The Piobaireachd Society
Patron HM The Queen

Manuscripts and books of Piobaireachd

This section shows many of the manuscripts and books of Piobaireachd.

Ceol Mor - the making of the collection

Roderick Cannon gives details about the production of "Ceol Mor" by General CS Thomason.  Ceol Mor is still the biggest single collection of Piobaireachd.

The book has been reproduced by Ceol Seann

The Making of Thomason’s Ceòl Mòr

Roderick D. Cannon

Submitted May 2003

General C. S. Thomason’s book, Ceòl Mòr, was the first – and still the only - attempt at a comprehensive and critically edited collection of piobaireachd. It was also the stimulus which led to the formation of the Piobaireachd Society, and as the Society celebrates its centenary this seems a good moment to look more closely at Thomason’s work and the processes through which it came to fruition. As a step towards this goal, the following is an attempt to catalogue and describe the various editions of the work as they are preserved in private and public collections.

Three historical studies provide indispensable background: James Campbell’s account of the formation and early activities of the Piobaireachd Society, published in the Society’s Conference Proceedings in 1977; Brian MacKenzie’s biographical studies of Thomason himself, published most recently and fully in the Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness (1990-2); and William Donaldson’s book, the Highland Pipe and Scottish Society(2000), chapter 11. My own Bibliography of bagpipe music (1980) described some copies of Thomason’s book in detail, but the present account is based on much more information which has come to light since then. (1)

When first published in full, Ceòl Mòr consisted of a compact volume, only about 12 cm tall, containing 400 pages of music and several sections of letterpress including a full index, handsomely bound in boards. It had a bold gilt design on the front cover in the figure a piper, based on a well known painting by the contemporary artist, Lockhart Bogle. This became the best known form of the book, and there were several editions; but there were also other works in pamphlet form. Much later, in 1975, a reprint was published in larger format, containing most of the original pages in full-size facsimile, two of the old pages on every one page of the reprint. I have examined a fairly large number of copies of the single-volume edition of Thomason’s Ceòl Mòr, as well as a number of pamphlets. No two of the full volumes have proved to be exactly alike, and it is certain that there are some still to be discovered. Nevertheless, and thanks to the generosity and patience of friends who have allowed me to examine their copies, the story of the publication now seems fairly clear.

Like most books, each volume is made up of distinct sections – preface, introduction, index, appendices etc. Many of these sections were reproduced without change in later editions; others came and went, or were altered in various ways. After various trials I found the best approach was to regard all these sections as separate works, and to try to place them in chronological order.

Throughout this essay, number references such as 1, 2, etc refer to the books or editions; letter references such as A, B, C,.. T1, T2, etc refer to the sections from which they are made up. A detailed bibliography of the books themselves is being published simultaneously.

Before 1893 (2)

Thomason was born in India in 1833, lived in Scotland and England from 1839 to 1854, then took up a career in India, where he remained, with occasional home furloughs, until 1894. (3) Thereafter he resided in London but spent regular long summer holidays at Grantown-on-Spey. His interest in piobaireachd had begun by the early 1850s and when he first went to India he had with him a substantial collection of written music, but all of this was lost in the fighting in 1857. According to his own accounts he began to rebuild his collection, and a very important source of unpublished material was Donald MacKay, nephew of Angus, with whom Thomason was in close touch from about 1870 onwards. Accessions of earlier material came much later however, in 1891 when he acquired the Donald MacDonald MS,(4) and shortly after his return to Britain when he purchased copies of Angus MacKay’s MSS from the estate of another collector, P.E. Dove, who had recently died. (5) But he had also had some material from Dove while the latter was still alive.

A major feature of Thomason’s editing technique was the use of abbreviations for repeated musical formulae. A manuscript of his dated 1871,(6) contained abbreviations, but in the final publications he used a much more developed system.

According to his own accounts it was not until he retired from active service in 1888 that he settled in earnest to compile and edit a collection with a view to publication. He was then living at Naini Tal, in India, and it appears that besides editorial work, he did much of the actual production. But he gives few details of this, other than to mention that the titles of the tunes were executed by “survey officers”, and that for printing, “the appliances of photozincography” were made available by a fellow-officer, Colonel G. Strahan, R.E. 7

The First Pamphlet (1)

This was completed in late 1893. It contains four sections of which the first, i.e. introduction, was probably the last to be done. In reverse order of appearance the sections are


Four pibrochs, “The Laggan Salute”, “Craigellachie”, “The Prince’s Salute” and “The Finger Lock”, set out exactly as they were to appear in later editions of Ceòl Mòr itself. There is nothing by which to date this section. “The Laggan Salute” was composed by Donald MacKay in 1871, but as mentioned, the abbreviated notation used here is not what had been used in 1871.

