John Barbour’s, The Brus: Thoughts

For a while now I’ve been reading John Barbour’s epic, The Brus, and one of the things that most fascinates me about the poem is that it gives us an undeniable window into the mindset of a man who lived during that time; whereas so much of history is told to us through dusty old texts and boring lectures, where one man’s opinion, or the opinions of a small group is often times how we ourselves interpret what it is we are reading, in The Brus, however, we are listening to a man speak, and not just factually state his approximation of events that transpired, but of how he himself would have known and told them; how he did, in fact, tell such stories to the Scottish court and to King Robert II, Bruce’s son. John Barbour was a man who had actually meet those brave Scots who had fought alongside the previous King Robert; he existed around the time that these events had taken place, and had meet and spoken to those now elderly warriors, or their children, about such events; and so again, what fascinates me is when he says a line to the effect of “I heard it once told” or “as I heard tell” that through these anecdotes, and his own personable approach to telling this history, the reader is able to gain an insight into that time through just one man, John Barbour; who links us to the man at Bannockburn, or the man who fought alongside Bruce in Glentrool forest.

Bruce stone at Glentrool
The Bruce stone at Glentrool

And even if you’re not solely interested in Scottish history, the book nonetheless is a great read in that it manages to lend humor and a sense of personality into an historical subject in a way that a history book, or text, simply cannot. It is its firsthand and secondhand accounts that help lend a sense of character to the people and places from the perspective of a man who knew those people, and those places, and during the time in which they existed. For me, it truly is an invaluable source of information of the time of The Scottish Wars of Independence; it’s a Scottish source, and unashamedly so; it champions Scotland and her heroes (Whilst being more than fair to her enemies), and tells their story in what is widely considered to be a more than reasonably true account of such matters; both historic victory, and historic defeat being encountered there in the pages as they happened.

For instance, in Book 2, line 349, The Battle of Methven is recorded, wherein; the bridle of King Bruce’s horse is seized by Sir Philip Mowbray, who then calls out ‘Help! Help! I have the new-made King.’ Christopher Seaton then fly’s to the aid of the King and strikes Mowbray unconscious, thus releasing King Robert, which is followed shortly after by a retreat of the Scots force; and yet despite this mention of dramatic heroism, the account of the battle is still rightly attested to, and that Bruce and his men were defeated, is made clear. It’s a warts and all history that mentions the good times, and the bad; heroism and betrayal; its content easily being corroborated by other sources from that era, both Scottish, and English.

Now, I will say, that within the pages; liberally sprinkled among the numerous accounts of valorous deeds, and acts of ‘great courage’; are the use of words such as chivalry, stoutly, boldly and bravely; and whilst these words make for good story telling, their frequent usage can become noticeable, even a little heavy handed. Yet if an eyewitness was to tell Barbour that Bruce fought valiantly, as is often reiterated dramatically within the pages of the poem, or that a battle went this way or that way; then why would I choose to disbelieve that? Bruce was a fighter, and very much a warrior King; he fought a multitude of battles and wars, and survived them all. No one would doubt his prowess, or even that of his chivalric enemies, and so when lines attest to as much, and are reiterated heavily; mentioning his great chivalry and his overwhelming courage etc. I choose to believe it as a true characteristic of the man’s nature, and given by those who had witnessed him in such moments. For instance, the forces Bruce led where usually dangerously outnumbered, and yet he was often victorious. This alone should go some way to making such favorable descriptions of the King’s prowess and bravery, and that of the men who followed him, at the least believable.

“in his youth he was a match for the super athletes of today”
“a privileged and muscular man, with large, broad features”

But regardless of the fast paced action sequences, it’s the lines which give you a rare glimpse into how men shaped by that time viewed each other, and the world around them; of how the nature of war and conflict were viewed through the lens of the prejudices and social norms of that period, which really interest me: Book 3, line 153:

There was a baron, Macnaughton, who paid great heed in his heart to the King’s (Bruce’s)chivalry, and he esteemed him greatly in his heart. He said to the lord of Lorn, ‘Assuredly, you can now see the heaviest trespass-payment taken that you ever saw taken in your lifetime. For yon Knight, by his bold deed and by his superhuman (outrageous manheid) qualties, in a short time has killed three men of great pride (Noblemen or Knights). He has discomfitted all our company so that no man dare go after him, and he turns his horse so often that he seems to have no fear of us.’ Then the lord of Lorn said, ‘You seemed to be pleased, perfay, that he kills our men like that.’ ‘Sir,’ he said, ‘as God is my witness, saving your presence, it’s not like that. But whosoever wins the prize in chivalry, be he friend or foe, men should speak faithfuly of it. And assuredly, in all my life, I never heard tell, in song or verse, of a man who achieved great chivalry so vigerously.’

