Kilbarchan pipers Tales



"Before the Reformation in 1560 the Scottish people had always regarded Sunday as a holiday in which they might enjoy themselves. The King had decreed that the people should have their May dancings and Robin Hood plays as formerly on Sunday afternoons, provided they had attended church in the morning. But the Presbyters sternly set their faces against this laxity. There are numerous prosecutions for ‘keeping the Green with pypers and dancing" on Sunday especially in the parishes of Kilbarchan, Erskine, Lochwinnoch and Neilston."

Kilmacolm - a parish history, Rev J. Murray 1907 p 43

One of these offending pipers might have been "Habbie Simson" the early 17th century celebrated Piper of Kilbarchan. Robert Semple of Beltrees wrote his epitaph which was first printed in 1706. This poem was to give rise to a poetical style used by Robert Ferguson, Robert Burns and other and was to be known as "Standard Habbie metre".

Nearly two hundred years after Habbie’s death a statue was placed in a niche on the Parish Church of Kilbarchan, and in the early part of this century an annual celebration on st Barchans day figured him in the following way. The towns people in fancy dress would gather and proceed towards the main celebrations, on passing the church, the door would be struck three times and the Piper of Kilbarchen would descend, incarnate, from his niche and emerge to join and officiate at the days merry making.

The poem contains many allusions to the ways and manners of a piper in the 17th century.

Game -Trixie; Probably a dancing game to the words "Hey trim trix go trim"

Grace-Maiden trace; At harvest time it was usual for the "maiden"or corn dolly to be paraded to the "kirn" from the field as with the piper playing before.

The day it daws-Also mentioned by Dunbar in his poem to the Merchants of Edinburgh-"Your common minstrels have no tunes but ‘The day it dawes and Into June" The Day it Dawes is the same tune as "Scot wha hae"

Hunt’s-up ; A hunts up was a morning tune, a general term for all morning music Who will cause the shearers shear-At harvest time it seems to have been common practice for the piper to play to the reapers, his reward would be ale or seed corn

Beltane-The May day celebration a survival of pagan times.

Clark plays-Church plays or mystery plays enacted to explain the Bible in days when people could not read.

His pipe played trimly to the drum-evidence that pipe and drum ensemble is no recent phenomena.

The Ring to lead-The piper would lead the bride and her maidens three times round the church before the ceremony .This practice also pertained in England and had its origins in either a Christian symbolism (3 = trinity ) or is a Druidic remnant.

Keeping the Green

On June 19,1606, the brethren of the Paisley Presbytery were informed by Mr. Andro Law minister of Neilston, of

‘the great profanation and abusing of the Sabbath day bythe great resorting and haunting of the common people of sundry neighbouring parishes to the green of Little Caldwell whereupon they profane the Sabbath day by piping and in dancing’.

They were further informed that the people who most resorted there were the parishioners of Neilston and Lochwinnoch. They therefore instructed the ministers of these parishes

“inhibit and forbid openlie, out of the pulpit," their parishioners .. “to make any resort to the said green, in any time coming, with certification that those found contravening the inhibition would be proceded against with the censures of the Kirk.”

Hew Erston, who kept the green was ordered to be cited before them at their meeting on June 30. The inhibition appears to have been without effect, for at the meeting of the presbytery on July 17 this information was repeated, and the two ministers were directed to insist in forbidding the " sklander."

On August 21 in the same year John Paterson, piper in Mearns, was also summoned before the Presbytery for keeping a green on Sundays at Over Pollok; on July 2, 1601, John Hall at Kilbarchan was summoned for profanation of the Sabbath day by keeping a green every Sabbath at afternoon, with piping and dancing; "and on the same day.'another John Hall was summoned for keeping a green at Neilston with ‘piping and dancing every Sunday afternoon.’”

None of them however, seem to have paid much attention to the citations. Paterson, Hall of Neilston. and Robert Fisher, a piper residing in Lochwinnoch, were cited, all admonished and prayed for at various dates; but Hall of Kilbarchan on1y seems to, have compeared. On September 3, 1607, he confessed his fault, and was ordained to find caution to the Session of Kilbarchan of twenty pounds, not to keep a green again.

—-History of Paisley W.M Metcalfe, Paisley 1909, Pps 202,203



Tho on his drone bore bony flags
He made his cheeks as red as Crimson
And babbed when, he blew the bags (babbed-danced)
Kilbarchan now may say, alas!
For she bath lost her Game and.Grace
Both Trixie and the Maiden Trace.
But what remead?
For no man can supply his place
Hab Simson’ s dead.

Now who shall play the day it daws?
Or Hunt up,when the Cock he craws?
Or who can for the Kirk-town-cause
Stand us in stead?
On bagpipes (now) no Body blaws
Fen Habbie’ s daed..

Or wha will cause our shearers shear? (shearer -reaper)
Wha will bend the Brags of Weir?
Bring in the Bells or good play meir (play before the morning bells)
In time of need?
Hab Simson could, what needs you speer?
But (now)he’s dead.

So kindly to his Neighbours neast
At Beltan and Saint Barchan’ s feast
He blew and then held up his Breast
As he were weid
But now we need not him arrest
For Habbies dead.

At Fairs he played before the Spear-men
All gaily graithed in their Gear Men,
Steel Bonnets, Jacks and Swords so clear then
Like any Bead
Now wha shall play before such Weir-men
Fen Habbie’ s dead?

At Clark plays when he wont to come;
His Pipe played trimly to the Drum
Like Bikes of Bees he gart it Bum
And tun’ d his Reed
Now all our Pipers may sing dumb
Fen Hab bie! dead.

And at Horse Races many a day
Before the Black, the Brown, the Gray
He gart his Pipe when he did play
Baith Skirl and Skreed,
Now all such Pastimes quite away,
Fen Habbie’s dead.

He counted was a weil’ d Wight-man.
And fiercely at Foot-ball he ran
At every Game the Gree he wan
For Pith and Speed
The like of Habbie was na than
But now he’s dead.

And than besides his valiant Acts
At Bridals he wan many Placks
He bobbed ay behind Folks backs
And shook his Head
Now we want many merry Cracks
Fen Habbie’s dead.

He was Convoyer of the Bride
With Kittock hinging at his side
About the Kirk he thought a Pride
The King to lead
But now we may gae but a Guide
Fen Habbie’s dead.

So well’s he keeped his decorum
And all the Stots of Whig-meg-morum
He slew a man, and wabs me for him
And bure the Fead!,
But yet the man wan hame before him
And was not dead!

Ay whan he play’ d, the lasses heugh !
To see him Teethless auld and teugh !
He wan his Pipes beside Borcheugh
Withoutten dread
Which after wan him Gear enough
But now he’s dead.

Ay when he play’d the Gaitlings gedder’d
And whan he spake the Carl bledder’d
On Sabbath days his Cap was fedder’d
A seemly weid
In the kirk-yaird his Mare stood tedder’d
Wher he lies dead.
Alas for him my Heart is sair
For of his Springs I gat a skair
At every Play , Race , Feast and Fair
But Guile or Greed
We need not look for pyping mair,
Fen Habbie’s dead.
— 1706