Nearly two hundred
and twenty years ago, in 1788, thirteen Highland gentlemen met
in Inverness to discuss how life in the north of Scotland might
be cheered up and enlivened. The Battle of Culloden fought in
1746, and the subsequent suppression of the clans by the
Hanoverian government of the day, had brought the whole area to
probably the lowest point in its history. The economy was
shattered, roads were almost non-existent, and Inverness itself
was run down and miserable. The Highland population had little
chance or incentive to travel, meet friends and indulge in the
social pleasures which we take for granted today. Only months
earlier the thirteen gentlemen had heard the news that Bonnie
Prince Charlie had died in Rome. With the ‘45 now history, it
seemed to them a good opportunity to make a fresh start.
During the course of their ‘conversation
at length on the subject’ the Gentlemen resolved to hold an
annual meeting ‘for the purpose of promoting a social
intercourse’ and agreed among other resolutions recorded by
Dr. John Alves, the first secretary, that ‘the Object of the
Meeting is Pleasure and Innocent Amusement’. The week-long
gathering was intended to be free of political views, business
ambitions and all the mundane worries of the time.
The first Northern Meeting went very much
as the thirteen gentlemen had envisaged. The company assembled
at Mr. Beverley’s Inn at 4.0pm, where they dined. For the rest
of the week dinner was held alternately in Mr. Beverley’s Inn
and Mr. Ettles’ Hotel. After dinner the company would move to
the Town Hall for the Ball, which commenced at 8pm and finished
at midnight. Great attention was paid to the formality of dress
and the correctness of the dancing – qualities to which The
Northern Meeting has adhered down to the present day.
During the day the gentlemen would ride to
hounds; affording ample time for the ladies to visit and catch
up with the local gossip! As time went on other diversions were
introduced, such as horse racing at Fort George and Dunain Croy.
Later, in 1835, sports and games were held at Dochfour, and two
years later they were moved to the fields of the Longman and
opened to the public. In 1864 the Northern Meeting’s own park
was established in Inverness, which provided the venue for the
Games for the next seventy years. However, by the 1930’s the
Games had become ever more difficult to run, because the
Northern Meeting lacked the resources and staff to compete with
the many other corporate-run events in the Highlands. With the
onset of World War II the Games ceased, and in 1946 the Northern
Meeting Park was sold to the Inverness Burgh Council.
In 1789 the
Northern Meeting proposed to build its own rooms and purchased
from the Inverness Magistrates a site on the corner of Church
Street and Baron Taylor’s Street. Like many construction
projects, costs over-ran the budget and the Meeting Rooms were
to prove a financial millstone round the neck of the society for
the next 170 years. Modeled on the assembly rooms in Edinburgh,
the building had to be continually altered, extended and
repaired, with the consequent drain on the Meeting’s funds. In
1962 the Northern Meeting decided reluctantly to sell the site
for development. Although this brought welcome financial relief,
it deprived the society of a permanent home for the Balls and
the Piping Competitions. Since that time the events of the
Northern Meeting have been held at a number of sites in and
around Inverness, but the long-term aim still remains to
consider the possibility of acquiring or sharing a new home in
the Inverness area.
Today, the Northern Meeting is best known
for its competition in September. These competitions are among
the most prestigious solo events in the piping world. The most
famous competition is the competition, which is organized in
three tiers. Entry is restricted to fewer than 100 of the
world's top pipers, who must re-apply each year.
The tune was composed by PM Willie Ross.
He was born to piping parents in Glenstrathfarrar near Beauly in
Inverness-shire on June 14, 1878, and was taught primarily by
his mother, Mary Collie. He turned his sights on the army
quickly, joining the Scots Guards at age 18 in 1896, thus
beginning an military association that would last for 60 years.
He was decorated with the 1st Battalion in
the Boer War in South Africa from 1899-1902. By then he was
already composing tunes, among them The Scots Guards’
Farewell to South Africa. In 1905 he became Pipe-Major of
the 2nd Battalion, while his younger brother Alexander would
become Pipe-Major of the 1st Battalion in 1911. He served in
France during the Great War until he was invalided from the
service in 1918 due to rheumatism.
In 1919 he secured his famous post as
Instructor at the Army School of Piping at Edinburgh Castle, a
position at the time under the auspices of the Piobaireachd
Society. This being only a half-time position,
he was also able to accept a position as Piobaireachd Society
instructor in the Highlands of Scotland, and also supplement his
income with private pupils. In 1921 he was appointed Pipe-Major
of the Lovat Scouts, a post he held until 1933.
By this time his competing
prowess was the stuff of legend. He won the Gold Medal at
Inverness in 1904 and at Oban in 1907. He won Clasps to the
Inverness Medal in 1905, ’06 and ’07, 1910, ’12, ’13, ’19 and
’28 – a record of eight that would stand for decades, untouched
even by piobaireachd great John MacDonald of Inverness. He won a
total of 11 Former Winners’ M/S/R events at Oban and Inverness.
This competitive record easily distinguishes him as the best
overall competitor of his day.
Ross would hold his position at
the Castle for nearly 40 years until his retirement in 1958,
when he was succeeded by Pipe-Major John A. MacLellan. During
this time he transformed the position into a high-profile one,
training hundreds of pipers and being responsible for virtually
all the premier players the army produced at this time,
including Donald MacLeod and John A. MacLellan. His most famous
private pupil was John D. Burgess, who won both Gold Medals at
age 16 in 1950, and with whom Ross toured North America in 1952.
He produced a long series of gramophone recordings and played
frequently on the radio. His fame spread.
"King George V awarded him the
Royal Victorian Medal in 1910, and in 1945 King George VI
invested him as a Member of the Order of the British Empire.
While these were honors.
His final years were dogged by
ill health. He died on March 23, 1966 in Edinburgh and was
buried beside his wife in Morningside Cemetery. well deserved, a
more distinctive one was the request from King George VI that an
air composed by Pipe Major Ross and played in the hearing of the
then King and Queen before it had been 'christened,' should be
given the name 'Queen Elizabeth."