Now contrast that glowing endorsement of the King, by non-other than an enemy, with how the King himself makes statement after the battle: Book 3, line 187:

‘For being discouraged,’ as he said then, ‘is the worst thing possible. For through great discouragement men often fall into despair, and when a man is in despair, then he is utterly beaten. If the spirit is discouraged, the body is not worth a jot. Therefore,’ he said, ‘above all keep yourselves from despair, and remember that, though we now feel injuries, God may yet relieve us well.’

Bruce and the spider
Bruce contemplating the spiders determined resolve

So whilst others begin to champion his legend, we see a hint of the concern of the here and now that Bruce and his men must surely have found themselves in, and no doubt often dwelt upon; yet unconcerned with whether or not history would remember them as heroic, or how ‘right manfully’ the country thought they conducted themselves; Bruce simply try’s to lift his men’s spirits in those closing moments after the battle, knowing that lives had been at stake, and that the men around him had faced down real danger; regardless of the glory to be won in the hindsight. It’s often difficult to remember that these were real men who had no idea then, that they would eventually be victorious. At that point in time, they were just a handful operating within a violent country, and surrounded daily by literal armies of enemies at every turn in the road. Did he say, verbatim, those exact words written above? Who can say? Did he ever actually utter similar words to his beleaguered army? It’s very possible.


But of course, no one will ever truly know what had really gone through the mind of the Bruce during that time, with the same being true of the men who followed him. Did they fight solely for Scotland, or did they simply hate the English? Did they fight for their lands that had been seized, or did they truly fight for the sake of liberty and the cause of freedom alone? Is it naive to assume some of them did fight for that? I don’t know, it’s all subjective and an exercise in educated guesswork to try and read the minds of people long dead, and from an era with a vastly different morality scale. What I do know however, is that the book itself is pretty entertaining, insightful and interesting in respects to mindset of the 1300’s, and one that I would highly recommend.

John Fordun: Indeed he is said to have said to his Knights one day when worn out by such…hardships and dangers, ‘Were I not moved by Scotland’s freedom still, for rule of the world I would not bear this ill.’

That all the punishment and strife he endured, Bruce wouldn’t have suffered so for the sake of the world, that he continued onward for Scotland, and Scotland only, to who he owed his allegiance, in my humble opinion, should never be doubted.

Bruce and Wallace at Stirling
Wallace and Bruce at Stirling

Cinead MacAlpin.

Strange animal

A’ wis born a dour an screamin bairn; five pounds an barely ane ounce mair
Aiberdeen, she t’was tha site o’ me midnicht birthin
T’was a black sky tha watched me hootin; o’ me waking blare
Unlich tha summer dawn, tha heralded ma ameable kin

An angry an petulant bairn was a’
Tha nae teat nor bottle seemed, cuid placate
An e’ er upward, terse an scunert, tae tha heavens; did a’ cry
Thir seemed nae end tae tha graveness o’ my mithers fate

But then a’ grew; tall an broad; an blonde a’ ripened
Bonny right enough, an nearin beautiful
A cherub o’ a boy, when a’ wisnae gripe’in
Whur yince a’ wis greetin at me mithers side; now silence dutiful

An then a’ grew bigger still
Bold an strang, an darker
An tae it’s bed had gone ma crying; yince ma voice sae shrill
An how big has ma boy growyn; would ma mither remark her

Quik tae ficht, did a’ become; an wi a’ reddy ame
Tha nae’r a’ playground challange, did gae unheid’it
Tha a’ didnae stert forwart, step an claim ma ain
Nary a’ gyding haun cowd quell ma tempir; nae debt tae wrath inccured

