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Updated 04/26/2013


Corriechoillie's 43rd Welcome
to the Northern Meeting
Pipe Major William (Willie) Collie Ross M.V.O, M.B.E.

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."