To provide a clear historical account of the Great Highland Bagpipes remains difficult mainly because it is thought that ancient pipes, not those in the form that we know today e.g. Great Highland Bagpipes were instruments of the common people, for example, peasants, farmers and gypsies and as a result they were not held in high regard, collected or documented in historical literature. Furthermore, since they were commonly constructed from organic material such as wood they were easily broken and difficult to preserve.
It is unclear exactly how Bagpipes arrived in Scotland, however, here are several theories. One theory suggest they may have originated in ancient Egypt around 400 BC and another opinion is that their origins lie in Samaria or ancient Israel where they evolved then later migrated to various counties including India, Persia then later to Greece and Rome.
These instruments were then developed and intertwined into the host countries culture and history over hundreds of years leading to continued evolution of the instrument. It must be emphasised that the early instruments bear little resemblance to the Great Highland bagpipe of today which in its self is a fairly modern instrument. They do however bear resemblance to whistle and flutes which may be the ancient cousin of the bagpipe chanter today. As time progressed various versions of the instrument incorporated a reservoir bag so that the instrument could be played continuously and then drones were added which contained reeds.
It is thought pipes were brought to Britain by the invading Romans in 100 A.D. In fact, the great emperor Nero was reported to know how to play an early version of the bagpipe in 60 A.D. It is also believed that the instrument was brought to Irish shores by invading Anglo Norman armies and that Irish tribes colonising Scotland may have introduced them to ancient Scotland. There is little mention or historical literature until the 12th century when artwork and illustrations started to appear eg. Cantigas de Santa Maria 2121 A.D.
There are many types of Bagpipe in existence in the modern world today, however the Great Highland Bagpipe is perhaps the most well-known and is inextricably linked with Scotland, Scottish castles, folklore and weddings in Scotland. In Britain alone there are many types of bagpipes including the Great Highland Bagpipes, Lowland Pipes, Kitchen Pipes, Scottish Small Pipes, Uilean Pipes, Irish Warpipes and Northumbrian Pipes. There are hundreds of further examples around the world using the same principle of a reservoir bag filled through blown air or bellows, a chanter with a reed and in most cases one, two or three drones which also contain reeds. Whether all variations of this instrument sprung from the same seed remains unclear, however one fact remains clear, if the instrument is played properly, there is no sweeter sound.
Historically, bagpipers have been performing at weddings, fairs and feast for hundreds of years.The Great Highland Bagpipe, once declared as a weapon of war after the Battle of Culloden (1746) is an instrument that is sure to stir emotion and make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. Wedding pipers in Scotland traditionally play several tunes which are inextricably linked with wedding including Mhairi’s wedding and the Highland Wedding. Many brides now choose to include a wedding piper on their wedding day to build a sense of occasion, to entertain their guests and to allow smooth transitions to other key aspects of the day.
How did bagpipes come to be in Scotland?