Aileen Duinn, Brown-haired Alan

Leggi in italiano

“Aileen Duinn” is a Scottish Gaelic song from the Hebrides: a widow/sweetheart lament for the sinking of a fishing boat, originally a waulking song in which she invokes her death to share the same seaweed bed with her lover, Alan.
According to the tradition on the island of Lewis Annie Campbell wrote the song in despair over the death of her sweetheart Alan Morrison, a ship captain who in the spring of 1788 left Stornoway to go to Scalpay where he was supposed to marry his Annie, but the ship ran into a storm and the entire crew was shipwrecked and drowned: she too will die a few months later, shocked by grief. His body was found on the beach, near the spot where the sea had returned the body of Ailein Duinn (black-haired Alan).

 The song became famous because inserted into the soundtrack of the film Rob Roy and masterfully interpreted by Karen Matheson (the singer of the Scottish group Capercaillie who appears in the role of a commoner and sings it near the fire)

Here is the soundtrack of the film Rob Roy: Ailein Duinn and Morag’s Lament, (arranged by Capercaillie & Carter Burwelle) in which the second track is the opening verse followed by the chorus


The text is reduced to a minimum, more evocative than explanatory of a tragic event that it was to be known to all the inhabitants of the island. The woman who sings is marked by immense pain, because her black-haired Alain is drowned at the bottom of the sea, and she wants to share his sleep in the abyss by a macabre blood covenant.

Capercaillie from To the Moon – 1995: Keren Matheson, the voice ‘kissed by God’ switches from the whisper to the cry, in the crashing waves blanding into bagpipes lament.

Meav, from Meav 2000 angelic voice, harp and flute

Annwn from Aeon – 2009 German group founded in 2006 of Folk Mystic; their interpretation is very intense even in the rarefaction of the arrangement, with the limpid and warm voice of Sabine Hornung, the melody carried by the harp, a few echoes of the flute and the lament of the violin: magnificent.

Trobar De Morte  the text reduced to only two verses and extrapolated from the context lends itself to be read as the love song of a mermaid in the surf of the sea (see also Mermaid’s croon)

It is the most reproduced textual version with the most different musical styles, roughly after 2000, also as sound-track in many video games (for example Medieval II Total War)

english translation
How sorrowful I am
Early in the morning rising
Ò hì, I would go (1) with thee
Hi\ ri bho\ ho\ ru bhi\,
Hi\ ri bho\ ho\ rionn o ho,

Brown-haired Alan, ò hì,
I would go with thee
If it is thy pillow the sand
If it is thy bed the seaweed
If it is the fish thy candles bright
If it is the seals thy watchmen(2)
I would drink(3), though all would abhor it
Of thy heart’s blood after thy drowning
Scottish Gaelic
Gura mise tha fo éislean,
Moch `s a’ mhadainn is mi `g eirigh,
O\ hi\ shiu\bhlainn leat,
Hi\ ri bho\ ho\ ru bhi\,
Hi\ ri bho\ ho\ rionn o ho,
Ailein duinn, o\ hi\
shiu\bhlainn leat.
Ma `s e cluasag dhut a’ ghainneamh,
Ma `s e leabaidh dhut an fheamainn,
Ma `s e `n t-iasg do choinnlean geala,
Ma `s e na ròin do luchd-faire,
Dh’olainn deoch ge boil   le cach e,
De dh’fhuil do choim `s tu `n   deidh dobhathadh,

1) to die, to follow
2) for the inhabitants of the Hebrides Islands the seals are not simple animals, but magical creatures called selkie, which at night take the form of drowned men and women. Considered a sort of guardians of the Sea or gardeners of the sea bed every night or only on full moon nights, they would abandon their skins to reveal their human form, to sing and dance on the silver cliffs (here)
3) refers to an ancient Celtic ritual, consisting in drinking the blood of a friend as a sign of affection (the covenant of blood), a custom cited by Shakespeare (still practiced by all the friends of the heart who exchange blood with a shallow cut and joining the two cuts; it was also practiced for the handfasting in Scotland: once the handfasting was above all a pact of blood, in which the right wrist of the spouses was engraved with the tip of a dagger until the blood spurts, after which the two wrists were tied in close contact with each other with the “wedlock’s band” (see more.)

by liga-marta tratto da qui


Here is the version of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser (1857-1930) from “Songs of the Hebrides“, see also Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912) in his “Carmina Gadelica”.

