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Bothy Ballads


Bothies were out-houses built of stone where unmarried farm labourers lived. The men would gather in towns waiting for a farmer to come along and hire them. The wages were poor and the diet was monotonous oatmeal. But the bothie was home for the time they worked on the farm. The building consisted of two rooms, one a dormitory for sleeping and the other the room where they ate and spent their evenings. On cold nights when there was nothing to do but go to bed, the men would have sing-songs to pass the time. Many of the bothy ballads were created during this time, some shared from the past, some re-made and new ones improvised. The following ballads are samples of these.

The first ballad is The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre, a favorite comic air of Robert Burns.

The Muckin' o' Geordie's Byre

At a relic aul' croft upon the hill,
Roon the neuk frae Sprottie's mill,
Tryin' a' his life tae jine the kill
Lived Geordie MacIntyre.
He had a wife as sweir's himsel'
An' a daughter as black's Auld Nick himsel'.
There wis some fun - haud awa' the smell-
At the muckin' o' Geordie's byre.

Chorus:
For the graip was tint, the besom was deen,
The barra widna row its leen,
An'siccan a soss it never was seen
At the muckin' o' Geordie's byre.

For the daughter had to strae and neep
The auld wife started to swipe the greep
When Geordie fell sklite on a rotten neep
At the muckin' o' Geordie's byre.
Ben the greep cam' Geordie's soo
She stood up ahint the coo
The coo kickit oot an' o whit a stew
At the muckin' o' Geordie's byre. (Chorus)

For the aul' wife she was booin' doon -
The soo was kickit on the croon
It shoved her heid in the wifie's goon
Then ben through Geordie's byre.
The daughter cam thro the barn door
An' seein' her mother let oot a roar,
To the midden she ran an' fell ower the boar
At the muckin' of Geordie's byre. (Chorus)

For the boar he lap the midden dyke
An' ower the riggs wi' Geordie's tyke.
They baith ran intil a bumbee's byke
At the muckin' o' Geordie's byre.
The cocks an' hens began to craw
When Biddy astride the soo they saw
The postie's shelty ran awa'
At the muckin' o' Geordie's byre. (Chorus)

O a hunder' years are passed an mair
Whaur Sprottie's wis, the hill is bare;
The croft's awa', sae ye'll see nae mair
At the muckin' o' Geordie's byre.
His folks a' deid an' awa' lang syne
In case his memory we should tyne,
Whistle this tune tae keep ye in min'
At the muckin' o' Geordie's byre. (Chorus)


The Bold Princess Royal

O on the fourteenth day of February we sailed from the land
In the bold Princess Royal bound for Newfoundland.
We had forty bright sailors for our ship's companie,
And boldly from the eastward to the westward sailed we.

We had not been sailing scarce days two or three
When our man from the masthead a sail he did see.
She bore down upon us to see what we were,
When from under her mizzen black colours she wore.

My God cries our Captain what shall we do now
For there comes a bold pirate to rob us I know.
O no, cries our chief mate it cannot be so
For we'll spread out our reef boys and from her we'll go.

And when this bold pirate came up alongside
Through a loudspeaking trumpet he said 'Who are you?'
Our Captain walked the quarterdeck and he answered him so
'We come from fair London and we're bound for Cairo.'

Then draw up your courses and heave your ship to
For I've got a letter. I'll send on by you.
We'll draw up our courses and heave our ship to
But it will be in some harbour not alongside of you.

He chased us to windward for all that long day
He chased us to windward and night and a day
He chased us to windward but could not prevail
Whilst the bold Princess Royal did show them her tail.

Thank God cries our captain, since the pirate has gone
'Bring a cask of good brandy, fore and aft let it run.
Go down to your grog boys, and be of good cheer,
As long as we've sea-room my boys never fear.'

My Last Farewell to Stirling

Nae lark in transport mounts the sky
Or leaves wi' early plaintive cry,
But I will bid a last good-bye,
My last farewell to Stirling O.

Chorus:

Tho' far awa, ma hert's wi' you.
Our youthful 'oors, upon wings they flew
But I will bid a last adieu
A last farewell to Stirling O.

Nae mair I'll meet ye in the dark
Or gang wi' you to the King's Park
Or raise the hare from oot their flap
When I gae far fae Stirling O.

Nae mair I'll wander through the glen,
Disturb the roost o' the pheasant hen.
Or chase the rabbits tae their den
When I gae far fae Stirling O.

Their one request before I go
And this is to my comrades all:
My dog and gun I'll leave to you
When I gae far fae Stirling O.

