Hugh MacKay (1801-1864)
In her 1998 publication, ‘Piping Traditions of the North of Scotland’, Bridget MacKenzie gives the following account of Hugh MacKay:
Hugh MacKay (1801-1864) was born in the Reay country. He was a piper in the 71st Highlanders in 1830, and was Pipe Major from 1836-1851. After that, he went to the Stirlingshire Militia, from 1852 to 1864. He was a great march player who, with Angus MacKay, made the competition march what it is today. He composed many marches, including: “The 71st Quickstep” (made over from “The Ross and Cromarty Rangers’ Quickstep”), “The Stirlingshire Militia,” “The Craigs of Stirling,” Angus Campbell’s Farewell to Stirling” and “Charles Edward Hope de Vere.”
The sixth march, “Donald Cameron,” has six parts. It was named after Seaforth’s piper when Hugh MacKay spent some time with him, while Seaforth was at Stirling Castle.
All of these, except “Donald Cameron,” are 2/4 marches in four parts. Archibald Campbell of Kilberry wrote of these marches, “No one ot my knowledge has ever produced six tunes to match these.”
Hugh MacKay died at Stirling in 1864.
Though not known as a great piobaireachd player, his prowess at playing and composing 2/4 marches puts Hugh MacKay at the forefront as one of the fathers of the modern competition march and one of the great composers of bagpipe music.
His likeness can apparently be found in watercolours of the 71st Highlanders painted in 1837 during the regiment’s time in Ireland.
JM, January 2008
-with notes from “Notices of Pipers,” Piping Times, February, 1972.