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Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion

17 Sep 06 - 07:10 AM (#1836544)
Subject: Lyr Add: SKYE BOAT SONG (Sir Harold Boulton, Bart.
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss

I just thought I'd check the lyrics and found these by Sir Harold Boulton Bart (1884):

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

Speed bonnie boat....

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

Speed bonnie boat....

Many's the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore could wield
When the night came, silently lay
Dead on Culloden's field

Speed bonnie boat...

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

Speed bonnie boat...

It suggests the first half of the tune trad is a shanty, and the second half (only) by Annie McLeod.

But as a child visiting my Grandmother at Broadford we always sang on the ferry:

Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul;
Where is that glory now?

With the chorus above.

So I searched for that and found this by Robert Louis Stevenson:

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul, he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye

Mull was astern, Rum was on port
Eigg on the starboard bow
Glory of youth glowed in his soul
Where is that glory now?

Sing me song...

Give me again all that was there
Give me the sun that shone
Give me the eyes, give me the soul
Give me the lad that's gone

Sing me song...

Billow and breeze, islands and seas
Mountains of rain and sun
All that was good, all that was fair
All that was me is gone

Sing me song...

And this attributes ALL of the tune to Annie McLeod.

Which came first, does anyone know? And how much of the tune is trad? And when was Annie's contribution made in relation to the two sets of lyrics?



17 Sep 06 - 07:35 AM (#1836549)
Subject: Lyr Add: SKYE BOAT SONG (Sir Harold Boulton, Bart.
From: bfdk

Just two days ago I brought the new McCalmans CD "Scots Abroad" home in triumph after attending a gig in a nearby town. Great CD :-)

Anyway, The Skye Boat Song is on that CD, and the notes read:

The lyrics were written by Sir Harold Boulton to an air collected by Miss Annie MacLeod in the 1870s. It was first published in "Songs of the North". "The Macs" recorded the Stevenson version of this song on "Smuggler" (1975) and we've used some of his words on this one, thus maintaining the Scottish element on every song."

The lyrics read:

Sing me a song of a lad that has gone
Say, could that lad be I
Merry of soul he sailed on that day
Over the sea to Skye

Speed bonny 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
Thunderclaps rend the air
Baffled our foe stand by the shore
Follow they will not dare

Many's the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore did wield
When the night came silent they lay
Dead on Culloden field

Based on the above, it seems you should try to lay your hands on "Songs of the North" for the Boulton version. Can't help with directions on how to get further info on the Stevenson version, though.

Best wishes,


17 Sep 06 - 08:12 AM (#1836565)
Subject: RE: Syke Boat Confusion
From: Nigel Parsons

I can identify the R.L.Stevenson version as being that which appears in the Scottish Students Song Book (1897) which states "The air by permission from Songs of the North, CRAMER & Co Ltd


17 Sep 06 - 09:24 AM (#1836598)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: GUEST,thurg

Mull was astern, Rum was on port
Eigg on the starboard bow

- Sounds like an inebriated sea-dog's attempt to dictate the recipe that landed him in that state ...

17 Sep 06 - 09:33 AM (#1836601)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: Nigel Parsons

Scottish islands, Rum & Eigg
a href= >Mull


17 Sep 06 - 12:46 PM (#1836708)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: Malcolm Douglas

'Skye Boat Song' appeared in Songs of the North volume I, [1884 or 1885]. The editors were A C MacLeod (that is, Anne Campbell MacLeod) and Harold Boulton; the music was arranged by Malcolm Lawson.

There is some suggestion that the tune was ascribed in some fashion to Miss MacLeod in the first edition, but it was merely described in later editions (my copy is the 23rd edition; it was a very popular book) as an "old Highland rowing measure" (a 'iorram': describing it as a shanty is potentially misleading, though even the Oxford Companion to Music does so), but at any rate it is a matter of record that Anne MacLeod (later Lady Wilson) "heard the first part ... in 1879 while being rowed from Torrin to Loch Coruisk, in Skye. She added the second part herself and in 1884 Sir Harold Boulton ... wrote the words which have so captured the popular imagination." (Wilma Patterson, Songs of Scotland. Edinburgh: Mainstream Publishing, 1996, p 53).