Teachers wie thir teaching; nane whir safe tae ane as’ a’
Pupils learnin, pencils scratching; bound tae equations bath haird an lang
Wha use tae me was onie o’ tha; qhen chairs an deskis could fly mak a’?
Sic a ruckus surrounding me, wer it fur ma youth; they’d a’ takin ma oot tae hang

But as boyis have thir games; tha fichtand an swearyng
T’was jist a heide-strang youthful lad, playin at tha manliness
Full o’ tha glimmer, an open tae warring
Whit way ye saw yer lyfe; tae know sic merry; tae mak sic a’ mess?

An then a’ got bigger; six twa an ane inch
Puberty hit me hard an fast; chin sae awnie; a thicket oan ma chist
Girls cam an thai went, nay’n sae serious but a’ playfu winch
Though sure enough, names cuid be gathered; compiled in a list

T’was nere sae pretty, it has tae be said; nor overly fair
Rough shorn an aughten; a full man as a’ stood
Big an sae abeich, Jist ruggedly handsome; an edge debonair
Though aften quiet, visage stern; manner sae rude

Three years o’ me lyfe, spent wrapped in her pretty chains
Sae sweet an sae needy; tricked as a’ wis by her wiles an her fears
Let her go, sae bored as a’ wis; chancing ma’ sel above womanly pains
How a’ wish a’ could go back an know her still; through a’ ae’ these years

But am a different man noo, tae be fair; an she’s a different woman an’ a
A stranger tae meet; tae pass mindfully o’er in tha street
Yit o’er and o’er, she enters ma mind; flashes o’ longing; at ma heart dae saw
A stranger; a laugh once kent, nae mair a life wie ma own; a stranger sae sweet

Yit, whit women a’ let go fur it an’ a; sae pretty; a timed smile missed
Wha chances we miss; when youth lies limitless aw a’ afore us
At nineteen, broken-heartit an listless; wha a’ would gie, for ane sae kissed
Twenty ane, still strang an bold; a cliché; but wha guide is strength wie oot someane tae fuss

Twenty two an lang hair, sae lang; a’ner smiles’ trace
Gie nae sic response, in kind or reply; frown as she walks past
Aye; t’was love tha banished yer scowl; t’was life tha furrowed sic a’ dour face
Ye dinnae like yer smile, an ken ye it fine; nae sae guid, for louve sae tae last!

Yer a’ scunner, a’ gowk an sae ackwart!
Whit life can be close, tae ane sae bastarty an oreny?
Trapped in yer hate, a’ hostage tae bygane, an reverie!
Wit sae deseving, could suffer sic company?

Cinead MacAlpin.

P.S. If of course, you don’t speak Scots, but want a translation of my poem; message me and Ill happily send you it. Or, if you just want a few hints as to certain words and their meanings; again, just ask and Ill let you know.


Scottish Border Ballads

Below, are just some of my favorite Scottish ballads; mainly of the Border variety. Before each, I’ll give a brief synopsis, and then include my own particular thoughts on the subject matter, before including either the full poem, or an extract that is of certain poignancy to me, and which follows a similar thread to the others included. (Bear in mind, that I’ am no expert, and that these will just be my own crude and rudimentary interpretations, so make of them what you will) Anyway’s, some of these ballads are very hard to trace in regards to the authors, and no doubt will have existed as traditional songs for generations before being collected and written down; yet each one is, to the best of my knowledge, Scottish in origin. The themes within are mainly as you would expect; forlorn love, romance, death, violence, chivalry, deceit and trickery; a common thread that seems to link the majority of ballads and songs of the Scottish Border tradition, and which suit my particular tastes very well.

The Drowned Lovers

This ballad concerns a youth called Willie, who sets out to visit his true love, a girl by the name of Maggie. His mother disapproves of the courtship, but even despite her threats and evident disapproval, he sets out anyway. So strong in fact, is his mother’s prejudice, that she punishes him with a curse as he leaves. On his journey, Willie passes by the River Clyde, before then arriving at Maggie’s door, where he is met by her mother, who manages to convince him to leave before Maggie knows he’s there.

