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Pibroch is defined in the Dictionaries of the Sots Language (DSL) as:


“the classical or ‘big’ music of the Scottish bagpipe… sometimes loosely used of pipe music in general and, erroneously, of the instrument itself”.



Although bagpipes are heavily identified with Scotland, they are not, of course, unique to this land. The instrument is widely found in other parts of the world, which is why International Bagpipe Day on March 10th is celebrated from Athens to Aberdeen and many venues in between.


Pibroch derives from the Scottish Gaelic pìbaireachd, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as


“the act of playing the bagpipe, bagpipe music… In Scottish Gaelic, the term pìobaireachd denotes any kind of bagpipe music. The application to ceremonial tunes is a development within English; in Scottish Gaelic, such tunes are referred to as ceòl mór, literally ‘great music’”.



The earliest citation of pibroch in the DSL is from Allan Ramsay in The Ever Green (1719):


“Quhyle, playand Pibrochs, Minstralls meit Afore him stately strade”.


Later, in 1901, a clear definition is quoted from W L Manson in The Highland Bagpipe:


“The word does not, properly speaking, denote any class of tune – it means pipe-playing – but is generally applied to … three classes – the cruinneachadh or gathering, the cumhadh lament, and the failte or salute”.



The term can also be used figuratively, as in this evocative example from the Sunday Post of November 2021:


“Then the elegant greenshank that wintered wading the shallows of a duneland pool left and let fall in flight one last parting pibroch call”.



This Scots Word of the Week was written by Pauline Cairns Speitel, Dictionaries of the Scots Language