Key to Abbreviations. Six pages T1 numbered as “Plates” I-VI, executed in the same printing style as the music. They contain pairs of music staves showing various note groups in full and in abbreviation. It seems that these plates were done before the main music text was complete, as they contain a large number of note groups which do not occur in piobaireachd, and it was only at a late stage that Thomason realised that they were redundant.

“Ceòl Mòr Notation”. This section B is an essay in 53 numbered paragraphs making frequent reference to the music plates T1. It also refers to tunes that were to appear in the main collection but were not among the four specimens printed in the pamphlet, i.e. “The Piper’s Warning to his Master”, “Lord Reay’s Lament”, “The Carles wi’ the Breeks”, “Castle Menzie”. In the main collection these are numbered 54, 59, 29, 44 respectively.(8). This section also contains numerous technical terms, including many in Gaelic, most of which are thought to have been coined by Thomason himself.

Introduction. This section A, consisting of pages numbered [i], ii-xi, is a continuous essay, the main topics, in order, being a brief history referring mainly to Donald MacDonald, then a polemic about the expression and structure of piobaireachd leading into the advantages of abbreviated notation as a means of detecting and correcting anomalies in the music, followed by acknowledgements. The essay is dated from Thomason’s house in India, “East Laggan”, Naini Tal... September 16th 1893. At an early point in the text it quotes a letter in the Oban Times, dated 8th August 1893. Allowing for the time it took for a copy of the newspaper to reach India, this could mean that the whole essay was completed in less than four weeks.

One would imagine that the more technical sections, and the music, had already been finished by then, but there was still printing and binding to be done. The final work has a title page dated Dehra Dun, 1893, and it was certainly ready by the end of the year, as Thomason sent a complimentary copy to Prof. J. S. Blackie, in Edinburgh, with a covering letter dated from Bareilly, 27th December 1893. (9)

By this time Thomason was evidently preparing to leave India for good, and it seems that his intention was to arrange for publication in some fuller sense after he had done that. The title includes the words “For private circulation only”. In the text he refers to the work as his “pioneer pamphlet”, but in the copy which is now in the NLS, there is a note in Thomason’s own handwriting, 22nd December, stating that it “will be published when I can arrange for a publisher at home”, and adding specifically “This is not the pioneer pamphlet.”

It is not known how many copies were printed, nor who, other than Professor Blackie, received one. Nor has any copy yet been located which has the imprint of any publisher.

The start of Ceòl Mòr

Thomason did find a publisher, John MacKay, who was publishing the magazine Celtic Monthly, as well as other material of Gaelic and piping interest. Ceòl Mòr started to appear in parts in 1897. The first announcement to this effect appeared in the magazine in February 1897. In the next issue, March 1897, it was stated that part I had been sent to subscribers and the next part would be ready in a few days. But there do not seem to have been any more announcements in the magazine, and as regards surviving copies, the reality is that only examples of parts II and III have been discovered.

Since Part II begins with a tune numbered X on a page numbered 17 I assume that Part I contained nine tunes on pages numbered 1 to 16. This would be just eight leaves, conveniently made from two folded sheets. (10) It would of course be more if part I also included the introduction and keys to notation. Did John MacKay also publish the “pioneer pamphlet” as a separate work?

Parts II and III, 2.2 and 2.3, each contain 16 leaves, or 32 pages. The initial advertisement had stated that there were to be thirteen parts altogether, and if they continued at the rate of 32 pages per part that would just reach a total of 400, which is what we find in later one-volume editions. It seems reasonable to conclude that at least by early 1897 the music collection had been completed so that the total content could be known exactly. (11)

In the absence of any later parts, it seems that soon after Part III the decision was made to go ahead with the whole book in one volume.

The first fifty tunes (3)

One other publication prior to the main volume is a slim booklet containing everything that has been mentioned so far, i.e., the introduction, explanatory tables, and fifty tunes on pages 1 to 80. Parts II and III are included in toto, with their paper covers. This book still uses the same title page as the pioneer pamphlet, except that the publisher John MacKay’s name and address have been put in place of the previous statement about “private circulation”. But immediately preceding the music is a page with another printed title, or rather half-title, containing simply the words CEÒL MÒR. This is the first time the intended title of the work was actually incorporated into a publication (and the only time that it was spelled correctly, with the two accents, or length-marks as they are now called). The date of this publication has not been ascertained, (12) but it was still on sale a little later together with the full volume and also part I (13)

