The Ghostly Piper of Duntrune Castle
contributed by Marilyn McPhie
This is the time of year for spooky stories. And what better setting for a ghost story that an ancient Scottish Castle?
To this day, many people firmly believe that the beautiful Duntrune Castle in the highlands of Scotland is haunted by the
ghost of a piper who met a sad end more than four hundred years ago
Although Duntrune Castle was built in the 12 th century, the piper’s story begins in the mid 1600s. A civil war in England
had spread to Scotland, and the clans and their historic feuds were drawn into the fray. King Charles 1 was supported by
the Robertsons, Stewarts, Ogilvies, Grahams, Gordons, MacDonalds, MacLeans, MacNabs and Camerons. Their leader
was the military strategist James Graham, the marques of Montrose. The opposing army was lead by the powerful
Archibald Campbell, the Marques of Argyll. The result was a conflict between the legendary foes, the MacDonalds and
The MacDonalds boasted Colkitto, six and a half feet tall, with strength to match. His leadership led to victories, and he
was rewarded with the services of a skilled piper to accompany his forces. When Colkitto and his men arrived at
Duntrune Castle, they surprised the Campbells, captured the castle and slaughtered its defenders. Then Colkitto and
most of his men sailed away, moving on to more battles, leaving behind a small force, including the piper. They were to
hold the castle and await the eventual return of Colkitto and the larger army. However, before the MacDonalds could
return, the Campbells came back with reinforcements and recaptured their castle. They killed all of the MacDonalds –
with the exception of the piper.
Why was the piper spared? Some say that pipers were revered, and even that to kill a piper would inevitably lead to bad
luck. Others say that the victors only wanted some music to amuse them in the evenings. Of course, the Campbells
knew that Colkitto would return with his men. They devised a clever plan. They figured that Colkitto would not be
aware that his enemies had retaken the castle. He would be expecting a warm and friendly welcome.
The MacDonalds would be unsuspecting, so it was the perfect opportunity for a surprise attack. And to make the
surprise more surprising, they would have the piper play a welcoming tune on the castle ramparts. The piper was
ordered to do so.
When Colkitto’s ships were seen approaching the shore, the piper began to play, but the traditional and expected
upbeat tune soon gave way to “Piobaireachd-dhum-Naomhaid,” also called “The Piper’s Warning.” To strengthen the
warning, this skilled piper made some deliberate mistakes as he played. Colkitto, at first happy to hear his piper, finally
realized that the piper was warning him of disaster. Quickly, he ordered the ships to turn and flee.
The Campbell’s witnessed the retreat and realized that the piper was responsible. He would have to pay.
They pulled the piper from the ramparts and orders were given. The punishment was such that the piper would “never
again give a similar warning.” He was ordered to extend his hands, and one stroke of a sword severed them. Some say
that the piper bled to death. Others say that he was not to be granted a quick death, so his stumps were cauterized.
Either way, quickly or slowly, the piper died in a castle chamber.
In the years that followed, many people who lived in Duntrune Castle or visited it claimed to have heard piping and have
witnessed strange things. These phenomena were thought to be sad and spooky, but a mere legend.
However, when the castle was undergoing some repairs in 1888, workers discovered a skeleton in a shallow grave. They
removed a skull, shoulders, chest – and then discovered that the skeleton was completely intact – except that the hands
were missing. This seemed to give credence to the old tale. And then just a few years ago, some floor slates were
pulled up – and there were two skeleton hands not attached to a body.
You can visit Castle Duntrune today, and if you are there in the evening, you might see the ghostly form of a lone piper
on the castle ramparts and even hear the haunting notes of “The Piper’s Warning” floating across the sea.