The Skye boat song

Speed bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,
Onward, the sailors cry
Carry the lad that's born to be king
Over the sea to skye

Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar,
Thunder clouds rend the air;
Baffled our foe's stand on the shore
Follow they will not dare

Though the waves leap, soft shall ye sleep
Ocean's a royal bed
Rocked in the deep, Flora will keep
Watch by your weary head 
Many's the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore could wield
When the night came, silently lay
Dead on Culloden's field

Burned are our homes, exile and death
Scatter the loyal men
Yet, e'er the sword cool in the sheath,
Charlie will come again.


Words by Sir Harold Boulton,1884. Music by Annie MacLeod. Charles Edward Stewart, the Young Pretender, was routed by the Duke of Cumberland on Culloden Moor in 1745. Aided by a Jacobite heroine, Flora MacDonald, Bonnie Prince Charlie escaped to the island of Skye in the inner Hebrides. He was finally taken by a French vessel to Morlaix on the coast of Bretagne. The first half of the tune is said to be an old sea shanty; the other half is traditionally attributed to Miss MacLeod.  Read more

I can never get enough of folk music. This song brings me way back to my young days at Medway St. hostel in London, when I belonged to a folk-group. I learned to play the Skye boat song on my first Cortez Spanish guitar. I loved doing the high harmony parts. I’m reminded of Jenni Armstrong, who was a very gifted singer and musician. For one who looked so delicate, she had such a powerful, hauntingly, pure deep voice. I loved bouncing off her voice with the harmonies. Jenni was very advanced in music, as too was Sr. Ellen, who had a beautiful voice, that would bring tears to my eyes. There was also a terrificily gifted Welsh traditional singer. We were always fascinated with the way Jane Roberts  twisted her tongue to the sounds of the Welsh language. I learned some lovely Welsh songs. There were other talented singers and players in the group. There was a Portugese student temporary staff member called Ana-Maria. We were often to be seen together with our heads stuck deep into the Joan Baez song book trying to decipher the Americanised lingo. There would also be uproarious laughter all around, when we tried desperately to sing a French creole song that had sexual connotations. In fact, it wasn’t really a laughing matter, as the song was about sexual abuse. We didn’t understand, but some of the others in the group did, including Sr. Ellen. They were laughing at us not understanding, not the abuse element. Sex abuse would have been unspoken. She would teach us how to pronounce Spanish words properly. We sang in various languages. I always looked forward to folk-choir practices every Wednesday night at St. Louises’. It’s such a pity that I do not have one happy memory of times spent in Goldenbridge. It would have served the religious better to have made an impression on our young minds. No, that was never to be. I’m thankful that there were memorable times, despite not having the comforts of a warm family to go to at holiday time. The group had a very stabling effect on me, as they mostly came from very secure family environments, and it rubbed off. Jenni even invited me to her home in Farnborough, Hants. Her mother was very kind to me. I was never able to talk about myself. My past was a well-kept secret. I realise now, that they must have known more about me than I knew than me, as my behaviour patterns were not exactly that of a person who came from a happy home, but, rather, of one who was lost and forlorn. Being alone in the world is one of the most painful things.

 [A momentary (off topic) aside: I hate it when people use loneliness and lonely as a weapon to bring down people, no matter what their behaviour is, as they would not use the word if they knew what it truly meant themselves. So many people who come from very sheltered backgrounds, despite their educational standards, can be so utterly ignorant of the ways of the less privileged of society, because if they weren’t they’d really know how to behave. These people, then in turn, expect to be looked up to and respected. Some of them it appears spend so much time ignoring the underclasses that I pity them, as they can be the true lonely ones, because they may seemingly have to put fences up to safeguard them from the plain people of the world. Maybe the plain people trigger off too much in them?]

I also visited Jenni at Bristol university, where she went on to study the humanities. So the Skye boat song will never be forgotten by me.

The Skye Boat Song is a traditional Scottish song recalling the escape of the young pretender Charles Edward Stewart (Bonnie…… Prince Charlie) after his defeat at Culloden in 1746 and commemorating the many Scots who died and were exiled for the Jacobite cause.

Prince Charles escaped from Uist to the Isle of Skye in a small boat with the aid of Flora MacDonald. He was disguised as a serving maid.

The adherents of Scottish nationalism regard the event as an important national legend.

We went to so many places singing in aid of charitable organisations. When I later joined Father Pat’s group at nearby Westminister Cathedral, I was well trained in the art of folk-songs. I was even asked to sing solo at the cathedral by Father Pat, which was an honour, but I was too shy to go up to the ambo all on my own. I’d no confidence at all.  Photo: Charles Edward Stuart Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie Prince CharlieThe same happened when I was asked to do a demo for an Australian advert, which would have been backed by a children’s choir of sixty voices. It was an aeroplane advert. When I arrived at the studio with a kind person, I could not open my mouth. I had pleaded with the producer to get someone else to do it. I brought him to my folk-choir, and told him he could have his pick. He insisted that it was the tone of my voice that he was seeking. I used to sing with a very high pitch, and loved doing high harmonies. The higher they went the better. I always found that if there were strong singers, it helped to even go higher, as they acted as a bouncing board. It’s hard to explain. I used to find that singing in a church with the natural acoustics was the best thing ever. Not in a pub setting where the acoustics are muted. People with natural strong voices can sing beautifully in those surroundings, as they’re voices don’t need natural  acoustics to be projected. Christine Buckley offered to get me singing lessons with Ireland’s own Veronica Dunne. It would had been a dream at an earlier age. I was so distracted with the commission to inquire into institutional child abuse that singing took a back-stage.

Royal Stuart plaid.  Scottish Shop Regent Street,  London.


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