Progress by 1898

We have two documents from Thomason which apparently date from a time when production was well advanced but still not complete. One is a single printed page C which was included, in slightly varying forms, in several of the finished works. Entitled “Explanation of Keys to Abbreviations”, it refers to the plates, I to VI, and mentions a few points about the way the abbreviation symbols are used in the actual music pages of the book. For example it says that the ciphers used in a particular tune will be found at the outer edge of the music page, though in some cases “where there is not room for every cipher in the page, beats analogous to those that are wanting will be found.” It warns that the ciphers in the last two of the six plates “may require a little practice”, and assures the reader that any ciphers omitted for the reason just mentioned will only be the simpler ones. In a later paragraph it is estimated that the whole Ceòl Mòr collection will occupy about 400 pages. These remarks make it clear that this explanatory page C was printed at a time when the preparation of the whole work was well advanced, but not complete. A concluding remark tells us something of the planned layout of the introductory part of the book:

The letterpress fully explanatory of Plates I. to VI. will be found preceding this and immediately following the Introduction.

Evidently “the letterpress” means what I have called section B, and “this” is the page C. In some editions, this page C was eventually preceded by a half-title page h1 with the legend “Plates I to VI. / Explanatory of Ceòl Mòr notation”. So it appears that the plan was to bind these sections in the order

...A; B; h1; C (= verso of h1); T1;...

In fact none of the books seen so far have the material in just this order. Perhaps there was a slight change of plan when it came to making up the complete book.

The second of the two documents dating from this production period consists of two printed pages D1, also included in later editions, dated July 15th 1898, and entitled “A few concluding remarks by the editor”. Here Thomason makes a number of points about piobaireachd construction, and he begins with a classification, giving the numbers of tunes he has assigned to each class: “146 pibrochs of 3,3,2 Metre, 103 of Equal Metre, and only 22 of 2,3,2 metre. All the others are exceptional...”. He does not say how many he counted as “others” but he mentions one by implication (14) and names four others, suggesting a total of 276. He indicates that these numbers come from an “Analysis of Metres” which he has placed at the end of the index. We do not have the exact version of the index that he is referring to, but in the index which appears in his earliest published volumes, there is indeed a Table headed “Analysis of Metres”. The figures are very similar but not identical – 148 instead of 146, 102 instead of 103, 21 instead of 22, seven “exceptional”, and one “unedited” – a total of 279. The advertisement already referred to says 275. There is no need to try to harmonise these figures, since a few tunes were printed twice, in different versions, and we do not know how they were counted. What is clear is that by 1898 Thomason had an index fully prepared, if not printed. But it is equally clear that it was not published straightaway. This appears from yet a further explanatory page D2 which was added to the ones just quoted, and which refers to a further version of the index. “The opening remarks of the foregoing note will be found not to tally with the “analysis of metres” at the end of the index. The latter is up to date after considerable revision of the music, after the note was written” (my italics). It goes on to say that “at the cost of much labour” he has eliminated much that, obtained from different sources, was really identical.” This page is dated June 21st 1900, and it seems more than likely that it was the last item added before the whole collection was finally published in one volume. (15)

Last-minute revisions

The index of the earliest known edition shows a sign of at least one revision, or rather addition, which was almost certainly done just before rather than just after the first publication. It is the insertion of an extra tune, “We will take the Highway”. It appears in its correct alphabetical position in the index, with a page number but no tune number. The page number 376 given for it shows that it would come after tune CCLVIII (258), which started on page 374, and before CCLIX (259) on page 377; and it duly occurs in that position in the book. It is a significant location, because 1-258 comprise all the other titled tunes, then 259 to 277 are the nameless tunes, and 278 is an odd one out, being the Salute to General Thomason himself. Looking at the relevant music page, we can see with hindsight that the music itself is an insertion, as the heading, in block letters, has evidently not been printed but has been executed by hand on the plate. Presumably it was not feasible at that stage to renumber all the subsequent tunes, but it was still feasible to number the pages in a single sequence.

The First Edition

Ceòl Mòr itself is widely stated to have been published in 1900. Confusingly, all of the known one-volume editions have this same date, even those which we know to have been issued some years later. The title page is always the same, done on shiny paper, in other words it is a plate. Presumably a rather large stock of title plates was printed so they had to be used up later. These titles also bear the legend “Entered at Stationer’s Hall”, but it is executed with a hand stamp in purple ink. Was this an afterthought? It would be good to know the actual date of the Stationers’ Hall entry (16)The book was no longer published by John MacKay in Glasgow, but by the author himself, printed and sold by the firm of S. Sidders, in Ball Street, Kensington, London. (Thomason himself was living not far away, in Earls Court).