Alison Pearce & Susan Drake from “A Harris love lament”  
Quadriga Consort  from “Ships Ahoy !” 2011  

(english translation Kennet Macleod)
I am the one under sorrow
in the early morn and I arising.
Brown-haired Alan

Ò hì, I would go with thee
Hi\ ri bho\ ho\ ru bhi\,
Hi\ ri bho\ ho\ rionn o ho,

Brown-haired Alan,
 I would go with thee
‘Tis not the death of the kine in May-month
but the wetness of thy winding-sheet./Though mine were a fold of cattle, sure, little my care for them today./Ailein duinn, calf of my heart,
art thou adrift on Erin’s shore?
That not my choice of a stranger-land,
but a place where my cry would reach thee.
Ailein duinn, my spell and my laughter,/would, o King, that I were near thee/on what so bank or creek thou art stranded,
on what so beach the tide has left thee.
I would drink a drink, gainsay it who might,
but not of the glowing wine of Spain
The blood of the thy body, o love,
I would rather,/the blood that comes from thy throat-hollow.
O may God bedew thy soul
with what I got of thy sweet caresses,
with what I got of thy secret-speech
with what I got of thy honey-kisses.
My prayer to thee, o King of the Throne
that I go not in earth nor in linen
That I go not in hole-ground nor hidden-place
but in the tangle where lies my Allan
(scottish gaelic)
Gura mise tha fo éislean,
Moch `s a’ mhadainn is mi `g eirigh
Ailein duinn,

O\ hi\ shiu\bhlainn leat,
Hi\ ri bho\ ho\ ru bhi\,
Hi\ ri bho\ ho\ rionn o ho,
Ailein duinn,
o\ hi\ shiu\bhlainn leat

Cha’n e bàs a’ chruidh ‘s a’ chéitein
Ach a fhichead ‘s tha do leine.
Ged bu leam-sa buaile spréidhe
‘s ann an diugh bu bheag mo spéis dith.
Ailein duinn a laoigh mo chéille
an deach thu air tir an Eirinn?
Cha b’e sid mo rogha céin-thir
ach an t-àit’ an ruigeadh m’ éigh thu.
Ailein duinn mo ghis ‘s mo ghàire
‘s truagh, a Righ, nach mi bha làmh riut.
Ge b’e eilb no òb an tràigh thu
ge b’e tiurr am fàg an làn thu.
Dh’ òlainn deoch ge b’ oil le càch e,
cha b’ ann a dh’ fhion dearg na Spàinne.
Fuil do chuim, a ghraidh, a b’ fhearr leam,
an fhuil tha nuas o lag do bhràghad.
O gu’n drùchdadh Dia air t’ anam
na fhuair mi de d’ bhrìodal tairis.
Na fhuair mi de d’ chòmhradh falaich,
na fhuair mi de d’ phògan meala.
M’ achan-sa, a Righ na Cathrach,
gun mi dhol an ùir no ‘n anart
an talamh-toll no ‘n àite-falaich
ach ‘s an roc an deachaidh Ailean

Another translation in English with the title “Annie Campbell’s Lament”
Estrange Waters from Songs of the Water, 2016

Dark Alan my love,
oh I would follow you

Far beneath the great sea,
deep into the abyss

Dark Alan, oh I would follow you
Today my heart swells with sorrow
My lover’s ship sank deep in the ocean
I would follow you..
I ache to think of your features
Your white limbs
and shirt ripped and torn asunder
I would follow you..
I wish I could be beside you
On whichever rock or shore where you’re sleeping
I would follow you..
Seaweed shall be as our blanket
And we’ll lay our heads on soft beds made of sand
I would follow you..


The most suggestive and dramatic version is that reported by Flora MacNeil who she has learned  from her mother. Born in 1928 on the Isle of Barra, she is a Scottish singer who owns hundreds of songs in Scottish Gaelic. “Traditional songs tended to run in families and I was fortunate that my mother and her family had a great love for the poetry and the music of the old songs. It was natural for them to sing, whatever they were doing at the time or whatever mood they were in. My aunt Mary, in particular, was always ready, at any time I called on her, to drop whatever she was doing, to discuss a song with me, and perhaps, in this way, long forgotten verses would be recollected. So I learned a great many songs at an early age without any conscious effort. As is to be expected on a small island, so many songs deal with the sea, but, of course, many of them may not originally be Barra songs”

A different story from Flora MacNeil’s family: the woman is married to Alain MacLeann who dies in the shipwreck with all the other men of her family: her father and brothers; the woman turns to the seagull that flies high over the sea and sees everything, as a witness of the misfortune; the last verse traces poetic images of a funeral of the sea, with the bed of seaweed, the stars like candles, the murmur of the waves for the music and the seals as guardians.

