The Battle of Harlaw

On Springthyme SPRCD 1039
Jock Duncan - Ye Shine Whar Ye Stan!

Gavin Greig wrote: One cannot visit the Garioch in minstrel mood without thinking of Harlaw. The grim battle, fought in 1411, takes us back to a time when Lowlander and Highlander had to settle which of the two was to have political supremacy in Scotland (FSNE 11; GD 112). In fact, the battle was more of a feudal conflict and Gaelic was spoken on both sides. According to the ballad (Child 163) the battle was a disaster: 'Oot o fifty thoosand Hielanders, Bit fifty three gaed hame; And oot o aa the Lawland men, Scarce twenty marched wi Grahame.' There is reference to a song The Battle of the Hayrlau in The Complaynt of Scotland (1549) but the text of this is lost and it is probable that the present form of the ballad is more recent.

Gordon Duncan - Highland bagpipe

1: As I cam in by Dunideer,
An doun by Netherha,
I saw fifty thoosan Hielanders,
Aa marchin tae Harlaw.
Oh a dirrum a doo a daddie O,
A dirrum a doo a day.

2: As I cam on an farrer on,
An doun an by Balquhain,
'Twas there I met Sir James the Rose,
Wi him Sir John the Grahame.

3: Oh did ye come fae MacDonald's men,
An did ye their number see,
An were ye near and near eneuch,
Fit mith their number be?” [i.e. might

4: “Aye, I wis near an near eneuch,
An I their number saw;
There's fifty thoosan Hielanders,
Aa marchin tae Harlaw.”

5: “If that be so,” said James the Rose,
“I'll nae come muckle speed,
I'll hae tae tell ma gallant men,
Tae turn their horses' heid.”

6: “Oh na, oh na,” said John the Grahame,
“Oh na, that winna dee,
The gallant Grahames hiv niver been beat,
We'll see fit we can dee.”

7: They fell sae thick on ilkie side,
Sic straiks ye niver saw,
For ilkie sword gaed clash for clash
At the battle o Harlaw.

8: The Hielanders wi their claymores,
They laid on us fu sair,
An they knockit us back on ilkie side,
Sax acre breadth or mair.

9: Sir Forbes tae his brither did say,
“Oh brither dinna ye see,
They beat us back on ilkie side
Mebbe we'll be forced tae flee.”

10: “Oh na, oh na ma brither dear,
Oh na that winna dee,
Ye'll tak your gweed sword in your han,
An ye'll gyang in wi me.”

11: Noo back tae back the brithers brave,
Gaed in amang the thrang,
An they cut doun the Hielanders,
Wi swords baith sharp an lang.

12: The first ae straik Sir Forbes struck,
It gar'd Lord Donald reel,
The next ae straik that Forbes struck,
The brave MacDonald fell.

13: An siccan a pilacherie, [i.e. lamenting
The like ye niver saw,
There wis amang the Hielanders,
Fin they saw Lord Donald fa.

14: And fin they saw that he wis deid,
They aa did gyang awa,
And they beeried Lord Donald in Legget's Den
A mile abeen Harlaw.

15: 'Twas on a Monanday mornin,
That the battle it hid begun,
It wis noo Setterday gloamin,
Bit ye'd scarce ken fa had won.

16: Oot o fifty thoosand Hielanders,
Bit fifty three gaed hame,
And oot o aa the Lawland men,
Scarce twenty marched wi Grahame.

17: And siccan a weary beeryin,
Oh the like ye niver saw,
It wis on a Sunday efter
In the moss aneth Harlaw.

18: If ony Hielan lassie spiers at ye,
For them that gaed awa,
Weel, they're sleepin soun an in their sheen,
In the howe aneth Harlaw.
Oh a dirrum a doo a daddie O,
A dirrum a doo a day.

Jock: This wis a Charlie Duncan favourite. Charlie had the aul words boy, oh aye. An he pit in the 'dirrum a doo a daddie O.' It wis him that I got the style o that song.

c p 1996 Springthyme Records :