The Monstrous Regiment
From “Pipe Music of the Western Peoples” by Thomas P. MacGloin
The old Gaelic world throve in anarchy -a happy, heady state. It went under to the Colonising horde, known to the sharp-after-the-event as the species, organising man, from out of the East and Lowlands. The treachery was, as most self-deception is, simple: having for time out of mind reveled in the whim and random slaughter of the invader, the Gael upped -and as suddenly and inexplicably -he organised (he was of course organised) -himself and his undoing. Brian of The Battles and The Bruce are scurvy examples of this character flaw, if glorious victims.
Like the strumpet, ambition, the flaw is doggedly with us. We hardly need be a Spendler to rail tediously at the headlong standardisation of our world, the whittling away of the sustaining differences, the suppression of individuality; but a touch of the primal gleeman is needed if only for that moment of ‘terrible clearness’ in the ‘lost vision’ of ancient ways. More cannot be expected -just the moment; akin metaphysically, physically, to De Gaulle’s when he dismissed the Aryan world (organising man) with the withering ‘Ce n’est pas serieux!’. No mere drollery that: rather a blast of principle and the grand historical imperative scotched.
The epiphany delivered, the General stoops into his Mercedes-Benz; we take our Ford-Taunus and, as the sharp know, we go where the wheels take us. Hume we go, and there’s the flaw.
Historically, the piper had a lot of that same De Gaulle about him: he was the ‘character’, an individual celebration, the larger of the local solipsists; the only piper to the ~Big House, the solitary piper of the game, feud and battle; he brooked no one -was aloud unto himself; his renderings were his own; his variations, his creations; it’s doubtful he blew the same phrase twice but decreed it all into the Great Memory of the people.
It was this saga of a man, the colonist sweated to destroy and was having no easy time of it till in guile and expedience, he sidled him into the military band. And that was that. The piper was organised; destined never to lose the military stamp. Hand in hand came the fostering institutions -extensions of the orthodox bastion -the civvie band, the associations, the societies, the controlling competition, and scripted music -all relentless agencies of organisation and the ineluctable, standardisation.
Folkmusic nourishes when it is spontaneous and unselfconscious; when studied, it is classical; when further folked up and disingenuous, modern; when conventionalised down to the last punctilious grace note, it is, pipe music. Logical it is then that we come upon the Inverness judge proscribing a certain embellishment (a full birl on a final ‘a’), or that we get wind of settings in certain collections being declared anathema. Logical, yes, and on a par for lunacy with the Coisde stricture of a few years back that ceilidhe bands orchestrate for the Dublin Oireachteas. Ochone, Kincora, Ochone!
The Pipe Music of The Western People is a shot to catch the sound of that people, the pristine ‘softness’ of a remote fastness soul that suffered least from the organising species -if for the unheroic reason a plough couldn’t be put on or a decent furlong opened up. The traditional or ‘ear’ players refer to this sound, in the best of pub Gaelic, as the ghneagh; the reel and caoine (lament), probably the only native or Celtic forms, couch it best.
The collection comes, then, with the conventions savaged, the gracing defiant, the best of intentions –all sublimely indifferent to MacNeice’s line of futility in his ‘Bagpipe Music’:
…if you break the bloody glass you won’t hold up the weather
Thomas P. MacGloin