Flora MacNeil from  a historical record of 1951.

English translation
O na hi hoireann o ho
Hi na hi i ri u hu o
Endless grief the price it cost me
‘Twas neither sheep or cattle
But the load the ship took with her
My father and my three brothers
As if this wasn’t all my burden
The one to whom I gave my hand
MacLean of the fair skin
Who took me from the church on Tuesday(1)
“Little seagull, seagull of the ocean
Where did you leave the fair men?”
“I left them in the island of the sea
Back to back, no longer breathing”
Scottish Gaelic
O na hi hoireann o ho
Hi na hi i ri u hu o
S’ goirt ‘s gur daor a phaigh mi mal dhut
Cha chrodh laoigh ‘s cha chaoraich bhana
Ach an luchd a thaom am bata
Bha m’athair oirre ‘s mo thriuir bhraithrean
Chan e sin gu leir a chraidh mi
Ach am fear a ghlac air laimh mi
Leathanach a’ bhroillich bhainghil
A thug o ‘n chlachan Di-mairt mi
Fhaoileag bheag thu, fhaoileag mhar’ thu
Cait a d’fhag thu na fir gheala
Dh’fhag mi iad ‘san eilean mhara
Cul ri cul is iad gun anail

(1) Tuesday is still the day on which traditionally marriages are celebrated on the Island of Barra


Still a version set just like a waulking song and yet a different text, this time the ship is a whaler and Allen is shipwrecked near the Isle of Man.

Mac-Talla, from Gaol Is Ceol 1994, only the female voices and the notes of a harp, but what immediacy …

English translation
I am tormented/I have no thought for merriment tonight
Brown-haired Allen o hi, I would go with thee.
I have no thought for merriment tonight/But for the sound of the elements and the strength of the gales
Brown-haired Allen o hi,
I would go with thee.

Hi riri riri ri hu o, horan o o, o hi le bho
Duinn o hi, I would go with thee
But for the sound of the elements and the strength of the gales
Which would drive the men from the harbor
Brown-haired Allen, my darling sweetheart
I heard you had gone across the sea
On the slender, black boat of oak
And that you have gone ashore on the Isle of Man
That was not the harbor I would have chosen
Brown-haired Allen, darling of my heart
I was young when I fell in love with you
Tonight my tale is wretched
It’s not a tale of the death of cattle in the bog
But of the wetness of your shirt
And of how you are being torn by whales
Brown-haired Allen, my dear beloved
I heard you had been drowned
Alas, oh God, that I was not beside you
Whatever tide-mark the flood will leave you
I would take a drink, in spite of everyone
Of your heart’s blood,
after you had been drowned
Scottish Gaelic
S gura mise th’air mo sgaradh
Chan eil sugradh nochd air m’aire
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
Chaneil sugradh nochd air m’air’
Ach fuaim nan siantan ‘s miad na gaillinn
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
Hi riri riri ri hu o, horan o o, o hi le bho
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat~Ailein.
Ach fuaim nan siantan ‘s miad na gaillinn
Dh’fhuadaicheadh na fir bho’n chaladh
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
Ailein Duinn a luaidh nan leannan
Chuala mi gun deach thu thairis
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
Chuala mi gun deach thu thairis
Air a’ bhata chaol dhubh dharaich
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
‘S gun deach thu air tir am Manainn
Cha b’e siod mo rogha caladh
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
Ailein Duinn a luaidh mo cheile
Gura h-og a thug mi speis dhut
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
‘S ann a nochd as truagh mo sgeula
‘S cha n-e bas a’ chruidh ‘san fheithe
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
Ach cho fliuch ‘s a tha do leine
Muca mara bhith ‘gad reubach
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
Ailein Duinn a chiall ‘s a naire
Chuala mi gun deach do bhathadh
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
‘S truagh a Righ nach mi bha laimh riut
Ge be tiurr an dh’fhag an lan thu
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat
Dh’olainn deoch, ge b’oil le cach e
A dh’fhuil do chuim ‘s tu ‘n deidh do bhathadh
Ailein Duinn o hi shiubhlainn leat