It was common practice in 19th century Scotland to add a "second strain" to short tunes got from tradition. Naturally, the tune in its new form would be A C MacLeod's copyright, and, given the enormous number of times it has been reprinted and recorded, it isn't surprising that the copyright information has led some to assume that she wrote the whole thing.

In 1887, Stevenson heard a Miss Ferrier (granddaughter of Professor Wilson, who, under the pen name 'Christopher North' was himself quite a prolific provider of new words for old melodies) sing the song. He was keen on the tune but not much taken by the words, so he wrote some of his own. These were not published until after his death.

It is sometimes asserted that the unknown "rowing measure" was actually 'Cuachag nan Craobh', and there is certainly a superficial resemblance between the melodies. Andrew Kuntz ( Fiddlers Companion: Skye Boat Song ) paraphrases an anecdote that would seem to confirm the connection if it is authentic: unfortunately he cites no source, so it would be difficult to verify. Meanwhile, I'd treat the identification with caution.

See, in the DT:

SKYE BOAT SONG  (Boulton's text, missing the final verse)

OVER THE SEA TO SKYE (VARIANT)  (Robert Louis Stevenson text)

Among several past discussions, see:

Skye Boat Song  -includes RLS text, the Boulton verse missing from DT, and various other comments including a couple of parodies.

17 Sep 06 - 01:36 PM (#1836736)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: Lighter

Concerning MacLeod's contribution, it would be too much to assume that she left even the first strain strictly alone. If she was impressed enough to publish the tune at all, her own version must resemble what she heard, but few Romantic composers would think some adjusting to taste was unseemly.

That perspective proves nothing, but it may increase the likelihood that the original was indeed a version of "Cuachag nan Craobh."

17 Sep 06 - 03:07 PM (#1836786)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: Q (Frank Staplin)

Malcolm, thanks for pulling the versions together.

Nigel, the "Scottish Students Song Book" is a good source for the period. A number of the songs were popular on both sides of the Atlantic. "Over the Sea ..." was included in the ed. which I have. Like yours, it must be the 6th of 1897 since Stevenson's version was not published until 1896.
A different song, "Over the Water to Charlie," is found in the U. S. song book, "Franklin Square Song Collection (1)" of 1881 (1898).

The "Skye Boat Song" seems to have taken a few years to become popular in America (sheet music in England, 1884. Stevenson's appeared in "Songs of Travel and Other Verses," 1896). No copies of sheet music listed in American Memory or Levy.
The "Skye Boat Song," Boulton- Lawson, ("Jacobite") is printed in the 1903 edition of "Folk Songs and Other Songs for Children," an Oliver Ditson book. Did it appear earlier in any of the popular American song books?

18 Sep 06 - 07:53 AM (#1837274)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: Mr Yellow

if the points of the compass and the islands seem strange - consider that it is a song about travelling from the Outer Hebredes to Skye. Not from the mainland to Skye.

18 Sep 06 - 08:35 AM (#1837314)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss

Thanks for this all - fascinating reading. I can't help wondering if there might not be some connection with waulkin' songs - sung while kneading tweed cloth soaked in urine. The tempo and gait is similar to, for example, Waulin o the Fauld (Western Isles), which would work just as well for rowin' to as for waulkin'. One could imagine men using the tune for the one purpose, and women for the other!

Strange that I should have learned what turns out to be a composite of the two sets of lyrics - but then that's folk music for you!

18 Sep 06 - 04:30 PM (#1837680)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: Desert Dancer

I don't believe that in my minimal experience I've ever heard a 3/4 time waulking song. The job wants a shorter measure than pulling on an oar does.

~ Becky in Tucson (a long way from waulking and oars...)

