John MacKay was the son of an equally prominent piper, Pipe Major John MacKay, pipe major of the 1st Battalion 25th King’s Own Borderers from 1856-1869.
Young John was born in India and became a piper with the 91st Argyllshire Highlanders, serving under the great Pipe Major Robert Meldrum. He became Pipe Major in 1881. In 1885, transferred to the 4th Battalion Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders (the former 4th Renfrewshire Militia Battalion) and was Pipe Major there. He learned his piobaireachd from Alick Cameron and won the Gold Medal at Oban in 1887 and at Inverness in 1889.He won the Army Piping Championship in 1888, and the Scottish Open Championship twce. In 1903 he became pipe major of the Liverpool Scottish, a post which he held until he died.
His two most famous compositions are the 4/4 march “The Badge of Scotland,” said to be a tribute to his father and inspired by the cap badge of the 25th, noted above, and the 2/4 competition march “The Renfrewshire Militia.” He also arranged the 3/4 retreat march “The Hawk that Swoops on High,” based on the Gaelic song “Creag Ghuanach.”
JM, December 2007
-with notes from ‘Piping Traditions of the North of Scotland’, by Bridget MacKenzie, 1998, and private conversations with David Murray.