On his way back home, he stumbles into the river, whether deliberately or by accident, the poem does not make clear; nonetheless, he drowns. When Maggie finds out about his visiting her home, anxious, she spurs out into the night in desperate search of him. Eventually, she does indeed find her lover; and then wades out into the River Clyde to lie beside his body. My take away, is that true love is heartaches counterpart; both emotions, when felt strongly enough; being one and the same; rooted in devotion equally. She loves him that greatly that she simply lies down beside him to die, for what else is there left to do without him.

The last four stanzas

The first an step that she steppd in,

She stepped to the queet;

‘Ohon, alas!’ said that lady,

‘This water’s wondrous deep.’

The next an step that she wade in,

She wadit to the knee;

Says she, ‘I coud wade farther in,

If I my love could see.’

The next an step that she wade in,

She wadit to the chin;

The deepest pot in Clyde’s water

She got sweet Willie in.

‘You’ve had a cruel mither, Willie,

And I have had anither;

But we shall sleep in Clyde’s water

Like sister an like brither.’

The Twa Corbies

This is a tale of two crows, and their rather morbid and direct discussion of the body of a knight lying behind a nearby wall. The blonde hair and blue eyes of the dead man would suggest he was a man of virtue; handsome and noble. The poem to me explores the theme of beauty and death, which are often one and the same in such ballads; playing off of each other. The idea of the stricken knight, alone in death as he was, contrasts strongly with his being surrounded by chivalric passion in life; his noble might meaningless as he rests dead behind the wall; such valor redundant in a world moving on. He is already forgotten by all those who might have loved him; his wife, even his faithful hunting dog. My take away is, of how fleeting and fickle life can be.

The poem

As I was walking all alane,

I heard twa corbies making a mane;

The tane unto the t’other say,

‘Where sall we gang and dine to-day?’

‘In behint yon auld fail dyke,

I wot there lies a new slain knight;

And naebody kens that he lies there,

But his hawk, his hound, and lady fair.


‘His hound is to the hunting gane,

His hawk to fetch the wild-fowl hame,

His lady’s ta’en another mate,

So we may mak our dinner sweet.

‘Ye’ll sit on his white hause-bane,

And I’ll pike out his bonny blue een;

Wi ae lock o his gowden hair

We’ll theek our nest when it grows bare.


‘Mony a one for him makes mane,

But nane sall ken where he is gane;

Oer his white banes, when they are bare,

The wind sall blaw for evermair.’

The Daemon Lover

In this ballad, a wife and a mother is confronted by a former lover. At first, she vows to stand by her family, but upon hearing of her would be suitors newly acquired wealth, she quickly decides to abandon her family instead, and sail away with him. Subsequently, aboard the vessel, it is clear she is beginning to have misgiving; weeping, it is then that she discovers her lover is in fact the devil in disguise. Then, in a manner suggesting cruelty for cruelty’s sake, the devil chides her selfishness, before tearing the ship apart and sending it, and her, to the bottom of the sea as punishment.

What brief fortune there is, in such ballads and tales as this, seems only present so as to provide something to lose, and rarely a thing to be regained; a cautionary tale perhaps, to warn willful women away from the promises of dark strangers. My take away, is not to take for granted the things you have, lest you find that it is the devil who leads you astray.

The last five stanzas

They had not saild a league, a league

A league but barely three,

Until she espied his cloven foot,

And she wept right bitterlie.

‘O hold your tongue of your weeping,’ says he,

‘Of your weeping now let me be;

I will shew you how the lilies grow

On the banks of Italy.’


‘O what hills are yon, yon pleasant hills,

That the sun shines sweetly on?’

‘O yon are the hills of heaven,’ he said,

‘Where you will never win.’

‘O whaten a mountain is yon,’ she said,

‘All so dreary wi frost and snow?’

‘O yon is the mountain of hell,’ he cries,

‘Where you and I will go.’


He strack up the tap-mast wi his hand,

The fore-mast wi his knee,

And he brake that gallant ship in twain,

And sank her in the sea.

The Thrie Ravens

In this ballad, three ravens are having a discussion about the body of a squire lying dead in the field below. The squire’s pregnant lover then comes across his slain form; lies down beside him. Eventually, she succumbs to her grief, with her unborn child dying along with her.

