Sometimes in traditional music the more well known the tune or song, the murkier its provenance. The Atholl Highlanders is a case in point. That it is a Highland bagpipe march seems pretty well accepted, although some people play it as a fast jig – pretty well blast it to ruins, to be frank. However, in attempting to trace its origin I have continually run into brick walls. The only origin story I could find on the web stated definitively that it is a Shetland jig. Notwithstanding the small fact that jigs per se are not Shetland tunes, when I looked in my copy of The Fiddle Tradition of the Shetland Isles, by Peter Cooke, I found that although the tune was known in Shetland, there was no suggestion it had originated there. So, it’s a Highland bagpipe march, and that’s all we know.
The history of the Atholl Highlanders themselves is much better documented, and easy to find. Today, the Atholl Highlanders is western Europe’s largest private army, although rather than going to war (as they had in times past) they are largely involved in ceremonial duties and performances at Highland games.