Digital Tradition Mirror

The Battle of Harlaw (2)

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Pennywhistle notation and Dulcimer tab for this song is also available

The Battle of Harlaw (2)

As I cam in by Dunidier
And doon by Netherha',
There were fifty thoosand Hieland men
Cam mairchin' tae Harlaw.
   Wi' a dree dree dradie drumtie dree
   A dree dree drumtie dra.

As I cam on and further on
And doon and by Harlaw,
They fell fu' close on ilka side;
Sic fun ye never saw.

They fell fu' close on ilka side;
Sic fun ye never saw,
For Hieland swords gied clash for clash
At the battle o' Harlaw.

Brave Forbes tae his brither did say,
"Noo brither, dinna ye see?
They beat us back on ilka side,
And we'll be forced tae flee."

"O no, o no, my brither dear,
That thing maun never be;
Tak ye your gude sword in your hand
And come your wa's wi' me."

Then back tae back the brithers twa
Gaed in amang the thrang,
And they hewed doon the Hieland men
Wi' swords baith sharp and lang.

MacDonal, he was young and stout,
Had on his coat o' mail,
And he has gane oot through them a'
Tae try his hand himsel'.

The first ae strake that Forbes strack,
He gart MacDonal reel;
The niest ae strake that Forbes strack,
The great MacDonal fell.

On Monaday, at mornin',
The battle it began;
On Saturday, at gloamin',
Ye'd scarce ken wha had wan.

Gin onybody spier at ye
For them ye took awa',
Ye may tell their wives and bairnies
They're sleepin' at Harlaw.


Child #163

This version, based on the text used by Max Dunbar on the
record "Songs and Ballads of the Scottish Wars," is less than
half the length of Child's "A" text; it contains roughly the
equivalent of Child's stanzas 1, 9, 10, 12, 13, 17-19, 23, 25.
This leaves out much of the background of the battle (though in
fact the background given in the song was largely inaccurate).

The battle of "Red" Harlaw was fought on July 24, 1411. Donald
MacDonald, Lord of the Isles, raised a Highland army to gain
control of the Earldom of Ross (to which he had a solid claim).
The lowlanders, not wanting a Gaelic chieftain to rule so much
of their territory, opposed his claim. MacDonald, with an army
estimated at ten thousand men, set out to ravage Aberdeen and
take over his earldom. The lowland forces, led by the Earl of
Mar and the Sheriff of Angus, raised troops to stop him. The
resulting battle was not technically decisive; both armies
survived. But MacDonald, having suffered somewhat more
casualties, gave up his attack on Aberdeen.

There is no record of a Forbes being involved in the battle.

Walter Scott published a poem about Harlaw; it bear
resemblance to the piece given here. We have record of a
piece called "The Battel of Hayrlau" from 1549, but that may
not be the same as this ballad. RW

a': all
ae: one (here used as an interjection)
amang: among
awa': away
bairnies: children
baith: both
brither: brother
cam: came
dinna: don't
doon: down
fu': full
gaed: went
gane: gone
gied: gave
gin: if
gloamin': twilight
gude: good
Hieland: Highland
ilka: every
ken: know
mairchin': marching
niest: next
noo: now
onybody: anybody
oot: out
sic: such
spoer at: ask of
strake: stroke
strack: struck
tae: to
tak: take
thoosand: thousand
thrang: throng
twa: two
wa's: ways
wan: won
wha: who
wi': with


Thanks to Mudcat for the Digital Tradition!

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