The Battle o Harlaw

Jock Duncan: On Autumn Harvest ah08: Old Songs & Bothy Ballads: There's Bound to be a Row. Recorded at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival May 2009.

The grim battle, fought in 1411 at Harlaw in Aberdeenshire, takes us back to a time when Lowlander and Highlander had to settle which of the two was to have political supremacy in Scotland. 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 (FSNE 11; GD 112). The ballad was a favourite of Jock's uncle Charlie Duncan and as Jock says: He had the aul words boy, oh aye. An he pit in the Dirrum a doo a daddie O. It wis from him that I got the style o that song.

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

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

3: "O 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,
"Och, we'll nae come muckle speed,
I'll hae tae tell ma gallant men,
Na tae turn their horses' heid."

6: "O na, O na," said John the Grahame,
"O na, that winna dee,
The gallant Grahames hiv niver been beat,
Och, we'll see fit we can dee."

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

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

9: Sir Forbes tae his brither did say,
"Here brither dinna ye see?
They've beat us back on ilkie side
Mebbe we'll be forced tae flee."
9: "O na, O na ma brither dear,
O na that winna dee,
Ye'll tak your gweed sword in your han,
An ye'll gyang in wi me."

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

11: The first ae straik Sir Forbes struck,
It gar'd Lord Donald reel,
The neist ae straik that Forbes struck,
Wi the brave MacDonald fell.

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

13: And fin they saw that he wis deid,
Noo, they aa did gyang awa,
Fin they beeried Lord Donald in Legget's Den
It's a mile abeen Harlaw.

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

15: Of aa the Hielanmen, [**
'Twas fifty two gaed hame,
And oot o aa the Lowland men,
Scarce twenty marched wi Grahame.

16: Noo, siccan a weary beeryin,
The like ye niver saw,
It wis on a Sunday mornin
In the moss aneth Harlaw.

17: Noo, 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.
O a dirrum a doo a daddie O,
A dirrum a doo a day.

** Jock has previously sung these lines as:
Oot o fifty thoosand Hielanders,
Bit fifty three gaed hame.
(On Springthyme SPRCD 1039)

c p 2010 Autumn Harvest :