Piping Tradition of Clan Maclean

The Clan Maclean [Ciann Gill Eoin] came to prominence in the l4th century due to the patronage of the Lords of the Isles. Following the forfeiture of the Lords in 1493, the Maclean chiefs established their own households and courts, and the clan became the dominant family in Mull, Morvern, Ardgour, Coll and Tiree and various adjacent lands and islands. Some of the family settled further afield, but for Macleans everywhere, Mull and around, is home.

The years of expansion, were followed by dol sios Chlionn Ghill-Eathain, the years of decline, as the clan, and particularly the chiefs, were caught between the claims and power of the Campbells and the Macdonalds. The clan’s support for the Stuarts was to seal its ultimate downfall. Through all these difhculties, the clan produced a series of well-known poets and gifted musicians.

The Chief of the name is Maclean of Duart and Morvern, and lives at Duart Castle on the Island of Mull, and Maclaine of Lochbuie lived at Moy Castle. Other chieftains and major families are the Macleans of Ardgour, Coll, Dochgarroch, Drimnin, Kingairloch, Pennycross and Torloisk. Among the various families associated with the Clan Maclean are Beaton, MacCormick, MacFadyen and MacGilvra, as well as the Rankins, who are believed to be descended from the same stock as the Macleans.

The Rankins were the hereditary pipers to the Macleans of Duart. Tradition states that the first Rankin to pipe for his chief Cu-duiligh MacRiang, was trained in Ireland. He founded what is thought to be the first piping college in Scotland, at Kilbrennan, on Mull, and the school was maintained by these hereditary pipers until about l76O. The Rankins and the MacCrimmons of Skye were on good terms, at one point intermarrying, and the Rankins used to go to Skye to complete their own musical education, while the MacCrimmons reciprocated by completing theirs at Kilbrennan. With the fall in fortunes of the chief, the Rankins became pipers to the Macleans of Coll. The last of the hereditary pipers, Neil Rankin, played for Dr. Johnson on Coll in 1773.

The first recorded prize winning Maclean piper was Neil MacLean who won first prize at the Falkirk competition of l783. He was later appointed piper to the Highland Society of London. In modern times the rich tradition of Maclean pipe music and of outstanding pipers, has continued not just from amongst Macleans themselves but also from the septs of the clan such as the Beatons and the MacFadyens.

The Clan Maclean Heritage Trust was founded in part to maintain and enhance the Maclean

piping tradition. ln association with the Trust, Mrs Beatrice MacLean has sponsored the Clan Maclean part of the main Piping Hall at the College of Piping, Glasgow, in memory of her father-in-law Pipe Major Hector MacLean, from Oban and Mull, who was piper to the Chief and the Clan Maclean 1932-l968, her husband, Professor Hector MacLean and her daughter, Mrs Lynn Lambie, who were both very active on the Clan Maclean Council.

The Heritage Trust sponsored the production of the Maclean piping bible, The Pipe Music of Clan Maclean in 2012. This is available from the Duart Castle Gift Shop.

The Trust has sponsored a Piping Bursary programme; two bursars are playing for us in the Virtual Gathering, Jamie Maclean, of Edinburgh, and Nick McLean, of Kilmartin. Nick’s younger brother, Angus, was selected for a bursary in 2020, but this has been postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In recent years, the Trust has been sponsoring tuition of young pipers in Argyll with grants to the Argyll Piping Trust, and also to the Tobermory High School Band – who wear Maclean tartan kilts. Much of the tuition has bee carried out by Calum Maclean, the Chief’s piper, who also features in our Virtual Gathering.

To learn more about the work of the Clan Maclean Heritage Trust, you can visit our website.

To support the work of the Trust, please make a donation, or join the Trust as a Friend.