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Piobaireachd and Canntaireachd – The Legend of the Ulster Connection
Since the 16th century a school of piobaireachd at Boreraig in Skye was run by the MacCrimmon family, hereditary pipers to the MacLeods of Dunvegan. The school remained in existence for over 300 years.
Giordano Bruno, a priest who came from Cremona in Italy, was burned at the stake in Rome, at the Campo de Fiori (Field of Flowers) in 1600 for alleged heretical beliefs, which included the acceptance of a geo-centric universe, God as Universal Substance and “Primitive Christianity” which proclaimed Christianity as Infinite Love (said to be represented in cainntaireachd by “hindirin hin”). One legend states that the theology of Bruno is coded in the piobaireachd and canntaireachd but all sources to the key to this have been lost.
Petrus Bruno (Petrus the Good), was a nephew of Giordano and came to Ulster in the late 16th century, probably because it was dangerous to remain in Italy as a relative of Bruno. Maybe he shared his beliefs. He further distanced and protected himself by taking the name of “Cremon”. Petrus had three sons who were all celebrated Piobaireachd players.
During the Ulster Uprising early in the 17th century, the MacLeods of Dunvegan came to Ulster to fight against the English. One of the MacLeods heard Petrus’ sons playing and persuaded one of them, Iain Odhar (dark-coloured) and his son, Donald to return to Skye. Before he left Ulster, Donald’s father (Iain), married a Miss McKinnon from Skye and changed his name to McCrimmon.
Donald returned to Ulster in the mid 17th century to finish his studies with his Uncle Patrick (who had a piping college in Ulster), Patrick being another son of Petrus. Donald then succeeded his father as piper to the MacLeods and his son, Patrick Mor, the most famous of all the MacCrimmons, followed him as MacLeods’ piper.
Subsequently, Patrick Mor went to Italy to study for 2 years and is said to have returned with the full understanding of the religious significance of the canntaireachd and its meaning for the playing of piobaireachd, supposed to contain the coded philosophy of Giordano Bruno. Piobaireachd certainly is played with emphasis on phrasing and repetition (not always exact), somewhat similar to the Psalms and the expression “the language of the pipes” is not unknown.
It is interesting to note, however, that after the uprising against the English the Earls of Ulster “fled” to north Italy and one of these places was Cremona.
The NIPDS is an
Associate College of The College of Piping, Glasgow
Funded by The Arts Council of Northern Ireland