Admiral Benbow ballads

Leggi in italiano

The heroic exploits of Admiral John Benbow (1653-1702) are sung in some contemporary ballads dating back to the days of the Spanish Civil War. He was called “the Brother Tar” because he started his military carrier from below, as a simple sailor; thanks to his ingenuity, the courage and help of his mentor Admiral Arthur Herbert, Count of Torrington.
His activity, except for a parenthesis in which he gave himself to the merchant navy (1686-1689), was dedicated to the Royal Navy. He left the army the degree of master, after being brought before the court martial because of a dispute against an officer, it should be noted that the code of conduct between the officers was very rigid (and even today with military degrees there is little to joke) and after having brought his public apology to Captain Booth of the Adventure and repaid the fine with three months of work without pay, Benbow decided to resign. The following year he became the owner of the frigate Benbow roamed the Mediterranean and the English Channel hunting for pirates, earning the reputation of a skilled and ruthless captain. Returning to the navy in 1689 with the rank of third lieutenant on the Elizabeth, after four months he obtained the rank of commander of the York and he distinguished himself in the naval actions along the French coasts; he was then sent to the West Indies to eradicate piracy and in 1701 he was appointed vice-admiral. It is said that King William had offered the command to several gentlemen who refused (because of the climate) and so he exclaimed “I understand, we will spare the gentlemen and we will send to the Antilles the honest Benbow”


In the early English Navy there was a system of voluntary training: a captain used to take care of young boy and instruct them as long as they were unable to pass the aptitude test. However, there remained a dividing line between the tarpaulin officer, without a high social status and the gentleman officer, the privileged aspirant. In fact, the gentlemen obtained their license of ensign more for relationships of kinships that for merits, so that in 1677 it was introduced an entrance examination that had to precede a compulsory three-year training. But in 1730 they preferred to return to the old system of voluntary training.


His last action, off the coast of Cape Santa Marta , was against Admiral Jean Du Casse and his fleet: from 19 to 25 August 1702; Benbow had seven ships at his command but his captains proved unwilling to obey orders: only on the afternoon of the first day a fight was waged and only the flagship and the Ruby under captain George Walton chased French ships with the intent to give battle, while the other english ships were kept out. The Ruby was put out of action on the 22nd and at this point the Falmouth in command of Samuel Vincent decided to line up with Benbow, but it was seriously damaged and forced to retreat, the same Benbow besieged by the French ships and subjected to a cannon shot had a mangled leg and he was brought below deck, where a war council was held with his officers who had all gathered together on board the flagship.
To see the war action in detail see

from Master and Commander

Benbow was determined to pursuit of battle, but his captains, believing they had no chance of victory, recommended him merely of pursuing the French ships: Benbow, convinced that a mutiny was being carried out against him, gave the order to return in Jamaica and sent his commanders beheind the court martial on charges of insubordination; Captain Richard Kirby and Captain Cooper Wade were found guilty and shot. Despite the amputation of his leg Benbow died two months after the battle and was buried in Kingston.


The melody is equally popular and it is shared with the Captain Kidd ballad giving life to a melodic family used for various songs.
Among the songs of the sea in the series Sea Shanty Edition for the fourth episode of the video game Assassin’s Creed that include some ballads about the brave captains, to celebrate the victories or heroic deeds that led them to death.
The version in Assassin’s Creed from the text transcribed by Cecil Sharp on the song of Captain Lewis of Minehead (1906) the strophes, however, are halved (I, II, VI)

Come all you seamen bold
and draw near, and draw near
Come all you seamen bold and draw near
It’s of an Admiral’s fame Brave Benbow (1) was his name
How he sailed up on the main (2)
you shall hear, you shall hear
Brave Benbow he set sail
For to fight, for to fight
Brave Benbow he set sail
For to fight
Brave Benbow he set sail in a keen and pleasant gale
But his captains they turn’d tail in a fright (3), in a fright
Says Kirby unto Wade (4), “We will run, we will run.”
Says Kirby unto Wade, “We will run. For I value no disgrace
nor the losing of my place
But the enemy I won’t face
Nor his guns, nor his guns.”
The Ruby (5) and Benbow fought the French, fought the French,
The Ruby and Benbow Fought the French.
They fought them up and down
‘Til the blood came trickling down
‘Til the blood came trickling down Where they lay, where they lay.
Brave Benbow lost his legs
By chain shot, by chain shot,
Brave Benbow lost his legs
By chain shot.
Brave Benbow lost his legs
And all on his stumps he begs
“Fight on, my English lads
‘Tis our lot, ‘tis our lot.”
The surgeon dress’d his wounds Benbow cried, Benbow cried
The surgeon dress’d his wounds Benbow cried
“Let a cradle now in haste on the quarterdeck (6) be placed
That the enemy I may face
‘Til I die, ‘Til I die
Mary Evans Picture Library : J R Skelton in Lang, “Outposts of Empire” 1910