That the date of publication was indeed 1900 is confirmed by Thomason (17) himself, and by W. L. Manson, in his well known book, The Highland bagpipe, published in 1901.(18)Manson quotes the title almost exactly as it appears on the known title pages, including the imprint, and he also reproduces the index of Ceòl Mòr, or rather a large part of the text of it. It is not an exact facsimile, but allowing for some understandable editorial revisions, it agrees very well. (19)

I have found no copy of the first edition in any public library. Indeed as will appear from the complexities to be described below, it would not be easy to be sure that any particular copy that came to hand really was a first printing. However the Piobaireachd Society owns a copy of the book which has a very good claim to be considered as such. It is in excellent condition, bound in the familiar style, and apparently complete, with no signs of additions or deletions. The only feature which I have noticed, which might suggest that there had been an earlier printing, is the ordering of materials in the introductory sections, which runs in part

...A; h1; C (= verso of h1); t3; B; ...

instead of the way indicated above; but there is no real reason to think that this ordering was not adopted from the start.

Another copy, owned by the College of Piping, contains the same material, and in the same order except for the positioning of the photographic plates, but it has evidently been repaired; and another copy is almost the same but has been repaired and rebound. A fourth copy shows considerably more wear and tear, lacks one leaf, and has other sections in a different order, but it has a rubber-stamped date on the title-page, 3 August 1901, probably the date of purchase, and so far the earliest such date to be established. (20)Taken together, these copies (4a, 4b) have a good claim to be called “the first edition” and the differences between them underline the point that with Ceòl Mòr it may never be possible to be absolutely precise about what does or does not constitute an edition.

Revisions up to June 1902.

A later printing of the one-volume edition contains two pages, consecutive but individually titled. The first, F, is headed “Corrections and additions to music in first edition “Ceòl Mòr” (up to June 1902)”, and the second, H, “Corrected leaves for Ceòl Mòr (1st edition). Although these do not always appear consecutively, the texts imply that they are one document, as the first begins “First let us take the simplest of the corrrections...” and the second “All the errors...are not however so easily corrected...”.

The page I call F is an ordinary list of errata, or as Thomason puts it “...corrections which may easily be effected by hand...”. There are 19 of these and it seems that they were never corrected in print. (21)

The page I call G is concerned with replacements of whole pages. Thomason evidently made corrections, then reprinted the corrected page, marking it by adding an asterisk to the page number. These whole-page replacements are given in two lists. The first list contains items in the form 29*-30, 45*-46, etc, five of them with starred pages on both sides of the leaf, thus 105*-106*. Clearly this means that page 29 has been revised while page 30 on the other side remains unchanged, and so on.(22) Thomason says that “the object of this is the elimination of the incorrect leaf and the substitution of a corrected one, thus, as it were, keeping Ceòl Mòr up to date.” The idea seems also to have been that people who had already bought the book could now have the revised leaves and insert them themselves. Were the leaves simply put on sale? Was there a list of subscribers, who would thus receive the leaves free of charge? Thomason himself said later(23)hat in his experience it “pulls the book to pieces a good deal”, and he gave up the idea. (24)

The second list on page G is sub-headed “Leaves for Second Edition” and it concerns deletion of pages and replacement by entirely different ones. The deletions were possible because in a number of cases Thomason had printed the same tune twice as a result of taking settings from two different sources. They made space for five extra tunes to be added. Referring to these he says “pageing and numbering given for these denote the position they would occupy in a Second Edition.... Of course the titles will not be found in the index of [the] First Edition, and they may be inserted or omitted at the option of the owner of the book.” This seems to be the first time that Thomason refers to a “first”, “second” or indeed any “edition” of Ceòl Mòr. We would like of course to know what he meant, but before coming to any conclusions it is as well to bear in mind that Thomason was writing about his future plans, and that the word “edition” is notoriously imprecise. Authors and publishers do not necessarily agree about it, nor do librarians, and least of all, bibliographers. Most probably Thomason was using the word in the rough and ready sense that booksellers and customers do, so that a “first edition” is what goes on sale to begin with and a “second edition” is something that starts to appear after the first is sold out, and would normally be expected to have been revised or enlarged in some way. In practice it was not as simple as that. It does not seem that any wordings such as “revised” or “second edition” were ever added to any title page; or included in any advertisements, but as noted below it is clear that eventually copies of the book were put on sale with revised pages already bound in.

The events of 1903

In January 1903 the Piobaireachd Society was formed, with General Thomason as its first President and one of its early actions was to hold a piobaireachd competition. The decision to do this was taken at a meeting on 8th September 1903, and the competition took place on 13 September 1904. The Society had decided to adopt Ceòl Mòr as a standard for the settings of tunes to be played. Four tunes were set for the competitors to choose from and as James Campbell has noted “offprints of the tunes selected were made available free of charge”. (25)

These events prompted a further publication by Thomason himself: a pamphlet 6 describing the notation. It contains the explanatory material that had been included in various publications from 1893 onwards, and a two-page “postscript to Ceòl Mòr Notation” dated December 1903. The postscript underlines various points made in the earlier work and also amplifies or modifies some of them. For example it notes that in the music plates many of the gracenote combinations are redundant. It also makes some reference to the ongoing revision process. It mentions “errors that will be found in Ceòl Mòr as published in 1900. Thanks to some of my professional friends, C. Cameron and M. Gillies, many of these have been corrected” and continues “it is only the confusion caused by trying to keep my book up to date, for those who have done their best to help me as purchasers, that makes me refrain now from other attempts of this kind.” This is presumably a reference to the issuing of replacement leaves.

