South Scotland

Queen Victoria's first piper honoured

Angus MacKay
Image caption Angus MacKay was appointed piper to the royal household in 1843

A memorial has been unveiled to Queen Victoria's piper at the spot where he was last seen alive.

Angus MacKay disappeared from the banks of the River Nith at Glencaple in Dumfries and Galloway on 21 March 1859.

He was the first piper to the royal household but moved to Dumfries for treatment for a mental illness.

The most common delusion in his case notes was that he was married to Queen Victoria and that Prince Albert had "defrauded him of his rights".

A memorial cairn in his honour has been funded by donations to an appeal by Piping Times magazine, with a local landowner giving permission to erect the cairn.

It pays tribute to a man with a remarkable life story.

Born in Raasay in 1813, Mackay was the son of prominent musician John MacKay.

Collection published

At the age of 13, he was awarded a prize by the Highland Society in its appeal for pipe music to be produced in "scientific" form.

And, with the society's support, a collection of piobaireachd, complete with historical notes, was published under his name in 1838.

Image caption A collection of pipe music was published in MacKay's name in 1838

His royal appointment came later in life, after a visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to the Highlands in 1842.

The Queen decided she should have her own piper and sought the advice of the Marquis of Breadalbane.

He recommended that MacKay be appointed to the post with the result that he became the first Piper to Her Majesty on 25 July 1843.

However, his services came to an end in 1854, as a result of mental illness.

He was granted a royal pension and was eventually transferred to the Crichton Royal Hospital in Dumfries when he was 43.

A few years after moving to Dumfries, he escaped from the institution and drowned in the River Nith, at the age of 46.

As well as this latest memorial, he is commemorated in the poem The Last Vision of Angus MacKay by Tom Pow, which is included in Best Scottish Poems of 2008 published by the Scottish Poetry Society.

The cairn unveiling was attended by Robert Wallace, editor of Piping Times, Dumfries Provost Jack Groom and Hugh Drysdale, who constructed the memorial.

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