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Once upon a time we lived in an old back-to-front cottage on the edge of a paddock of cows. We only had one neighbour, which was just as well because my older children were learning to play the bagpipes…

Every afternoon mouths fasten around blowpipes. Bags fill with air. Arms wing. Fingers feel for holes. And loud droning sounds float mournfully away over the fields.

Once a week my husband Andy drives the kids into town for their bagpipe lessons. Lessons, practise, lessons, practise… And then one day they are invited to join the local pipe band. They learn a new skill: marching. And they acquire a new item of clothing: a kilt.

Then April rolls around, the month of the Highland gathering where clans meet to toss the caber and throw the hammer, where crafty folks set up stalls to sell shortbread and tartan dressed dolls on sticks, and where pipe bands, from across the state, assemble to fill the air with droning stirring music that can be heard from miles away.

The boys thrust their arms into freshly ironed white shirts. They wind their tartan kilts around their waists. They buckle their belts and attach their sporrans and fix their ties. They pull up long white socks and tie their polished black shoes. They place black caps on their heads. They are ready to march. They are ready to play their pipes with the band.

Band after band marches through the streets of the village. Pipers piping. Drummers drumming. Scotland the Brave fills the air. Tears prick at my eyes. Why does the music of bagpipes stir up our emotions?

The boys march by, stepping in time, cheeks billowing, bags thrust under their arms.

And then afterwards, I can’t find them. “Where were you?” I ask later, and my son Callum replies, “I had to lie down. I felt faint.” Despite legs poking out from the bottom of short kilts, traditional Scottish dress is heavy, not designed for a warm Australian day. I wonder how the men wearing the tall feathered headgear feel.

 “I’m writing a post about kilts,” I tell my children. “Did you know I once lived in Scotland?” My girls gather around.  They like to hear stories of my childhood. “I was only young, perhaps 4 or 5.”

“Did you have a kilt, Mum?”

“Oh yes! And a Scottish accent too. People used to say, ‘Say something for us!’”

“What did you say, Mum?”

“Anything. They just wanted to listen to my voice.”

“You had a kilt. You had a Scottish accent. You have red hair! Was your hair long, Mum?”

“Yes.”

“You are Merida!”

I smile. I am Merida, the star of Pixar’s animated movie Brave. You didn’t know that, did you?

The bagpipes are no longer played. The kilts are no longer worn. The cows have disappeared. Merida is much older.

But the music echoes mournfully on and on…


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  1. Bagpipes and kilts. Your family have had some great ideas over time. I hope your sons still have a liking for bagpipes and watching tattoo form Edinburgh.
    No, I did nt know that you were Merida. Do you also shoot with bow and arrows like she does?

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    1. Uglemor,

      It was a friend who suggested the boys have bagpipe lessons. She knew some bagpipers. Once we attended a dinner evening where a piper played while telling stories. It was very entertaining. There are a lot of Scottish associations where we live: Scottish place names and the highland gathering, pipe bands... And yes, we do watch the Edinburgh tattoo. Actually we know a priest who almost played there years ago. He is a marvellous bagpipe player. The boys played with him once. I heard this morning Pope Francis has just appointed that priest as bishop to a diocese in our state!

      Do I shoot bows and arrows? Oh yes, from the back of my flying horse!

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  2. What a gift you have for describing a scene!

    I lived in a place once where a man practiced the pipes off his balcony. That place was often foggy in the early morning, so his mournful tunes would seem to come from everywhere and nowhere at once. It was such a poignant sound. I think he wore jeans, though, which doesn't have the same effect as a kilt.

    I always forget that big pipers started out small and learning... and when I remember, I really feel for their teachers!

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    1. Tess,

      Oh I can just imagine the mournful tunes drifting out of the fog! A lone piper in jeans! We went to a couple of homeschooling camps where a bagpiping priest woke us up each morning by piping his way around the cabins!

      I was reading somewhere that the bagpipes are one of the hardest instruments to learn. The boys started learning on a chanter which is just the blowpipe plus a small bag. Drones are added later. The bagpipes are one of those instruments that sounds so stirring when played properly but so awful when played by a beginner! Yes, teachers have to have lots of patience.

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  3. So cool! It's interesting to see how kids learn about different things. They learned Scottish history from Brave! Of course, a woman wearing a kilt is quite different from a man wearing one.

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    1. Stephanie,

      I think you're right. Brave sparked a real interest in all things Scottish. I don't see many men wanting to wear a kilt. My boys say they were hot in summer (they are thick) and their legs were frozen in winter. I am surprised they didn't mind wearing them. I guess when all members of a band wear kilts it's just the accepted thing. Anyway they were willing to wear kilts if it meant playing the pipes. They loved the bagpipes!

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  4. Hi Sue errr Merida, this is a lovely post, makes me smile big on a Sunday morning.

    I have many fond memories of my visit to Glasgow and Edinburgh. One of the bests I won't forget is watching a band of a daddy and 2 sons play the bagpipes and eventually having the chance to snap a photo with them :D Coming from the warm and humid Philippines, I've always wanted to see in reality, people dressed in kilts and listen to their music. Finally did!

    I know there are so many other great places for me to visit but my heart always longs to visit Scotland again.

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    1. Maria,

      I love seeing fathers and sons working together whatever they are doing... Sharing and passing along skills and enjoying spending time together!

      It's been a very long time since I last visited Scotland. It's certainly a country that has very distinctive traditions. Besides the bagpipe playing I enjoy watching the dancers. Do you watch the Edinburgh tattoo each year?

      Thank you for reading my post!

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  5. Aha! And I thought you might've gained your slight accent from your hubby, but now I know it came from that bonnie wee lass,lol!
    Sue, I absolutely LOVE bagpipes. and am often brought to tears by the haunting tones of a lone piper, too. Having strong Scottish ancestry plays a part in my emotional reaction, I sure!
    Recently, whilst walking up the main street of town, I heard the distinctive sound of bagpipes and soon forgot where I was going and instinctively headed toward the music. I finally found a bearded, kilted gentleman piping away outside a newly opened shop and couldn't help but beam at him - and everyone else around me!
    I'll never forget the years we lived across the road from our local Presbyterian church. We would watch from our windows as the heavily kilted piper walked round and round the kirk, piping the mournful sound of the funeral dirges before people arrived to farewell their loved ones. It was sad..but very beautiful..reaching something deep inside me.
    Such powerful images always stay in your memories, don't they?!

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    1. Trish,

      My children tell me I don't sound like my husband Andy. I think they have picked up his accent to a certain degree but mine is different. Probably it's a bit of this and a bit of that, due to travelling and living in different places. More than once I have been asked if I am Irish but I have never lived there! (I visited Eire when I was at uni and I thought it must be one of the most beautiful countries in the world.)

      Bagpipes and tears. Oh yes! I feel so foolish when the tears prick at my eyes because I don't know why the music affects me that way. Sad and stirring and beautiful and unforgettable. you are so right.

      I think the kilts and bagpipes must have been formidable weapons when the early Scots went to war. Either the enemy started to cry or they ran!

      Thank you so much for your comment!

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