18 Sep 06 - 06:18 PM (#1837759)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss

Good point

18 Sep 06 - 09:53 PM (#1837918)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: Joe_F

Schubert wrote a three-legged march, but whether anyone has ever marched to it, I do not know.

19 Sep 06 - 03:43 AM (#1838046)
Subject: RE: Skye Boat Confusion
From: GUEST,Tom Bliss

Maybe someone in the Isle of Man can help?

24 Apr 11 - 04:33 PM (#3141815)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song
From: Mysha


Which one is that first part, that appears similar to "Cuachag nan Craobh" and might have been a iorram? I don't know the other song, so I find it hard to compare.


30 Aug 11 - 07:31 AM (#3215066)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song
From: GUEST,Guest

In Percy Scholes, Oxford Companion to Music, 10th 1953, p958
Skye Boat Song

The tune is dated to being heard in 1879...
The words by Boulton "date from 1884"

"Later some other words were written to the tune by Robert Louis Stevenson, who apparently believed the tune to be a pure folk tune and in the public domain. This latter set of words has appeared in association with the tune in certain song books, by permission of Lady Wilson and Sir Harold Boulton, and a confusion has originated, particulary as both sets of wors include 'Over the sea to Skye'."

Songs of the North volume 1 edited by AC Macleod and Harold Boulton, was published in 1885. Date of publication is confirmed in English Catalogue of Books as Macleod 1885, The Times new books column July 1885, and in the entry for it in Matthew McLennan Young, Field & Tuer: The Leadenhall Press, 2010, Oak Knoll Press/British Library, pp64-65, which dates it to June 1885.

Young spells her as MacLeod and Macleod in that same entry. Anne Campbell Macleod [sic] (1855-1921) was daughter of Very Rev Norman Macleod and a long line of distinguished Macleod preachers and Gaelic scholars who are written up in DNB and elsewhere. She included two songs with words by her grandparents in Songs of the North volume 1. She is named Macleod in the Who Was Who entry for her husband Sir James Wilson (died 1926).

In Songs of the North volume 1 1885 the melody is credited as Arranged by Malcolm Lawson.

At least 35 editions of Songs of the North are known, many in public domain somewhere, and it was still being published with a 50th anniversary edition in 1935 and another in 1958.

Some of the songs were sold separately by JB Cramer & Co (for 2/6 nett) of which Skye Boat Song was one, popular available in two keys and as a duet, but undated and without a plate number. It credits music in two texts printed as extras in different typefaces above the line for Malcolm Lawson, Macleod and Boulton's arranger. These replace the space formerly occupied by Arranged by. Everything else printed is in the normal Songs of the North style.

The volume 1 imlicitly came first, the sheet music separately later.
The overprinting is probably added later by Cramer, who were not involved in the original 1885 publication of Songs of the North volume 1, and it reads:

"AIR (founded upon an old "CHANTY", / Composed by A.C. MACLEOD." /

"[bold italics] Four bars taken down from Hebridean boatmen / four bars aded by A.C. Macleod."

Best wishes

30 Aug 11 - 08:06 AM (#3215080)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song
From: GUEST,Guest

... four bars added ... [sigh]

I trust a better typist and computer user than I will one day put right convolutions in the Wikipedia Skye Boat Song entry.

Songs of the North, volume 1, 1885, song V, page 18 [all names in capitals]

"Skye Boat Song (Jacobite)
Words by Harold Boulton
Old Highland rowing measure arranged by Malcolm Lawson

Incidentally volume 1 first edition contains several songs illustrated to commission, in addition to the frontispiece that appears in many editions. Skye Boat Song is acompanied by an illustration by Mrs Hugh Blackburn.

Copy seen is in the British Library, London.

30 Aug 11 - 09:08 AM (#3215099)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song
From: GUEST,Lighter

Very informative, Guest.

It was common practice for pre-Folk-Song Society collectors to add second parts to traditional tunes. Christie's otherwise invaluable "Ballad Airs" is noteworthy in that regard.