But there is also reference to corrections of the explanatory plates, first saying “The Notation with its ciphers is that for which I feel I am chiefly responsible, and to the simplification of this I have devoted no little time since Ceòl Mòr was printed”, and then “In some of my corrected plates may possibly be found some deviations from the 1st published notation....” This seems to be saying two things (a) that amendments have been made on the explanatory plates, so that these plates as printed in this 1903 pamphlet may differ in some respects from the ones printed previously, and (b) that some of the corrected leaves may contain notation not consistent with the explanatory plates. Both these points will eventually need to checked by a careful examination of the extant material.

Finally in this connection, Thomason apologises for aspects of the notation in those plates which he now feels to be unsatisfactory, but which he has not corrected, and he describes these in words.

Revised Editions of Music

As indicated above, Thomason made provision for piecemeal revision of Ceòl Mòr, but it is not certain that any of the surviving copies have actually been treated in that way. The majority of copies of Ceòl Mòr that have been seen, including all those in public libraries contain revised pages, but wherever it has been possible to examine them closely enough it seems clear that these were put in at the manufacturing stage, and not later on by the purchaser. (26) They are indeed glued or pasted in, and the stub of the deleted page can be seen, but the stub is always cut very cleanly, parallel and close to the centre fold of the book. In at least two cases the exposed outer edges of the book, when closed, have a coloured pattern, and there are no breaks where the extra pages have been put in. More significantly, exactly the same set of revisions occurs in more than one book; in fact there are just two such sets, one with 37 pages different from the first edition, the other with 64 different, out of the total of 400. If further proof were needed, four of the books affected are in copyright libraries, and in one of them the covering letter from the printer is still preserved. (27)

Revised Notation.

The books which contain 37 revised music pages also contain a fairly consistent selection of additional matter, much of which is concerned with changes in the system of notation, and with comments on the interpretation of various “ciphers”. The material is contained in four discrete printed sections, three of letterpress, F, H, K, and one additional music plate in the form of a table, T2.

“Echoes, doubled echoes and trebled echoes”. This section comprises one page of printed text H, and a music table T2, always bound consecutively. It starts off by referring to “Plate II” which is evidently plate II of the Key to Abbreviations T1 as printed earlier. That plate contained a collection of “full note beats”, categorised as “Echoes” and “Doubling echoes”. The new text proposes no changes to the “Echoes” other than to name them in three categories, with Gaelic terms. But it deals at some length with what it now calls “double echoes” (a term that was not actually used in the old Plate II), and continues with more distinctions and proposed terminologies. The new plate is simply entitled “Double Echoes”. It gives notations in full and in cipher, and classifies the beats into four types. Also it gives two forms of every cipher, with a footnote “the first is used in ‘Ceòl Mòr’ and the second a suggested improvement.”

It is fair to say that all this is quite hard to follow, though it deserves closer study if only because Thomason himself thought it important. It may be possible to dissect out traditional information about playing practice. It should be remembered that, as a scholar, Thomason was entirely self-taught, and he was working alone in a very difficult field, where for the most part people with practical ability had little interest in theory, and vice versa.

“Editor’s postscript”. This document K is always printed at the very end of the book. It consists of five printed pages, undated, and I can find nothing in the text to fix a date. It may actually predate H and T2. It starts with more on the history of Thomason’s own work, then continues with more comments on the explanatory music plates T1. The last two pages are largely an essay on echoes as heard in nature, with some conjectures as to how these may have influenced piobaireachd music.

Revisions in 1905.

One extant copy of Ceòl Mòr contains a whole series of documents which show signs of having been written as a group over a fairly short time, and several of which are dated 1905.

“Revised Ceòl Mòr Notation, 1905”. This document or series of documents, N, T3, appears to be essentially a new work, designed to supersede parts of what was originally published in 1893. The printed text, with page numbers [3], 4-15 [16], and the music, plates I-V, hang together well as one work. In the place where I found them they are preceded by a leaf with a one-page preface, L, which might well be counted in as pages [1-2].

