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The Scottish Bagpipes

History of the Scottish Bagpipes

We’ve all heard the jokes.

Why do bagpipers always walk when they play?
To get away from the noise.

Why do bagpipers always walk when they play?
So they can upset everyone at one time.

Why do bagpipers always walk when they play?
A moving target is harder to hit.

While they may not be everyone’s cup of tea, the truth is the bagpipes are an integral part of our Scottish heritage—as much as kilts, whisky, haggis, and Loch Ness. If you’ve ever been to Scotland, you know there is no instrument better suited to the stark beauty of the Caledonian Highlands. The enduring note of the drone creates a beautiful, melancholy harmony that no other musical tool can match.

We Scots, however, can’t take full credit for their creation. One origin suggests that a sculpture of bagpipes appear on a Hittite slab in Anatolia, dated back to the 10th century BC. Some historians suggest that the ancient Greek askaulos and Roman emperor Nero’s tibia utricularis as early forms of the instrument. The signature drone was thought to be added later in Medieval Europe.

In the British Isles, Geoffrey Chaucer mentions the pipes in his seminal work, The Canterbury Tales (c1380 AD):

A baggepype wel coude he blowe and sowne, And ther-with-al he broghte us out of towne.

Scottish bagpipes first appear in histories of the Highlands during the Battle of Pinkie in 1547. The author notes that pipes replaced trumpets on the battlefield. Since that time, they have become a staple of Scottish gatherings—from battle to weddings—wherever we go around the world.

If you’re new to the bagpipes, here’s a quick listen to Jonathan Hively, a well-known New England piper, playing a true Scottish classic:

Interested in learning the pipes (and potentially annoying your neighbors)? There are dozens of well-organized Pipe & Drum bands currently playing in the United States alone. You can also get started by doing a little online research. One guide from McGillivray Piping offers a realistic look at the equipment and time commitment needed to start your journey.

If you already have a bagpiper in the family, we have the perfect gifts in store. You can check out our social piper-friendly gifts in the Shop. Our newest addition is the colorful Tartan Bagpipes Enamel Pin which pairs with the Tartan Kilt Enamel Pin.

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