Updated: Oct 30, 2021
Several versions this tale can be found...The MacDonald clan was led by a hulk of a man that came to be known by the name Colkitto. He was a master at warfare and not only fought for his own clan but was also known to have assisted Clan MacIntyre of Glen Coe. In thanks for his assistance, the MacIntyre chief gave Colkitto his favorite piper. He was to accompany Colkitto and the MacDonald warriors on their campaign.
And so it was that when the MacDonald clan came upon Duntrune Castle in the middle of the night, the MacIntyre piper was also there to take part in the action. The control of the castle was wrestled from the Campbells and left in the capable hands of a few of Colkitto’s men along with his prized piper. Colkitto himself boarded a boat and set sail across the Sound of Jura to continue on his campaign, leaving his men to hold down the fort until his return.
When the Campbells launched a counter-attack to regain control of Duntrune, all of the warriors of the MacDonald clan were killed, except for the piper. He alone was left, with the intent that he would play his pipes and entertain the Campbell clan.
And that he did, until one day Colkitto’s boat was spotted on the Sound. With permission, the MacIntyre piper played a song that he had prepared in honor of his leader’s return, “Piobaireachd-dhum- Naomhaid” or in English, “The Piper’s Warning to His Master”. Soon the haunting notes drifted out across the water, reaching Colkitto’s ears. But it didn’t take long for the great chieftain to notice something odd about the melody. The piper had intentionally misplayed some of the notes in an effort to send a warning message to Colkitto.
Colkitto, understanding the piper’s intent, turned his boat around and never completed his destination to Duntrune. When the Campbell clan realized what the piper had done, they called for the piper’s punishment.
And what greater punishment could there be, than to disable the man, preventing him from ever being able to play the pipes again? The MacIntyre piper’s hands were cut off, and he eventually bled to death from his injuries.
The “Ghost” Part of This Little Story...So, what’s so ghostly about this sad story? For hundreds of years there have been stories of banging noises and flying objects heard and sighted at Duntrune Castle. There have even been reports of a mysterious sound of bagpipes playing on occasion. For many years people actually thought the story of the mutilated piper was just that—a story. But while a renovation project was underway at Duntrune in the late 1800’s, an Episcopalian bishop reported that workers found the skeletal remains of a man. They unearthed the bones: skull, arms, legs, torso—everything was there—except for his hands. The remains were reburied outside of the castle walls in an unmarked grave. Later, another excavation uncovered the bones of two hands, without a body to go with it, buried under one of the rooms of the castle.
If you are ever in Argyll, perhaps you can venture to see Duntrune Castle. See if you can spot a lonely specter dutifully piping out his warning across the salty waters of Loch Crinan. Oh, and let me know how he does it without his hands.
Credit: The Rose and the Thistle — Random historical chatter about Scotland, Scottish or British history, the sixteenth century, the Reformation, or Mary, Queen of Scots. I may also throw in a thing or two about the Middle Ages.