Taking them all together as such, we see that the preface L begins “This Revised Edition of Notation [capitals as shown] is the result of much experience gained whilst writing the 1st Edition of “Ceòl Mòr”... and ends “It is to me a matter of regret that that two editions of the notation should now be necessary to follow the original book with its corrections, but I do not see how this could have been avoided, and I can only hope that the copious key given with each of the pages of “Ceòl Mòr” will resolve all difficulties”. It is not absolutely clear what is meant here by “follow”. Does Thomason mean that he has had to publish two editions of his notation, as separate works, after the publication of “Ceòl Mòr” itself, or does he mean that he is supplying them both at once, bound into the same volume, after the music section? At any rate it does seem clear that the following pages [3], 4-13, in 38 numbered paragraphs, are meant to supersede the older work B with its 53 paragraphs. It also seems that the continuation on page 14 supplies the title of this new work, i.e. “Ceòl Mòr Notation. Second Edition” (this page is actually a listing of the single-letter symbols like T and C used for variations). The next page, 15, supplies a firm date, as it is another “Analysis of Metres” and it refers to “Ceòl Mòr, with Supplement corrected to date, April, 1905”, which contained “the Music of 287 Piobaireachd”.

The best I can make of all this is that in or soon after April 1905, Thomason issued an actual music book which was a supplement to Ceòl Mòr, and that he possibly issued these documents L+N+T3 as a “second edition” of his pamphlet on notation. But as far as extant copies go, this material survives only as an integral part of a one-volume compilation, probably assembled some time later, as described below.

“Ceòl Mòr. Rhythm in sections”. This is another essay, P, paged [1], 2-4, [5], also now existing as an integral part of a volume, and dated August 1905. It deals mainly with the theoretical understanding of piobaireachd construction, and how this can, or should, affect musical expression. It cites a number of tunes in Ceòl Mòr, with page references.

Errata sheets. These are two pages Q printed from one font, which is different from that of the previous material. The first page is a list of six printing errors with page numbers, headed “Errata in ‘Ceòl Mòr’ first edition”.

The second page is rather oddly titled “Errata dated 1905 in first edition “Ceòl Mòr” dated 1900. It states that early in the year [1905] Thomason had begun work on corrections in the hope of having them ready to distribute “amongst my friends” at the various Highland Gatherings during the games season, but in the event he could only get them ready in time for the Northern Meeting (i.e. the last such gathering, at Inverness in September). They were still not satisfactory but he decided to issue them then rather than delay any longer. Now, in this notice, he apologises for the shortcomings and asks his friends to let him know about any errors they find.

He explains further that “these corrections were intended to supplant other pages in the edition issued, but after personal experience I find that this tends to pull the book about a good deal” so now he just advises people to keep them distinct from the book. from this we infer that the corrections consisted of a further collection of replacement leaves, but there is no indication here as to what tunes were affected.

We can infer further that those correction sheets were somehow dated, 1905, and that at the time he issued them, Thomason was still thinking of the existing volume as his “First Edition”.

The Final Edition?

All the material described in the previous section reads as though it were part of a comprehensive revised edition. In fact these documents were all found bound into a rather odd volume in the Museum of the College of Piping, described below as a “compendium”. From this we can possibly deduce that a revised edition was issued, which has not yet been found.

As a pure conjecture it is suggested that this last edition contained a historical introduction, presumably the same as A, the original pages [i], ii-xi, since there is not much in those that was later superseded; followed by N, the new version of the explanation of notation; then the music with all the new leaves in place of the old ones where appropriate, and of course an updated index. It would also have a title page, and there is no telling whether or not this was the 1900 title page used yet again.

The College of Piping Compendium (12)

This remarkable volume, bound in handsome red leather, is now in the Museum of the College of Piping. Its provenance is unknown but the binding looks very similar to three other volumes now in the National Library, namely Thomason’s manuscript of “Ceòl Mòr legends” and the two-volume of the original “manuscript” (i.e. a compilation of the camera-ready plates” of Ceòl Mòr itself. These three came to the Library from the Royal Scottish Piper’s Society. 28 The College volume also has some of Thomason’s handwriting.

The present contents of this volume include a complete copy of the original 1893 pamphlet, bound in at the front; the explanatory material already described above, and a music text which includes, apparently, all the pages, both revised and unrevised. Thus where a revised leaf with pages *29 and 30 is bound in, there is also the original leaf of pages 29 and 30, so that the number sequence runs *29, 30, 29, 30, and so on; a large number of pages therefore occuring twice. The index is now at the front, but may not always have been so. Its first page is headed “Index of Ceòl Mòr, revised in 1905.” The list of sources is longer than before, by four items, with letter symbols u, v, w, x. The tunes include one dated 1898, numbered LXVIII, and one dated 1901, numbered XXVIA.

