Tunes of Glory

The Role of Ceòl Mòr in the Social Ascendancy of Pipers in 16th to 17th Century Gaelic Scotland

  • Brian James MacLeod
Keywords: Gaelic Scotland, Bagpipe, Ceòl Mòr, Hereditary Pipers


The late-16th through to the early-17th century was a period of unprecedented upheaval and conflict throughout the British Isles. This article explores the transformative rise in social status of pipers in Highland society during this period of social, political, economic, and cultural change. Bagpipes, traditionally assigned a low-caste role in society in Ireland and Scotland, were transformed into a vehicle for a highly developed form of musical composition, ceòl mòr (‘great music’). The article examines the factors which allowed the families of hereditary pipers to achieve this significant change in fortune, whilst the highlighting the unique compositional form of pipe music which enabled their entry into the upper echelons of Gaelic society in Scotland.