A fir tree then grows atop his grave, with a lily growing from hers. The plants grow as tall as the church itself, to intertwine with one another so that the young squire and his beloved are sealed forever in death, as they might well have been in life. Simple loyalty and earnest love are an obvious theme with this ballad; the patient horse awaiting its master; the faithful hound attempting to rouse him; melancholy, fringed with deep and clear-cut emotions. Such ballads explore all these themes, without ever seeming to try and make sense of them, but rather, simply tell them; perhaps as an allegory again, to how fleeting life can be, and how readily death can take even those strong, good, and in love; with honest sadness seemingly an eternal companion to philosophical thoughtfulness. My take away is, to not take life for granted, which again, seems to be a mainstay within many ballads concerning love and loss. As to why/ Perhaps the emotions stirred by such melancholy has an effect on the senses that is deeper, and more tangible; for sadness seems to have a way of propelling one to reflective thought, more so than any fleeting joy roused by a merry ditty.

The last nine stanzas

O doun into yon green grass field

Thare lies a Squire baith killed and dead

His horse was standing by his side

An thought he soud get on and ride

His hounds war standing by his feet

An lick’t his sairs they war so deep

There cam a lady fu o woe

As big wi child as she could go

She streach’t hersel doun by his side

An for the luve o him she died


He was burried in Sanct Mary’s kirk

An she was burried in Sanct Mary’s quier

Out o his grave thare grew a fir

And out o hers a lily fair

They grew till they grew to the kirk top

And there they cuist a true love knot


O dinna ye think but their love was true

When out of their graves sic flowers do grow.

Sir Patrick Spens

This is a tale of unflinching loyalty, devotion, and sacrifice. In it, Sir Patrick Spens is ordered by his king to sail to Norway so as to bring back his daughter. Sir Patrick, unbeknownst to he, has been set up by one of the knights closest to the king, who, in his jealousy, has nominated Sir Patrick to sail to Norway, despite the threat of an impending storm. Sir Patrick, in his unwavering loyalty to his king, decides to sail regardless. This tale of betrayal is relatively straight forward and doesn’t really require my crude input, though what I like about it is the betrayal itself, and how dutiful the faithful Sir Patrick is, despite the knowledge of the danger. He carries out his duty to a fault, for as a Knight, his chivalric nature can have it no other way.

Sir Patrick’s heroism in sailing out, and then battling the ocean; attempting still to carry out his orders; is only highlighted further by the descriptions of the sorrow of the maidens awaiting his return; treachery and deceit unpunished; sadness rife; and with the only truly good man lying dead at the bottom of the sea. My take away, is that life isn’t fair, and that no matter how well you try and live it, there will always be someone waiting to stab you in the back.

The poem

The king sits in Dumfermline town.

Drinking the blude-red wine: O

‘O whare will I get a skeely skipper,

To sail this new ship of mine?’

O up and spake an eldern knight,

Sat at the king’s right knee:

‘Sir Patrick Spens is the best sailor

That ever saild the sea.’

Our king has written a braid letter,

And seald it with his hand,

And sent it to Sir Patrick Spens,

Was walking on the strand.

‘To Noroway, to Noroway,

To Noroway oer the faem;

The king’s daughter of Noroway,

‘T is thou maun bring her hame.’

The first word that Sir Patrick read,

Sae loud, loud laughed he;

The neist word that Sir Patrick read,

The tear blinded his ee.

‘O wha is this that has done this deed,

And tauld the king o me,

To send us out at this time of the year

To sail upon the sea?’

‘Be it wind, be it weet, be it hail, be it sleet,

Our ship must sail the faem;

The king’s daughter of Noroway,

‘T is we must fetch her hame.’

They hoysed thir sails on Monenday morn,

Wi a’ the speed they may;

They hae landed in Noroway,

Upon a Wodensday.

They hadna been a week, a week

In Noroway but twae,

When that the lords o Noroway

Began aloud to say:

‘Ye Scottishmen spend a’ our king’s goud,

And a’ our queenis fee!’