11 May 20 - 11:39 PM (#4051904)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: GUEST,TommyInMaleny

The traditional melody that Annie McLeod collected, and adapted, and for which Harold Boulton and she most probably co-wrote the words, was, perhaps, not a shanty, but an 'iorram'

"Of uncertain etymological origin, the word shanty emerged in the mid-19th century in reference to an appreciably distinct genre of work song, developed especially in American-style merchant vessels that had come to prominence in the decades prior to the American Civil War."

(chanty is probably linked to the french word for sing, you might imagine)

"The iorram (pronounced-irram) or rowing songs were sung in ¾ or a slow 6/8 time. The 1st beat is very pronounced and corresponds with lifting the oars out and swinging them forward, 2 and 3 are the pulling stroke. Some of these airs were or still in use as waltzes in the Western Isles.”

If you're looking to generate a 'best quality historic and contemporary interpretation' of the song, here are some textual and lyrical variants to consider.

Onward / "Onward"
skye / Skye

Verse 1
Thunder clouds / Thunder claps
foes's / foes
stand on / stand by

Verse 2
weary / royal
royal / weary

So the full words, with suggested amendments, would go something like:

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 wind howls,
Loud the waves roar,
Thunder claps rend the air.
Baffled, our foes
Stand on the shore.
Follow they will not dare.

Speed bonnie boat...

Though the waves leap,
Soft shall ye sleep
Ocean's a weary bed
Rocked in the deep
Flora will keep
Watch by your royal head

Speed bonnie boat...

Many's the lad
Fought on that day,
Well the claymore could wield.
When the night came,
Silently lay
Dead on Culloden's field.

Speed bonnie boat...

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

Speed bonnie boat...

12 May 20 - 03:47 AM (#4051927)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: Jack Campin

Correcting Tom Bliss's post from 2006 - The Waukin o the Fauld is not about waulking and is not from the Western Isles. It's about watching over sheep in a sheepfold, and comes from the Scottish Lowlands. It doesn't have any sort of work song rhythm.

13 May 20 - 11:42 AM (#4052253)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: DonMeixner

Jack, I am reading those lyrics, Mull, Eigg, and Rum as compass points through the Small Isles. Am I correct?

Don Meixner

13 May 20 - 04:48 PM (#4052311)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: Jack Campin

Yes, that fixes Stevenson's location within a few miles. He knew the sea around there very well. See Bella Bathurst's book "The Lighthouse Stevensons" (name drop: I did the format conversion of her manuscript and still have her original floppy).

14 May 20 - 02:49 AM (#4052380)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: Mr Red

It suggests the first half of the tune trad is a shanty,

Doesn't sound like a work song to me either, but maybe matches the rhythm of an oarsman perhaps. Fo'c'sle Shanty maybe but even then.................

15 May 20 - 11:20 AM (#4052620)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: DonMeixner

I could make this a Pulling Shanty easy enough. Counting the beats against the syllables it would make up to a ceremonial tempo quite nicely. But I have no idea if the melody ever was a proper working song.


(F'rd)Speed bonnie (Pull)boat,

Like a (F'rd)bird on the (Pull)wing.

(F'rd)"Onward" the (Pull) sailors cry(F'rd).

Car(Pull)ry the la(F'rd)d

That's bo(Pull)rn to be (F'rd)king

(Pull)Over the (F'rd)sea to Sk(Pull)ye.

17 Oct 22 - 05:23 PM (#4155423)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: Felipa

obituary cum potted biography of Harold Boulton, author of the Skye Boat song
from The Times newspaper, 3 June 1935

18 Oct 22 - 11:58 AM (#4155515)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: Stilly River Sage

Transcribed from
Monday June 3, 1935

Sir Harold Boulton, second baronet, business man, philanthropist, and song writer, died in London on Saturday after a long illness. He was 75 years of age.

