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Updated 04/26/2013


Crossing the Minch
Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, M.B.E.

The Minch (Scottish Gaelic An Cuan Sgìth/Cuan na Hearadh), also called The North Minch, is a strait in north-west Scotland, separating the north-west Highlands from Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides. The Lower Minch (an Cuan Canach) is to the south and separates Skye from the lower Outer Hebrides: North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Barra etc. It opens into the Sea of the Hebrides. The combination of the Minch, the Sea of the Hebrides, and a stretch reaching Ireland constitutes the Inner also known as the Inner Scottish Sea.

The late Pipe Major Donald MacLeod, MBE, (above) esteemed as a composer and remembered as a virtuoso recitalist, was also a popular and distinguished teacher in Canada and the United States as well as in Scotland.

He was born in 1916 in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, in the Scottish Hebridean Islands. He was initially taught the pipes by his father, “Doyle”, and went on to be tutored by P/M Willie Ross then John MacDonald, Inverness with whom he studied for 27 years. John Morrison of Assynt House was a benefactor to many young people in Stornoway and district; it was he who took Donald to the Northern Meeting for his first major junior competition, which he won.

He enlisted in the Seaforth Highlanders in 1937 and his Pipe Major was the well known late D. R. MacLennan. Donald was promoted to pipe major after only four years. During World War II he served in France with the 51st Highland Division, was taken prisoner by the Germans at St. Valery, escaped during a forced march and eventually managed to return to the UK. In 1945 he piped his battalion across the Rhine during an assault crossing - even though he had been advised not to do so by his commanding officer.

During his army career he was highly successful in piping, winning all major competitions. He retired from the army in 1962 and from competition in 1966, he then went on to judge young people and major adult competitions. He especially enjoyed judging at the junior competitions, often held in the local school.

The Glasgow based Scottish Pipers’ Association, each year in November, invited Donald and Duncan Johnstone to give an evening recital. It was always a very popular event and in 1977 Donald decided it was to be his farewell appearance, it was a very memorable evening.

He published six books of light music covering all types of composition, many of which are modern classics. He also published a collection of piobaireachd.

He was awarded the Membership of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1978 for outstanding service to piping.

The Donald MacLeod Memorial Competition, which was established from an idea by Pipe Major Iain Morrison of Lewis, is an invitational competition held in Stornoway and celebrates Donald’s life and work. Started in 1994 by the Lewis & Harris Piping Society, it was instituted to honor “Donald Macleod, one of the best all-round pipers of the 20th century“. In addition Donald is considered one of the century’s best composers. The pipers are chosen from the best competing pipers in the world, making it a very successful and popular competition.

Over the last 10 years or more of his life Donald recorded 46 teaching tapes covering approximately 230 piobaireachd - a labor of love which was completed only a few months before he died in June 1982.