‘Ye lie, ye lie, ye liars loud,

Fu loud I hear ye lie!

‘For I brought as much white monie

As gane my men and me

And I brought a half-fou o gude red goud

Out oer the sea wi me.

‘Make ready, make ready, my merrymen a’,

Our gude ship sails the morn:’

‘Now, ever alake! my master dear,

I fear a deadly storm!

‘I saw the new moon late yestreen,

Wi the auld moon in her arm;

And if we gang to sea, master,

I fear we’ll come to harm.’

They hadna saild a league, a league,

A league but barely three,

When the lift grew dark, and the wind blew loud,

And gurly grew the sea.

The ankers brak, and the topmasts lap,

It was sic a deadly storm,

And the waves came oer the broken ship,

Till a’ her sides were torn.

‘O where will I get a gude sailor,

To take my helm in hand,

Till I get up to the tall topmast;

To see if I can spy land?’

‘O here am I, a sailor gude,

To take the helm in hand,

Till you go up the tall topmast;

But I fear you’ll neer spy land.’

He hadna gane a step, a step,

A step but barely ane,

When a bout flew out of our goodly ship,

And the salt sea it came in.

‘Gae fetch a web o the silken claith,

Another o the twine,

And wap them into our ship’s side,

And letna the sea come in.’

They fetched a web o the silken claith,

Another o the twine,

And they wapped them roun that gude ship’s side,

But still the sea came in.

O laith, laith were our gude Scots lords

To weet their cork-heeld shoon;

But lang or a’ the play was playd,

They wat their hats aboon.

Any mony was the feather-bed

That flattered on the faem,

And mony was the gude lord’s son

That never mair cam hame.

The ladyes wrang their fingers white,

The maidens tore their hair,

A’ for the sake of their true loves,

For them they’ll see na mair.

O lang, lang may the ladyes sit,

Wi their fans into their hand,

Before they see Sir Patrick Spens

Come sailing to the strand.

An lang, lang may the maidens sit,

Wi their goud kaims in their hair,

A’ waiting for their ain dear loves,

For them they’ll see na mair.

O forty miles off Aberdour

‘T is fifty fathoms deep,

And there lies gude Sir Patrick Spens,

Wi the Scots lords at his feet.

The wee, wee man

And lastly; in this ballad, a woman comes across a peculiar sight; the wee, wee man. As she watches, the tiny man lifts a massive stone, and then throws it. Impressed, she thinks that if she were as strong as he, then she could have barely lifted it to her knee. She then asks the strange little man where he lives. He has her follow him to a hall wherein many ladies dance, and pipers play. And then, the wee, wee man, the dancers, and the pipers suddenly vanish. No explanation, no wicked schemes or ploys; they simply vanish.

This ballad doesn’t really seem to have a deeper meaning behind it; it’s just a fairy and his pals showing off for no apparent reason; though I included it simply because of the mention of Carterhaugh, which is also the setting for both Thomas the rhymer, and Tam Lin; which just so happens to be two of my favorite Scottish ballads. My take away, is that you shouldn’t follow a tiny bearded man into the woods if you’re expecting a good time.

The poem

‘Twas down by Carterhaugh, father

Between the water and the wa’

There I met with a wee wee man

And he was the least that ever I saw.

His length was scarce a finger’s length

And thick and nimble was his knee

Between his eyes a flea could go

Between his shoulders inches three.

His beard was long and white as a swan

His robe was neither green nor grey

He clapped his hands, down came the mist

And he sank and he sainted clean away.

He’s lifted up a stone, six feet in height

And flung it farther than I could see

And though I’d been a-trying bold

I’d never had lifted it to my knee.

“Wee wee man, that thou art strong,

Tell me where thy dwelling be” –

“It’s down beneath yon bonny green bower

Though you must come with me and see.”

We roved on and we sped on

Until we came to a bonny green ha’

The room was made of the beaten gold

And pure as crystal was the gla’.

There were pipers playing on every spare

And ladies dancing in glistering green

He clapped his hands, down came the mist

And the man in the ha’ no more was seen.


