Dumbarton’s Drums, Pipers Tales

The old pipe tune “Dumbarton’s Drums” that came to be used as the Regimental March Past of the Royal Scots, takes its name from the Drums and Drummers of Old Dumbarton.

In September 1625 the Dumbarton Town Records tell us that Thomas Schaw was paid 8 shillings (Scots)

“for going throw the toun with the drum twyse at the tyme of the bonfyris maid on the tyme of His Majesties mariage and als geving warning thereby to all wha wold work at the work to go thereto”. Again in December 1625 the Drummer of Dumbarton Castle was paid 30 shillings, “for strayking his drum at the waponschawing” and “ to the pyper the same - 12 shillings.”

These are not however the earliest mention of the Dumbarton musicians. The Accounts of the Lord High Treasurer for Scotland for 1497 has the following entries.

Item - to the pyper of Dunbertane at the Kingis (James IV) command -23 shillings

Item -that samyn day -to the man that playit to the King on the clarscha (harp) be the Kingis command -24 shillings

and in 1504 - Item to the piparis of Dunbertane - 24 shillings

The Dumbarton Records give us a clear picture of the duties and costume of the drummers and some interesting information on the drum itself.

1625 - Item to David Scot for small beltis to be drawers and a braid belt to be a hinger to the drum and threid thereto and for dressing the said drum - 23 shillings.

1626 - Item to James Gairdiner for ane pair of schoone to John McCauss in July for stryking the drum the tyme of the dreilling and mustors - 16 shillings

1626 - an attempt to repair the drum - Item to avid Scot, cowper (barrel maker) , for dressing the auld drum and for glew and cordis bot thereto.

1627 - the repair was unsuccessful -item for ane new drum in Apryle - 10 punds 8 shillings.

Item - in June 1628 to Thomas Schaw for going throw the toun twa severall tymis with the drum in the grit drouth to adverteis to be cairfull of the ingill and fyre - 4 shillings.

1628 - Item to John McCaus for going throw the toun with the drum in August to discharge the scherars to go aff the toun in harvest and to inhibit ony dirt to be set on the calsey and hie street - 2 shillings 8 pence.

1634 - Item to Robert Cuthbertson, drummer, for his claithis and livray the toun promeisit him for the first yeirs service - 16 pounds.

1645 - Item for ane pair of doubell sollit schoone to William Scot, drummer.

1639 - To Robert Cuthbertson, drummer, in satisfaction of his bygane service and for dressing heiding and upholding of his drummes - 10 pounds

1643 - Item givin to James Gilchreist as drummer..at the touns mustor - 18shillings.

1644 - Item for gartaning to James Gilchreist to hing the drum about his craig, gottin frae Adam McCleut - 2 shillings.

1644 - Item gevin to William Scot as drummer for touking the drum at setting the watche and uther occasiounis, ane stand claithis contening ten quarters and ane half blew claith at 40 shillings the ell - 5 ponds 5 shillings. Mair for hardin to lyne them being sex quarters and ane half at 8 shillings the ell - 14 shillings. Far threid and buttons thairto -4 shillings. Mair for twa ell and ane half to be ane sark to him - 1 pound. Mair for maiking of the claithis and sark to him - 14 shillings. Mair for ane bonnat to him = 13 shillings 4pence. Mair for ane pair doubill sollit schoone to him - 14 shillings.

1644 - Item for twa pairchment skinis in Glasgow for heiding to the touns drumm.

1651 - Item to William Glen, wright, for twa drum sticks - 6 shillings.

1651 - Item to William Scot for touking the drum that night the bonfires were maid - 1 shilling 4pence.

1651 - Payit to William Glen, wryt, for the toun drum - 12 pounds.

As far as Dumbarton is concerned, the long line of those whose duty it was to blow the pipes, tuck the drum and ring the bell ceased when John Orme was deprived of his office as town drummer and bellman in 1889.

TAM WATSON - Town Drummer of Dumbarton

Tam was a tailor to trade, and for many years dwelt in Walkers Close in the early 19th Century. He was a dapper spruce little man, with a dignified carriage, and looked quite important in the Town’s uniform. Before the advent of the local newspaper, Tam Watson filled an important part in the corporate life of the Burgh. the arrival of a Highland wherry at the quay with a cargo of potatoes or herring, was duly notified by him to the inhabitants by tuck of drum. Not infrequently, when making these announcements he carried with him samples of herring etc, to testify as to their quality. These samples were required to be shown by order of the Dean of Guild.

Tam was a “grand hand at a crack”, especially when the “malt got abune the meal” and used to tell with great gusto of the the time within his recollection when Dumbarton contained only one Irishman and one pig.

Tradition has it that in the past Dumbarton could boast of a towns pipoer by the name of Rory Murphy. Here follows a description in verse of Rory Murphy by an anonymous hand


Saw ye Rory Murphy

Rory Murphy, Rory Murphy,

Saw ye Rory Murphy

Comin’ through Dumbarton.

Rory was a piper guid

As ever cam’ o’ Hielan’ bluid,

The Lolan’ bodies hearts aye glowed,

To the tunes o’ Rory Murphy.

Though Rory’s pipoes were rude an’ rough,

His drones were dainty, auld an’ teuch,

And like Boreas was their sough,

When blown by Rory Murphy.

Saw ye etc.

When Rory drank an extra gill,

He made his chanter sound sae shrill,

Ye’d hear it on Ben Lomond hill,

As well as in Dumbarton.

He filled the warrior’s breast wi’ fire,

He charmed the heart o’ sage an’ sire,

And made the listening groups admire,

When comin’ through Dumbarton.

Saw ye etc.

He had a beard o’ amber gloss,

Twa cheeks the colour o’ the rose,

Twa sparklin’ een aa black as sloes,

An’ a nose as red’s a partan.

He had aplaid o’ plaids the wale,

That screened him frae the winter gale,

Arrayed he was frae top to tail,

In claes o’ praw, praw tartan.

Saw ye etc.

Whan Lords and Lairds wad wedded be,

An kintra bodies needed glee,

They didna grudge the minstrel’s fee,

When they got Rory Murphy.

For Rory sang and leuch an’ drank,

Wi’ cronies leal he aye wis frank,

And mony a time he played for thank,

When comin though Dumbarton.

Saw ye etc.

But Rory had a lowin’ drouth,

He liked a cirap to wat his mouth;

Dumbarton bodies ken the truth,

I say o’ Rory Murphy.

And Rory had a ready tale,

To tell the wives that sell’t guid ale;

He charmed the swats frae cog and pail

When comin’ throgh Dumbarton.

Saw ye etc.

But whisky proved to him a fae,

For stotterin hameward drunk ae day,

He fell heid foremost doun a brae,

That killed him deid for certain.

Nae mair we’ll hear his witchin’ tones,

Nae mair he’ll blaw his Hielan drones,

His banes lie cauld beneath the stones,

In the kirkyard of Dumbarton.

Farewell, Rory Murphy,

Rory Murphy, Rory Murphy,

Farewell Rory Murphy

Piper of Dumbarton.