So fare thee well my Jeannie dear
For you I'll shed a bitter tear.
I hope you'll find another, dear,
When I gae far fae Stirling O.

So fare thee well, for I am bound
For twenty years to Van Diemen's Land.
But think of me, and what I've done
When I gae far fae Stirling O. 

Transportation to Van Diemen's Land, Tasmania, was a punishment frequently used for poachers and other law-breakers.

Airlin's Fine Braes

O I've walked o'er yon countries baith early and late
Among Airlin's braw lasses I've had mony a lang seat.
Comin' hame in the mornins, fin I should have been at ease
Fin I wis a plooboy on Airlin's fine braes.

O the first thing I did, fin I gaed hame tae yon toon
Wis to corn my horses, and rub them weel doon.
Then aff tae the bothy and tak aff my claes,
And pull on the rovers o' Airlin's fine braes.

Noo the haill lang days I gaed at the yoke
My mind it was turnin' ow'r some mysterious joke.
Knockin' doon people's haystacks, fin I should have been at ease
Fin I wis a plooboy on Airlin's fine braes.

O it's mony's the nicht I've sat by yon fire,
Sometimes in the barn, sometimes in the byre.
Sittin' the haill nicht lang, fin I should have been at ease
Fin I wis a plooboy on Airlin's fine braes.

And when by their windows I softly did kneel
And when they did hear me, they sprung to their heel.
Comin' doon the stairs half naked, nae pittin on their claes
Sayin', here's wer braw plooboy o' Airlin's fine braes.

Now come a' ye single fellows, take a warnin from me
Keep clear o' those women faure'er they may be,
For they will entice you by puttin' on braw claes
And send you a rover in Airlin's fine braes.

The Hairst o' Rettie

I hae seen the hairst o' Rettie, lads,
And twa-three aff the throne.
I've heard o sax and seven weeks
The hairsters girn and groan.
But wi' a covie Willie Rae
A monthie an' a day
Sends a' the jolly hairsters
Singin' blithely doon the brae.

In a monthie an' a day, my lads,
The like was never seen;
It beats to sticks the fastest strips
O' Vickers' best machine. 
The Speedwell she taks up the rear,
The Victory clears the way;
And twenty acres daily yields,
Laid doon tae Willie Rae.

He drives them roond and roond the field
At sic an awfu' rate:
Yet guides them gently oot and in
At mony's a kittle gate.
And wiles them gently ow'r the steens
And mony a hidden hole,
And he'll come by nae mishanter
If ye leave him wi' a pole.

O he sharps their teeth tae gar them bite;
He taps them on the jaws,
And if he sees them dowie-like,
He'll brawly ken the cause:
A boltie here, or a pinnie there,
Tae keep them aye in tune;
He'll quickly stop their wild career,
And bring the clishack doon.

O he whittles aff the corners,
And makes crookit bitties straucht,
He likes to see that man and beast
Are equal in a draucht,
An' a' the corners neat an' square
And nae a shafe agley;
And he'll coont wi' ony dominie
Frae the Deveron tae the Spey.

Noo he's nae made up wi' mony words
Or kent tae puff and lee,
But just as keen a little chap
As ony you will see.
And if you're in search o hairvest work
Upon a market day,
Take my advice, be there in time
And look for Willie Rae.

Noo he hae got it in aboot,
An' a wer things be ticht,
We'll gaither roond the festal board
Tae spend a joyfae nicht;
Wi' Scottish sangs and mutton broth
Tae charm our cares away;
We'll drink success tae Rettie,
And my bandster Annie Maclean.

Noo afore I end my hamely screed,
I canna weel forget
The gentle dames that guards the hoose
And keeps the folk in maet.
Lang may they bile the kail
And stir the porridge weel.
An may never need or want for nail
Tae keep the timmer hale.

Noo here's tae a' ye Rettie blades,
A ringin' cheer - Hurra!
A better lot o' workin' chaps
A gaffer never saw.
They're aye sae willin' for tae pairt,
And eager for the fray
It was them that made the boatie row,
That was steer'd by Willie Rae.


Whistle Ow'r the Lave o't

My mither sent me tae the moss
For to gaither peats and dross.
I cowpit the cairt and hanged the horse
An whistle ow'r the lave o't.

My mither sent me tae the well
Better her had gaen hersel'.
I fell ower and broke my pail,
An' whistle ow'r the lave o't.

My mither sent me tae the sea
For tae gaither mussels three,
A sailor lad fell in wi' me
An' whistle ow'r the lave o't.

My mither sent me tae the moss
For tae gaither peats and dross.
I cowpit the cairt and hanged the horse,
And whistle ow'r the lave o't.


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