Among other activities in his long career, he was a hospital chairman and founder of clubs and institutions, lyric writer and editor, ovate bard of Wales, and a director of the Royal Academy of Music (1931). In spite of his many other interests, he, always found time to devote himself to charitable work, and he was a special friend of the East End, where he will be remembered as the founder of the People's Palace, of which he was chairman. Harold Edwin Boulton, who was the eldest son of Sir Samuel Boulton, first baronet, was educated at Harrow (Small Houses and The Park) and at Balliol College, Oxford. When at school he was devoted to music and was for some time a leader of the school choir.

At Balliol, under Jowett, he continued his interest in music and turned also to literature. With Rennell Rodd (now Lord Rennell) he founded and edited a magazine of contemporary poetry.   In 1881 he was proxime accessit for the Newdigate Prize Poem. On leaving Oxford, he toured Canada and then entered the family firm of Burt, Boulton and Haywood, who owned timber and railway sleeper works and chemical manufactories. Boulton was among the original band of young Oxford men who founded the Oxford House Settlement in Bethnal Green, and with the Rev. the Hon. James Adderlay (then a layman) he was joint founder of the Federation of Working Men's Social Clubs, and from 1895 to 1930 he was president of the federation. During the time he was a resident at Oxford House he founded, with Mr. Charles Bethune, the House of Shelter at Bow, where the homeless poor could find shelter, and obtain assistance in getting employment.   In 1932 he was chairman of the Mendicity Society.

In 1903 he started, with his father, the Dominion Tar and Chemical Company, Nova Scotia, which he visited once or twice a year until 1918, when he became chairman. In 1929 the Canadian works, which consisted of distilleries, creosoting plants, and five depots throughout Canada, were disposed of to a Canadian group. For several years, Sir. Harold was president of the Associated Tar Distillers.

He was also a member of the council of the Association of British Chemical Manufacturers since it's formation in 1916; president of the British Wood-Preserving Association; and a director of the British Nigerian Timber Company, Limited.

The writer of many songs and lyrics, among the best known of which were the "Skye Boat song" and "Glorius Devon", he was also editor and part writer of "Songs of the North", "Songs of Four Nations", and "Our National Songs". The original cause of his study of Scottish and Highland folk songs was an Oxford reading party in Scotland in his undergraduate days, and the work that was then begun in the preservation of such songs and traditional music has grown until today the interest in their preservation is widespread.

From 1906 to 1926 he was honorary secretary of the Keats-Shelley Memorial Association; from 1909 to 1914 honorary Commissioner for Canada of the St. John Ambulance Association; and in 1910 he assisted the then Lady Dudley to organize bush nursing in Australia. For one who had extensive business and artistic interests, it will always be remembered that he spared neither time nor energy in the carrying out of duties of the many offices which he was called upon to fill. He served as a Vice President and chairman of the Queen's Institute for Nurses; as chairman of the National Memorial to Queen Alexandra (1926-28); and on the committee of the London Hospital from 1896 to 1921. Formerly holding the rank of captain in The Queen's Own Cameron Highlanders (Militia), he took up military service in the war, holding the same rank in the City of London Yeomanry, Rough Riders, from 1914 to 1917. In 1903, he was made M.V,O., being advanced to C.V.O. ten years later; and in 1918 he received the C.B.E. He was a Knight of Justice of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem in England. His father died in 1918, when he succeeded as second baronet.

He was twice married.   His first wife, Adelaide Lucy, third daughter of Colonel D. D. Davidson, of Tullock Castle, Dingwall, died in 1926. By her he had one son and one daughter. The son, Denis Duncan Harold Owen, born in 1892, now suceeds to the title. The late baronet's second wife, by whom he is survived, was the widow of Mr. R. C. S. Moody, of Montreal.

There will be a requiem Mass at Farm Street Church tomorrow at 11 a.m.

Last updated 09/26/2017 09:30:06

18 Oct 22 - 12:00 PM (#4155516)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: Stilly River Sage

From this site.

18 Oct 22 - 09:20 PM (#4155559)
Subject: RE: Origin: Skye Boat Song confusion
From: GUEST,Julia L

And so, the song is certainly not appropriate for use in "Outlander". Whose bright idea was that..?