The origins of piobaireachd extend back to at least the late 1500s. The MacCrimmons of Skye are credited with creating the basic ideas and structure of the form. One of the more influential of the MacCrimmons was Donald Mor MacCrimmon.
The MacCrimmon family were the hereditary pipers to the chiefs of the MacLeod family. The MacLeod family held possession of a large portion of the island of Skye off the northwest coast of Scotland. Iain Odhar, Donald Mor’s father, was the first piper to live on the lands given to the MacCrimmons by the MacLeods.
Donald Mor was born around 1570, on the island of Skye. In 1603, he was commissioned by the MacLeods to compose a piobaireachd commemoration the end of hostilities between the MacLeods and the MacDonalds. He ended up composing three tunes: "MacLeods Controversy", the "MacLeods Salute", and the “MacDonald’s Salute.” These three tunes are considered to be some of the most important piobaireachds ever written.
One of Donald Mor’s more colorful stories relates to the composition of the piobaireachd “A Flame of Wrath for Patrick Coagach,” also known as “A Flame of Wrath for Squinting Patrick.” Around 1610, Patrick Coagach was murdered by the MacKenzies’ of Kintail. Donald Mor, his brother, committed to getting revenge but was persuaded to wait a year by the Chief of the MacLeods.
After a year Donald Mor, still resolved to avenge his brother, travelled to the village of Pintail and set fire to at least 18 of the MacKenzies’ cottages resulting in several deaths. He was eventually granted a pardon by Lord Kintail, Chief of the MacKenzies.
“A Flame of Wrath of Squinting Patrick” could have been composed to show the frustration of Donald Mor with waiting for his revenge or an attempt to show the satisfaction of burning the MacKensie’s dwellings. The driving rhythm and the structure of this tune show the emotion that can be invoked by a single piobaireachd.
Some of the other tunes ascribed to Donald Mor include:
“Donald Diabhul MacKay’s Lament”
“The Earl of Ross’s March”
“MacLeod of Rassay’s Lament”
“MacLeod of MacLeod’s Rowing Salute”
Donald Mor MacCrimmon succeeded to the post of hereditary piper in 1620. He died about the 1640. He was followed in the post by his son Patrick Mor MacCrimmon.