One of the most iconic and beloved moments in 1994’s Dumb and Dumber remains the “most annoying sound in the world” scene. Remarkably, the comedy bit was wholly improvised by Jim Carrey, delivering a high-pitched, nasally screech that’s pretty darn grating. Of course, different sounds affect people in unique ways. But some are considered universally awful. Think dripping faucets, buzzing flies, and alarm clock rings.

Research into the most annoying instrument sounds in the world reveals commonalities: piercing pitches, screeching sounds, squeakiness, and playing out of tune. Depending on the person, many instruments could fit this bill, including violins, clarinets, and flutes. But no instrument has faced as much abuse and opposition as bagpipes.

While some cling nostalgically to the sounds of this Highland instrument, others are far from charmed by its screeching strains. Here’s everything you need to know about the ongoing war on bagpipes.

The Battle of Culloden

Many Americans think of bagpipes as synonymous with Scotland’s culture. One of the most popular events for tourists to the nation’s capital is Edinburgh’s Royal Military Tattoo. Annually, it draws approximately 200,000 attendees and gets broadcast to more than 100 million worldwide viewers. Of course, bagpipes figure prominently in the event, giving the impression that everyone is in love with this ancient instrument.

An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745' by David Morier.

An Incident in the Rebellion of 1745′ by David Morier. Via Wikimedia Commons.

But dig a little deeper, and you’ll discover the pipes have faced a backlash for centuries, with the instrument’s most vehement enemies going for nothing less than urban eradication. It all started in 1746 in the aftermath of the Jacobites’ devastating losses at the Battle of Culloden. To make an example of those who rebelled against the Crown, the Brits picked a handful of Scottish Highlander rebels to stand trial in York.

A “Tool of Warfare”

They included James Reid, a bagpipe player, who had accompanied troops into battle. Reid pled not guilty because he carried no weapons into battle. But this defense held no water with the Court of Exchequer, who declared Highland regiments “never marched without a piper, and, therefore, that in the eye of the law, [Reid’s] bagpipes were an instrument of war.”

With the musician’s supposed guilt confirmed, he got hung to death on November 15, 1746. Most historians agree this was the first time in history a musical instrument received such a title. But it would prove just the beginning of a war that still wages against the instrument.

The War on Bagpipes

What are some highlights in the so-called “War on Bagpipes?” They include the 1999 Campaign Against Bagpipes initiated by Clive Hibberts of Edinburgh. During this campaign, Hibberts and his friends targeted busking bagpipers along the Royal Mile. These efforts eventually failed, along with his attempt to nix kilts. Nevertheless, this strategic offensive against Scotland’s few remaining traces of original Highlander culture inspired future attempts to silence the pipes forever.

Bagpiper performs on the street of the Royal Mile.

Kilted bagpiper performs on the street of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Nearly a decade later, in 2007, a second Campaign Against Bagpipes began, spearheaded by Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh. Instead of declaring the instrument a weapon of war or an antiquated facet of Scottish culture that needed to go, Jones and Murtagh went straight for the jugular, proclaiming it an annoyance. Advocating for its removal from urban areas, they proposed setting up a sanctuary on the Isle of Skye for pipers to “play and dress as they please, far from civilization and annoyance.”

Eradicating Bagpipes from the Streets of Edinburgh

Within a year, the War on Bagpipes gained enough momentum that Edinburgh threatened to jail any piper who performed along the Royal Mile. Their justification? City officials claimed law enforcement received upwards of 100 calls per day from disgruntled locals and shopkeepers tired of dealing with constant noise pollution. Three years later, the city passed legislation forbidding business owners from blaring bagpipe music via sidewalk speakers.

And in one of the most damning developments for the pipes, Rugby World Officials banned bagpipes from their events in 2011. The reason why? Not because of their historical weapon of war distinction or allegiance with certain political factions. But instead because they sound like “a hyena caught in a gin trap,” as sports broadcaster Miles Davis so eloquently put it. Clearly, there’s no love loss for the instrument, although we think it’d be a great addition to any future movies in the Dumb and Dumber franchise.

By Engrid Barnett, contributor for


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