The Gillies Last Lament

This is the story of a bagpiper who lost his way but found compassion and truth at the ‘graveside’.

As a bagpiper, I play many gigs and recently I was asked by a Highland funeral director to play at the graveside service for an old gillie.  He explained that the old boy had out lived all known family and had no friends save his old collie dog – Anny.  Since his death Anny had been adopted and looked after by a local family.

With respect for this kind man and to save him from a paupers grave, local and not so local salmon & trout fishers, he had known over the years and benefited his knowledge clubbed together and sent money to his local Kirk to pay for the funeral, they in turn paid the funeral director.

As I was not familiar with the Highlands, I got lost, and being a typical man, and running late, I did not stop for directions.   My sat-nav was with the wife and my phone had died.

I finally arrived an hour late and saw the funeral guy had evidently gone and the hearse was nowhere in sight.  There were only the grave diggers left and they were eating lunch.  I felt badly and apologized to the men for being late.  I went to the side of the grave and looked down and saw the vault lid was already in place. I did not know what else to do, so I decided to play for him. I changed in the back of the car from tracksuit to full highland dress – bonnet, doublet and tartan kilt of the Hunting Stuart.

The workers put down their lunches and began to gather around the grave.  I played out my heart and soul for this man of the lochs and burns with no family or friends around to see him off.  I felt in my heart I had to justify his very existence with the music of my pipes, to celebrate this man, his way of life and more importantly, his sad and lonely death.

I played like I have never ever played before to the memory of this ancient river man.  An old lady walking her dog came over to see what was going on.  Two kids on bikes stopped and joined us at the grave side.

And as I played “Amazing Grace”, the workers began to weep.  They wept, I wept, the old lady wept we all wept together. By her side the little Westie sat to attention and with a glistening nose bowed his head in canine respect. The two cyclists were hugging each other crying on each other’s shoulder.

I played my heart out for this good old man, this man with no friends. I played my heart out for the love he’d had for his rivers and his lochs,

I played for his love for the Highlands and I played for his love of his chosen, insular career.

When I had finished, I dried my eyes, packed up my bagpipes and started for my car. The old lady thanked me and the men dried their own tears. She went on her way, her little dog trotting merrily by her side.

The two kids, sleeve dried their eyes and biked off.   My head was hung low, but my heart was fulfilled.  I felt I had achieved a far higher state of consciousness and calmness. I felt happy and content inside.

As I opened the door to my car, I heard one of the grave diggers say,

“D’you know boys – I’ve been installing septic tanks for the last thirty

years and I’ve never, ever, seen anything quite like that before?”

Apparently our valiant piper may still be lost, but I bet he will never ever play the bagpipes at the final resting place of a septic tank.


Adapted by Neil Johnson from an original story by A. N. Other.  July 2017

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