William MacKinnon

(1840-1918)

In ‘The Piper in Peace and War’ (1927), author John Murray reports on the life of William MacKinnon as follows:

Of high reputation as a piper, Mackinnon rose to the rank of major, and made his mark in more than one field. A Lanarkshire man, he joined the 74th Highlanders in 1863 as a piper, and was almost immediately afterwards promoted Pipe Major. Quitting that post eleven years later for the post of paymaster-sergeant, he ws quickly promoted regimental quartermaster sergeant, and was commissioned Quartermaster of the 4th Battalion.

On retiring, was given the rank of Major. Died in Glasgow in 1918. Major Mackinnon’s piping successes date from 1864 when he was awarded 1st prize for pibroch and 1st for reels at the Northern Meeting. Of his compositions, the most popular are the “71st’s Quickstep” and the “74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh.”

David Murray reports that progressing from pipe major to Quartermaster was an unusual step in those days, and that MacKinnon was forever after referred to in the Regiment as “Major MacKinnon” rather than as “Pipe Major MacKinnon.”

His “1st prize for pibroch” at the Northern Meeting in 1864 was in fact for the Prize Pipe. Other winners during that decade included Colin Cameron, Donald MacKay, Malcolm MacPherson, Alick Cameron and Duncan MacDougall. As a player, William MacKinnon was clearly of the highest rank. In addition to being a pipemaker, he also published one notable collection of bagpipe music.

“Notices of Pipers” from the January, 1973 ‘Piping Times’, has this to say about MacKinnon:

A Lanarkshire man, but of West Highland stock. Taught piping and pipemaking by William Gunn and won many prizes both for ceol mor and ceol beag at the various gatherings, including the gold medal at Inverness in 1866. In 1863 he joined the 74th (later 2nd H.L.I.). Was Pipe Major from that year until 1874, when he was promoted Paymaster-Sergeant, then Quartermaster-Sergeant soon after, and finally Quartermaster of his 4th (Militia) Battalion.

He died a Major on 29th March, 1918 and his remains were interred in the Western Necropolis, Glasgow, with full military honurs. His best known composition os “The 74th’s Farewell to Edinburgh.”

JM, December, 2007
-with references from ‘The Piper in Peace and War, The Northern Meeting’, by Angus Fairrie (1988), conversations with David Murray, and the ‘Piping Times’, January, 1973.