History of Scottish Bagpipes

Whenever someone thinks of Scotland, two things come to mind immediately; Kilts and bagpipes. Of all the cultural staples a people can have, bagpipes are the most iconic. They’re used for a variety of reasons: Funerals, battle, and celebration. Their unique sound stirs awake emotions people may not even be aware that they have, and for this reason they are a mainstay in Scottish tradition.

When Were Bagpipes Invented?

This question is hard to answer. Although the history of the Scottish bagpipes is well documented, the history of how the Scotts came to have them as a cultural staple is unknown. Most historians agree that bagpipes were invented in Egypt. What they can’t seem to agree on is how they made their way to Scotland to be further innovated into the Scottish Highland Bagpipes we know and love today. A common theory is that Rome picked it up from Egypt, and then brought it over to the Celts during their repeated attempted invasions in 73 AD.

But the first mention of a bagpipe being used by the Scottish people happened in 1549 AD at the Battle of Pinkie. After this, the bagpipe began its journey to becoming the Scottish cultural Icon we know and love today. Although the invention of the bagpipe didn’t take place in Scotland, the innovation of the Great Highland Bagpipe is. This is the bagpipe that is featured in almost every history book that talks about the history of Scotland. This is the type of bagpipe that most people are familiar with.

What Do The Scots Use The Scottish Bagpipes For?

The Scottish Bagpipes are a traditional instrument, and because of this they are used in traditional ceremonies. But before they were used in more peaceful ceremonies, they were used on the field of battle to motivate the Celts to fight harder. No instrument on the face of the earth is more synonymous with free-spirted warriors fighting against an encroaching army than the Scottish Bagpipes. It also struck fear into the hearts of enemy forces. Upon hearing the bagpipes, enemies knew the Celts were prepared to fight until the bitter end without surrender. Sure, one could say that Colonial drummers inspired their men, but not like the Great Highland Bagpipes did. There’s a reason that the Celts have historically been hard to conquer. The Highland Bagpipe is the fighting spirit of the Celtic people made manifest.

The Highland Bagpipe is also affiliated with Funerals. In America, some military funerals use the Highland Bagpipes to pay respect to fallen soldiers. In Highland Scotland, the bagpipes are used more commonly for any type of funeral. If the person who dies is of note, the bagpipe will be played for the entirety of the procession leading up to the burial, and then played at the burial itself to show respect for the dead. Dead people must be pleased to hear the sounds of the Highland Bagpipe shepherding them into the afterlife. They are also played quietly at the wake before the actual funeral takes place.

While bagpipes aren’t typically associated with marriage in the US, the Highland Scots use them pretty commonly during their wedding ceremonies. You can typically get a bagpipe player to play whenever you want them to play, but traditionally they only play when events of note happen during the wedding. These events include when the bride walks down the isle, when the handfasting cord is tied, or when a unity candle is lit. You can also expect to hear them during any dancing that takes place, naturally.

What Influence Did The Highland Bagpipes Have on The Rest of The World?

If not for the Celts innovating the Highland Bagpipe, it wouldn’t have become one of the world’s most recognizable instruments. Cultures that are outside of Scotland have respectful adopted the Highland Bagpipe as an instrument that can be used to show respect for the dead, as well as an instrument that can be used at sporting events to signal dominance. Sure, the Colonial Americans have their drummer boys, but they don’t inspire nearly as well as the Highland Bagpipe players who lead armies to war.

The Highland Bagpipes also shaped the way the rest of the world viewed Scotland. We view them as proud, brash, and unafraid of hardship. We picture them as kilt wearing barbarians with red hair, playing the Highland Bagpipes on a solitary hill, silhouetted against as sunset. Hearing the highland bagpipes play immediately conjures up images of resistance against tyrants, and freedom at whatever price there is to be paid for it.

Even those not native to the Highlands of Scotland hear the Highland Bagpipe and feel inspired to be all that they can be in whatever situation they find themselves in.

The Highland Bagpipes also inspire young budding musicians to learn how to play them. They don’t learn how to play them because they want to appear unique, but they want to learn how to play them to respect a culture that was founded on hardship and perseverance

Fascinating Historical Trivia Regarding Scottish Bagpipes

During the Jacobite revolution, Highland culture was shamed and suppressed, eventually leading to Scottish Bagpipes not being played publicly. No law specifically banned the playing of the Scottish bagpipe, but because of the violent nature of the revolution, Highlanders self-censored their playing of them.

In Gaelic, the word for bagpipe is P’iob M’hor, which translates to English as “Big Pipe.”

 Scottish bagpipes used to be referred to as war pipes. Their intended purpose was to scare enemies from the field of battle through their unique sound.

Because of their nature as instruments of war, The Scottish Bagpipe was banned twice. Once in 1560, and once again in 1746. The reasoning for this was that the British Empire absolutely did not want a bunch of angry Scots getting whipped into a frenzy by the sound of the Scottish Bagpipe.

The most played song on the Scottish Bagpipes in history is “Scotland The Brave.” It was written in 1950 by journalist Cliff Branley. It is often known as the unofficial national anthem of Scotland.