Another interesting volume consists simply and solely of these latest revised pages, bound in numerical order; and the Piobaireachd Society also owns a collection of revised pages, unbound. In the absence of any documentation or tradition about these, we can perhaps guess that Thomason continued to make available sets of revised pages, even after he had given up on the idea of having them inserted into existing books, and that at least two piping enthusiasts carefully collected them together and preserved them.

The end of the work?

Nothing of “Ceòl Mòr” has been found dated later than 1905. It is strange that the copies which found their way into copyright libraries did so several years after they seem to have been printed, one as late as 1910. According to Kilberry’s recollections, General Thomason branched off into other piping studies, especially investigations of the pipe chanter scale, when “in the opinion of his admirers” he would have done better to devote himself to a thorough [further?] revision of the book. 29 Some of Thomason’s publications on the pipe scale are dated as early as 1906, (30)so perhaps 1905 really was the last year in which any editorial work was done.

Conclusion. When is an edition not an edition?

Although, as we have seen, it is not easy to speak of first, second, third etc editions of Ceòl Mòr, it does seem possible to use these terms if we divide the book into sections and consider them separately.

Taking the music first, the original 400 pages, with 279 tunes, can be called the first edition, M1. The set of pages with 37 revised forms the second edition, M2, and the set with 64 revised forms the third edition, M3.

Corresponding to the music we might expect three editions of he index, but so far only two have been found, one for the first edition, the other for the third, i1, i3.

The ancillary matter of introduction, explanations, keys, and various postscripts is complicated, but if we ignore minor complications we again seem to have three distinct editions. The first edition E1 comprises the sections described above as A, B, C and D, together with the photographic plates p. The second edition E2 omits D but adds new sections F, H, T2 and K. The third edition E3 has new sections L, N, T3, P and Q, which supersede earlier ones.

We might have expected to find a first edition of the book containing first editions of all three main elements, a second edition with second editions of all, and a third edition with third editions of all three. By this standard, a “first edition” does exist, but no consistent copies of later editions have been discovered as yet. The third edition of the ancillary material has not yet been found in any book which was actually sold as such, but only in the unique volume which seems to be a compilation of earlier material as well. And the only volume yet seen which contains the third edition of the music actually contains the second edition of the ancillary material and the first edition of the index!

The table below may help the reader to follow all this. The numbering scheme leaves gaps for missing editions that may yet be discovered.


First edition

Hybrid first/second edition

Second edition not found

Hybrid first/third edition

Third edition not found


Reprint, 1974


Campbell, James (1977). “History of the Piobaireachd Society”, in Proceedings of the Piobaireachd Society Conference, March 1977. Published 1978 by the Piobaireachd Society.

Cannon, Roderick D. (1980). A bibliography of bagpipe music. John Donald Ltd., Edinburgh.

Donaldson, William (2000). The Highland pipe and Scottish society, Tuckwell Press Ltd., East Linton.

MacKenzie, Brian D. (1981) "Major General Charles Simeon Thomason", in The first one hundred years, a history of the Royal Scottish Pipers' Society. Ed. N. A. Malcolm Smith, published by the RSPS.

MacKenzie, Brian D. (1983) "The life and work of General Thomason", in Proceedings of the Piobaireachd Society Conference, March 1983. Published 1984 by the Piobaireachd Society.

MacKenzie, Brian D. (1990-2) "General Thomason and Ceòl Mòr", in Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol 57 (1990–2), pp 58–72.

Manson, William L. (1901). The Highland bagpipe, its history, literature and music. Alex. Gardner, Paisley. Reprinted EP Publishing Limited, 1977.

Shone, John H. (1980). Some letters of Archibald Campbell of Kilberry 1935-1949. International Piper Limited, East Lothian.


1 A version of this paper was presented at the Piobaireachd Society Conference, Bridge of Allan, April 2003. Several friends who attended the conference brought their own copies of Ceòl Mòr and after examining these I found that the whole story became much clearer.

2 Unless otherwise stated, all information in this section is taken from B. D. MacKenzie (1990-2).

3 His final retirement dated officially from 1 January 1895, but I have not ascertained the exact dates when he left India or arrived in Britain.

4 His grandfather, James W. Grant of Elchies, had owned Donald MacDonald’s MS since about 1830, and Thomason had had a copy of it, which however was lost during the fighting in India in 1857. The MS passed from James Grant, first to one of his daughters, Leonora M. H. Grant, then to another daughter, Mary B. Grant, and then by bequest to Thomason in 1891. These details will be published elsewhere.

5 Thomason, C.S. “Editor’s postscript...”, document K described here.

6 Glasgow University, MS Gen 1456.

7 Thomason, C. S. “Introduction”, document A described here.

8 Or rather, LIV, LIX, XXIX, XL. All tunes have roman numerals, using capital letters on the music plates, lower case in the indexes.

