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Heartfelt musical tribute to terror attack victim Eilidh MacLeod

The Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band played in honour of Eilidh who died in the Manchester bombing.

As the opening notes resonated across a silent room, the young musicians in the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band stood tall as they united in their focus.

Opening and closing their set at the Scottish School Pipe Band Championship with the Fair Maid of Barra, the lament was filled with emotion as they played in honour of 14-year-old Eilidh MacLeod, a fellow band member who was among the 22 victims of last May's Manchester Arena bombing.

For the 2017 winners of the freestyle musicianship category, the return to the competition meant more to them than the prestige of a win.

It was a chance for them to express their emotions for their friend from the Isle of Barra who had shared their passion for pipes.

Watching alongside Eilidh's parents and sisters, her Great Uncle Donald Manford said that the pipes "speak to the soul", adding that it was a special moment for the family to watch the band play this tribute.

"It is full of mixed emotions," Manford says. "There's enormous pride in seeing what's going on and enjoying the marvellous music that is coming from it, and there is a feeling of loss.

"What is so marvellous is seeing so many people, particularly young people, and their enthusiasm.

"The support has been marvellous, it's been overwhelming, especially in the first instance from the community and the piping fraternity. It has crossed all boundaries from community to the entire county."

He adds: "The pipes, in particular, speak to the soul and to see that happening, and to feel it, is quite special.

"Particularly, the bagpipes, they have such emotion in them."

Remembering Eilidh: The 14-year-old was a very dedicated member of the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band.
Remembering Eilidh: The 14-year-old was a very dedicated member of the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band. Claire Watson

Eilidh died in the explosion in Manchester as she attended an Ariana Grande concert on May 22 last year.

She was at the gig with her friend Laura MacIntyre, a fellow pupil at Castlebay Community School on Barra, who was seriously injured in the attack.

Two weeks after the attack, Eilidh was laid to rest in Barra. Her body was flown home on a small chartered plane which landed on the island's beach, which is also its runway, and a piper led a procession to the shore.

For the last few months, the band's piping instructor Donald MacDonald has been heartened by the determination of Eilidh's band members to do something in her honour, and said they were all committed to dedicate the performance to her.

Made up of pipers and drummers aged between 12 and 17 from throughout the Uists - as far north as Berneray and to the southern tip of Barra - the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band were the furthest travelled competitors to take to the stage on March 11 at Inveralmond Community High School in Livingston.

Winning third place in the freestyle musicianship category this year, the band ended on a poignant note as they returned to The Fair Maid of Barra song, this time with a lone piper playing the lilting melody as highland dancers stopped and saluted their friend.

Piping instructor Donald MacDonald says the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band will always remember Eilidh.
Piping instructor Donald MacDonald says the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band will always remember Eilidh.

The band's piping instructor credited the young musicians for their efforts, saying it was the "best they have ever played".

"For these young boys and girls, to perform that standard under the pressure they were under, I'm amazed," MacDonald says.

"We will always remember Eilidh as a band member."

As well as the musical tribute, the Eilidh MacLeod Endeavour Award was presented in the young musician's name with Ullapool Schools Pipe Band awarded for attributes such as perseverance, community contribution, and enthusiasm - many of which Donald says Eilidh had in abundance.

"For any band to be successful you need total commitment and Eilidh certainly gave 100% all the time," MacDonald says.

"Eilidh would come over to Uist. We had a band practice in the afternoon between 2pm and 5pm then we have a break for two hours then 7pm to 9pm in the evening.

"Then Eilidh would spend a night in the hotel to be at the morning practice the following day at 9am and then go home on the lunchtime ferry. That was total commitment for Eilidh.

"The pipe band was very much part of Eilidh's life, she really enjoyed the band and we enjoyed having her in it."

For the musicians in the Sgoil Lionacleit Pipe Band, Eilidh's legacy will continue to live on in their music as they prepare to travel to New York and take part in the 20th anniversary of Tartan Week next month.

This will be the first time any pipe band has represented the Hebrides at this event, and a stage the band intend to use to once again honour Eilidh.

"The tunes that we played in the Freestyle today in memory of Eilidh, we will be playing over in New York in a couple of weeks time," MacDonald says.

"Every time we hear that tune, the Fair Maid of Barra, Eilidh is always in our minds."

He adds: "Not only was Eilidh a very good solo piper, she was also a great team player.

"She brought a lot of team spirit into our band and I am very glad to say that team spirit is very much still alive in our band."

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