Bonnie Banks of Loch Lommond

This song was written by a Scottish warrior who was awaiting death in enemy captivity, during the 1745 Rebellion. The “low road” is a reference to the Scottish belief that if a Scotsman died away from his homeland, then the fairies would guide his soul along the “Low road” back to Scotland, whilst those still living, would have to traverse the “High road”, that of the mortals, back along to Scotland. The young warrior awaiting death may have been writing to either his brother, who was allowed to go home along the “High road”; the human road back to Scotland, as a means of further punishing the captive sibling; or to a lover back in Scotland.

When you realize that this might actually be a brother conceding his fate to a sibling or young lover; accepting it, that of death, and with such dignity, poise, and poetic finality; should rouse the goose pimples of a dead man. After all, it is said, that you cannot be a true Scot if this song doesn’t at least send a shiver across your flesh.

Side note: A tactic used by the English during the Jacobite uprising, was to separate Brothers, or fathers and sons, and then let one go free with the knowledge that his sibling, or son, was going to be executed. War is war, and then there is cruelty. My ancestors fought for right. The English fought for domination.

One of my ancestors died at the battle of Killiecrankie, whilst the other, a great, etc., etc. uncle, died at Culloden. He was, as were the majority of his countrymen, armed only with a broadsword and Targe (Buckler-like shield) The English fielded cannon and rifle. It was a loss for Scotland as a nation, certainly, but a victory for the Scots as, and to a man, they charged the barking steel like men possessed. It took cannon balls and bullets to put my blood down (Understand that I actually lost family members to this conflict). And dear god, I sorely hope that one day English guns are again fielded on Scottish soil.

Tha mi ‘Am eagal gu bàs, airidh air bàs


Loch Lommond

By yon bonnie banks, and by yon bonnie braes,

Where the sun shines on Loch Lomond.

Where me and my true love spent many days

On the banks of Loch Lomond.


T’was there that we parted, in yon shady glen,

On the steep sides, of Ben Lomond.

But the broken heart, knows no second spring,

Resigned we must be, while we’re parting.


So, you’ll take the high road and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.


Ho, ho mo leannan,

Ho, mo leannan bhoidheach

(Repeat x 8)

(Oh, oh my sweetheart,

Oh, my sweetheart beautiful/beautiful sweetheart)


You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore ye.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.


You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.


You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.


You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.


You’ll take the high road, and I’ll take the low road,

And I’ll be in Scotland, afore you.

Where me and my true love, will never meet again,

On the bonnie, bonnie banks, of Loch Lomond.


On the bonnie, bonnie banks

(Repeat x 9)






Tam Lin


Painting by  Alicia Gaile, over at

For me, this 500+ yr old ballad, is perhaps the most breath-taking song ever to come from Scotland. A tale of a fairy named Tam Lin, and a mortal maiden. Consumed with grief at having been impregnated by the ‘Wild shade’ she attempts to rid herself of child by consuming the poison rose, but is stopped by her errant lover, who then confesses his love to her, and implores her to hold him tight, so that he may transform into the beasts of the forest, and that she must hold him tight, and fear him not, lest his love for her consume him before the transformation is complete. She does so, and holds him tight, until she finds a man once again in her arms. This version is a little nicer than the older arrangements, and strays from the source material considerably, yet is by far my favorite rendition. Lyrics alone don’t do the ballad justice, but nonetheless, here they are.

Janet sits in her lonely room
Sewing a silken seam
looking out on Carterhaugh
Among the roses green
And Janet sits in her lonely bower
Sewing a silken thread
Looking out on Carterhaugh
Among the roses red

She’s let the seam fall at her heel
The needle to her toe
And she’s away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she can go
She hadn’t pulled a rose, a rose
A rose, but only one
When then appeared him, young Tam lin
Says, “Lady, pull no more
What makes you pull the rose, the rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you come to Carterhaugh
Without the leave of me?”

“But Carterhaugh is not your own
Roses there are many
I’ll come and go all as I please
And not take leave of any”
So he has took her by the hand
Took her by the sleeve
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses green
And he has took her by the hand
Took her by the hem
And he has laid this lady down
Among the roses red

There’s four and twenty ladies fair
Sewing at the silk
And Janet goes among them all
Her face as pale as milk
And four and twenty gentlemen
Playing at the chess
And Janet goes among them all
As green as any glass
Then up and spoke her father
He’s spoken meek and mild
“Oh, alas, my daughter
I fear you go with child
And was it to a man of might
Or to a man of peace
Or who among my gentlemen
Shall give the babe it’s name?”