9 NLS MS 2639, f. 213.

10 The writer owns a single sheet, folded in four to make eight pages, consisting of a title, a blank page, and pages [1], 2-6 of the “Key to abbreviations...”, document B described here.

11 A sign that rearrangement of music continued well on toward this date is the positioning of the tunes that bear dates The latest dated tunes are three dated 1893, one 1894 and one 1896. They occur as numbers 91, 78, 278, 81, 254 respectively.

12 Manson (1900, p 110) states that it was published in 1896.

13 The advertisement evidently dates from c. 1900, though as yet it has only been found in copies of the full volume published a few years later. It lists “Ceòl Mòr. 275 pibrochs... complete in one handy volume...”, priced £2-2s.; together with the “notation and first 9 pibrochs...”, and the “notation and first 50 pibrochs...”, priced 2s., and 10s. respectively. The second item in the list is presumably the lost Part I; presumably also by this time Parts II and III were no longer being sold.

14 “the 3,4,3 metre being peculiar the MacLeans”, evidently referring to “The MacLeans’ Gathering” which appears on page 65.

15 This page has a number, xvii, and it may be significant that in all known copies of the book in which it occurs, it is preceded by the note of 1898, a single leaf of two unnumbered pages. If we count these as pages [xv, xvi], it suggests that these two leaves were at one stage intended to follow immediately after page xiv, the final page of the index which carries the “Analysis of Metres”. In the volumes seen the pages do not follow directly on in this way, and the page number xvii is usually carefully scored out in ink.

16 Copies of Ceòl Mòr are indeed in the main copyright libraries, but as noted below they were not received until some years later, and they are not the first edition.

17 Thomason, C. S., “Postscript to Ceòl Mòr Notation”, document E described here.

18 Manson, W. L. (1901), pp. 387 and 393-399.

19 For example names in “Mac” are standardised to the form in two words, so that MacLeod becomes Mac Leod, and capital letters is introduced so that Mackenzie becomes Mac Kenzie. There may also have been some modifications of spellings, like “Cachulin” corrected to “Cuchulin”, and changes of punctuation. Two titles which occur twice in Thomason’s index are each reduced to once only in Manson, i.e. “The Menzie’s Salute” and “Too long in this condition”. Two source references which were incorporated into titles “Leech of Glendarual & Gillies’ version” in the name “Macfarlane’s Gathering”; and “Reid’s version” in “The MacKenzies’ gathering”, and source references for Tunes Tunes 34, 36, 40, 43, 44, 48, 60, 61, 66, 230 are omitted in Manson.

20 This copy once belonged to Dr W. M. MacPhail, Several other books of his were inherited by John Shone who tells me that it was his usual practice to rubber-stamp books rather than sign them by hand. Dr MacPhail, was an outstanding amateur piper, known also for his friendship with Archibald Campbell, Kilberry - see the correspondence edited by J. H. Shone (1980).

21 The corrections are not found in the 1975 reprint, which is believed to be a facsimile of a late printing, except in two cases where a whole page was renewed.

22 On the actual music pages, the page numbers are starred as described in the printed note, but not all consistently. Those which were modified on the same plate are signalled with a star sometimes after the page number, thus 33*, sometimes before, thus *29; and once with a cross, thus +165. The lack of consistency suggests that modifications to plates were done at different times, but all completed by the time the note was drafted in mid-1902. Pages printed from new plates are distinguished consistently, with two stars, thus 40**.

23 Thomason, C. S., “Errata dated 1905...”, in document Q described here.

24 In my bibliography (1980, p. 47 ) and again at the Piobaireachd Society Conference in 2003, I expressed surprise that any author would actually encourage readers to dismember his own book. I am grateful to Mr Michael Egan for suggesting a convincing explanation. In the Army it was standard practice for drill manuals and such publications to be updated regularly by issuing extra printed pages, and these were in fact designed to be inserted as replacements. Often they would get into arrears, and have to be dealt with a large number at a time. The task could be assigned to a junior officer as punishment for some misdemeanour! Thomason would have been familiar with this way of doing things.

25 Information in this paragraph is taken from J. Campbell (1977).

26 A possible exception is 5d below, in which the replacement pages are of two different sizes. This copy however may have belonged to Thomason himself.

27 Copies in the British Library, the Bodleian and Cambridge University Library, deposited in January 1905, contain the 37 revised pages; another in the National Library of Scotland, deposited in October 1910, contains the 64 revised pages.

28 NLS MSS 3749 and 3747-8, deposited 1947, by the RSPS.

29 A. Campbell (1948), p. 13.

30 “The scale of the Highland bagpipe chanter... Part I”. Oban Times 17/11/1906, p.3. [cited, W. Donaldson (2000), p. 299].