The Sinclairs' March

Published in Roslin O Roslin, Autumn 1999 (Vol 3 No 17).

by Rory Sinclair

On the Sinclair Discussion List, one of the most frequently asked questions is: "What is the Sinclair's March and where can I get / hear it?" The most recent inquiry came from Ray Lower of California, and your editor waded in with the following explanation. The article was then put on permanent display on the Sinclair Web Site and has additionally been published in the Newsletter of our American cousins, Yours Aye. Not wishing to deprive our Canadian members of the "joys" of this article, it is being re-published here:

The Spaidsearaichd Mhic nan Cearda translates as "the Sinclairs' March".

The Argyll Sinclairs were referred to as Clann Mhic nan Cearda ("Clan of the Craftsmen") and there is some discussion how that came to be. Cearda does mean "Craftsman" and there is speculation that the Argyll Sinclairs got the name as a corruption of Sinclair (pronounced in Scotland "Sinkler") and "Tinkler" meaning "tinker" hence a craft person.

The connection of the Argyll Sinclairs to the Rosslyn and Caithness Sinclairs is not well understood, although brother Clansman Neil Sinclair of Toronto has produced a paper on the Argyll Sinclairs which I gather is still in progress but of which he provided a synopsis at our Winter Gathering the February past. (Also see Karen Matheson's article in the summer issue of Roslin O Roslin.)

The writer is a piper and a piobaireachd player and he too was very intrigued by the tune mentioned above. It took him a year but he found the music for the tune in Tomason's Ceol Mor (pub ca. 1900) and also in Glen's Collection (pub late 1800s).

Like so many piobaireachd tunes, there are alternative names and this one is primarily known as "The Red Ribbon" although both sources give "The Sinclair's March" as an additional name. Spaidsearaichd does mean "March" but be careful! This does not mean march as in a pipe band march. Today, all piobaireachd is played "largo" or slow with expression. The Red Ribbon is not played in today's repertoire but we shouldn't take that personally.

Of the 500 or so tunes that have been handed down to us through oral and later written tradition, only about 200 are played with any kind of regularity. I have looked at the tune and I intend to learn it....it actually is not a difficult tune but the fact that it is not played should give you a clue as to its "musical merit" which, and it pains me to say this, is not great. It is highly repetitive and does not have a very interesting melodic line. However, I will learn it and will eventually make it available to those who would like to hear it.

For your information, there are 3 other piobaireachds with Sinclair connections:

  • Robert Sinclair's Wife's Lament (The Bicker)
  • Lord Berriedale's Salute (Lord Berriedale is the title of the son of the Earl of Caithness)
  • The Carles with the Breeks (Composed by a Campbell piper on the defeat of the Sinclairs in 1681 by the Campbells at Altemairlach)

Further on the Sinclair March: David Bouschor has a copy of the music of all the tunes mentioned in my piece that John Quarterman very kindly added to FAQ section. I know this because I gave it to him in Duluth in 1995. Ray Lower was there but perhaps Ray did not catch what was being said. Certainly the Sinclair March is not a quickstep and the tune that Ray believes is in a Black Watch Book is probably not correctly remembered.

Most Clan Pipe tunes are of the Piobaireachd (Ceol Mor or "big music") type and not of the "Light Music" (Ceol Beag or "little music") type which is normally band marches, jigs, reels, strathspeys, airs, hornpipes, etc.

There are approximately 15 light music tunes that I know of that have Sinclair themes and I will provide that list in the near future.

Yours aye,
Rory Sinclair, Toronto
Clan Sinclair Association (Canada)


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