“Oh, father, if I go with child
This much to you, I’ll tell
There’s none among your gentlemen
That I would treat so well
And, father, if I go with child
I must bear the blame
There’s none among your gentlemen
Shall give the babe his name”

She’s let the seam fall at her heel
The needle to her toe
She’s away to Carterhaugh
As fast as she could go
And she is down among the weeds
Down among the thorn
When then appeared Tam lin again
Says, “Lady let alone, pull no more
What makes you pull the poison rose?
What makes you break the tree?
What makes you harm the little babe
That I have got with thee?”

“Oh I will pull the rose, Tam lin
I will break the tree
But I’ll not bear the little babe
That thou has got with me
If he were to a gentleman
And not a wild shade
I’d rock him all the winter’s night
And all the summer’s day”

“Then take me in your arms again
If you my love would win
But hold me tight and fear me not
I’ll be a gentleman
But first I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild wolf
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your own true love
And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a wild bear
But hold me tight and fear me not
I am your husband dear
And then I’ll change all in your arms
Into a lion bold
But hold me tight and fear me not
And you will love your child”

At first he changed all in her arms
Into a wild wolf
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her own true love
And then he changed all in her arms
Into a wild bear
She held him tight and feared him not
He was her husband dear
And then he changed all in her arms
Into a lion bold
She held him tight and feared him not
The father of her child

Last he changed all in her arms
Into a naked man
She’s wrapped him in her cloak so warm
And she has brought him home
She’s brought him home

This lyrical arrangement is based on the version by Anais Mitchell and Jefferson Hamer

Back o’er the border

High over Bannockburn, battle of no return
Bruce ranked his Scottishmen, all in good order
Down on the other side – fifty divisions wide
Edward of England, had crossed o’er the border
Armour from head to fist, glimpsed through the morning mist
Soldiers of Robert Bruce, waiting the order
Down on the lower ground, trumpets and bugles sound
Edward of England had crossed o’er the border

Proud was the English king, loud did his harvest sing
Scatter the Scottishmen all in disorder
‘Death’ answered Robert Bruce, ‘Death ere we sign a truce
Chase the sassenach, back o’er the border.
‘Now’ shouted Bruce the king ‘We’ll either die or win
Into the enemy strike in good order
Freedom for Scotland, and death to King Edward’s band.
Chase the sassenach back o’er the border’.

Face, to face, across the Bannockburn ;
Spears and swords are held in good order.
Lines of steel in waves, begin to move,
Grim and steady, to die for the border.
‘On them! On them!’ hear the Douglas shout.
‘Smash, their ranks, in utter disorder’.
Swords and spears, and shields, together clash.
Screams of death are heard o’er the border.

Slashing, and clashing, the Bannockburn flows with blood.
Horses and soldiers in mangled disorder.
Yelling, and felling, the grass is a gory red.
Out with the sassenach. Out o’er the border.
Freedom and right was the slogan of Robert Bruce.
Chains for the slaves shouted Edward the murderer.
Death to the sassenach, we’ll be free at last.
Chase the sassenach, back o’er the border.
Chase the sassenach, back o’er the border.

Alastair McDonald – Bannockburn (1314)

Drawing Rabbie Burns

Whilst listening to Eddi Reader singing Burns poems (Aye, I’m that much of a patriot) I decided to whip my pencil oot and do a quick sketch of the immortal bard himself.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind’ ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp!
And surely I’ll be mine!
And we’ll tak’ a cup o’ kindness yet.
For auld lang syne


For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae run about the braes,
And pu’d the gowans fine:
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary fit
Sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

We twa hae paidl’d in the burn,
Frae morning sun till dine;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
Sin’ auld lang syne.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

And there’s a hand, my trusty fere!
And gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude willie-waught,
For auld lang syne.


For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet
For auld lang syne.

Doodle by dioghaltas (Cinead MacAlpin) (Me)