1) Benbow made his career in the ranks of the Royal Navy in the late 1600s until he became Vice-Admiral
2) the West Indian Sea
3) in a fright: panicked
4) the captains who left the battle were tried and sentenced to death by desertion
5) the Ruby supported the attack of the flagship Breda against the French vessels
6) Benbow despite the injured leg (which will be amputated) wants to continue to give orders on the bridge and so requires a cradle to be able to remain seated and stretch the leg crushed, provisionally bandaged by the doctor


Paul Clayton, from “Whaling and sailing songs from the days of Moby Dick” 1954

It was often at Marais
Calling Benbow by his name
He fought on the raging main
You must know
Oh, the ship rocks up and down
And the shots are flying round
The enemy tumbling down
There they lay, there they lay
‘Twas Reuben (1) and Benbow
Fought the French, fought the French
‘Twas Reuben and Benbow
Fought the French,
Down on his old stump he fell
And so loudly he did call
Fight ye on, me English lads
‘Tis my lot, ’tis my lot
When the doctor dressed his wound
Benbow cried, Benbow cried
When the doctor dressed his wound
Benbow cried,
Let a bed be fetched in haste
On the quarterdeck be placed
That the enemy I might face
‘Til I die, ’til I die
On Tuesday morning last
Benbow died, Benbow died
On Tuesday morning last
Benbow died
What a shocking sight to see
When Benbow was carried away
He was carried to Kingston church (2)
There he lay, there he lay

1) the Ruby supported the attack of the flagship Breda against the French vessels
2) he was buried in the Parish Church of Kingston (Jamaica)


Entitled “Benbow, the Brother Tar’s song” the ballad was written by William Chappel in his “Old English Popular Music”.
“The tune is a variant of Love Will Find Out the Way, first published in 1651. Originally, it circulated in the world of fashion, but after 1680 it seems to have passed almost exclusively into the keeping of agricultural workers. Chappell collected it from hop-pickers in the mid nineteenth century, and Lucy Broadwood found it in Sussex in 1898.” (from here)
The action is very inaccurate (see above)
June Tabor & Martin Simpson from A cut above, 1982

We sailed from Virginia
and thence to Fayall
Where we watered our shipping
and then we weighed all.
Full in view on the seas, boys,
seven sails we did espy;
We mannéd our capstans
and weighed speedily.
Now the first we come up with was a brigantine sloop (1)
And we asked if the others was as big as they looked;
Ah, but turning to windward,
as near as we could lie
We saw there were ten (2) men of war cruising by.
We drew up our squadron in very nice line
And boldly we fought them for full four hours time;
But the day being spent, boys, and the night a-coming on
We left them alone till the early next morn.
Now the very next morning the engagement proved hot
And brave Admiral Benbow received a chain shot;
And as he was wounded to his merry men he did say,
“Take me up in your arms, boys, and carry me away!”
Now the guns they did rattle and the bullets did fly,
But brave Admiral Benbow for help would not cry;
“Take me down to the cockpit, there is ease for my smarts,
If my merry men see me, it would sure break their hearts.”
Now, the very next morning by break of the day
They hoisted their topsails and so bore away;
We bore to Port Royal where the people flocked much
To see Admiral Benbow carried to Kingston Church (3).
Come all you brave fellows, wherever you’ve been,
Let us drink to the health of our King and our Queen,
And another good health to the girls that we know,
And a third in remembrance (4) of great Admiral Benbow.

1) the French fleet under the command of Admiral Du Casse was escorting a convoy of troops, the flagship Breda captured the Anne, originally an English ship captured by the French
2) they were actually only 5
3) Benbow was buried in the Parish Church of Kingston (Jamaica)
4) in his honor Robert Louis Stevenson in his book “Treasure Island” inserts an “Admiral Benbow Inn” at the beginning of the story