel

1st Eosaph Gailbraith

2nd Ruairidh MacDonald

3rd Padruig MacMillan, South Uist

4th Eilidh MacDonald

5th Mairead Gailbraith

6th Innes Begg

 

Hornpipe & Jig

1st Padruig MacMillan

2nd Innes Begg

3rd Ruairidh MacDonald

4th Mairead Gailbraith

5th Eilidh MacDonald

6th Eosaph Gailbraith