Fear a’ bhàta

Leggi in italiano

Homer Winslow
Homer Winslow

“Fear* a ‘bhata” is a Scottish Gaelic song probably from the end of the 18th century and the legend (an anecdotal addition to the nineteenth century versions printed) says it was written by Sine NicFhionnlaigh (Jean Finlayson) of Tong, a small village on the Isle of Lewis (Hebrides) for a young Uig fisherman, Domhnall MacRath (Donald MacRae) who eventually married.
The song appears first published in The Scottish Gael by James Logan, 1831 (with its score) in which it is classified as a slow and an iorram (the song to the oars that had the function of giving rhythm to the rowers, but at the same time it was also a funeral lament). “Fhir a bhata, or the boatmen, the music of which is annexed, is sung in the above manner, by the Highlanders with much effect. It is the song of a girl whose lover is at sea, whose safety she prays for, and whose return she anxiously expects.
The Irish version appears for the first time in print in the Sam Henry collection entitled ‘Songs of the People‘. The songs were collected within 20 miles of Coleraine (Northern Ireland) from 1929 to 1939. It is an Irish Gaelic coming from Rathlin Island and more generally  widespread in Ulster, therefore with much resemblance to the Scottish Gaelic.
There are many text versions of the song composed of about ten verses although in the most current recordings only the first three stanzas are sung mostly. For the full text see

*’Fear’ translates as “man” and “Bhata” with “boat”: the man of the boat, or the boatman. Also written as Fear A Bhata, Fear Ah Bhata, Fhear A Bhata, Fhear Ni Bhata, Fhir A’ Bhata, Fir Na Fhata, O(h) My Boatman.

The melody is a lament, sometimes played as a waltz (in instrumental versions) that lends itself to delicate and smooth arrangements
Maire Breatnach on fiddle (live at Dougie MacLean‘ s house)

Scottish gaelic version

The girl is waiting for a visit of the handsome boatman who seems instead to prefer other girls! But she waits for him and frowns worried about the health of her handsome boatman.

Scottish Gaelic
Fhir a’ bhàta, sna hóro eile
Fhir a’ bhàta, sna hóro eile
Fhir a’ bhàta, sna hóro eile
Mo shoraidh slàn leat ‘s gach àit’ an tèid thu
‘S tric mi sealltainn on chnoc as àirde
Dh’fheuch am faic mi fear a’ bhàta
An tig thu ‘n-diugh no ‘n tig thu màireach
‘S mur tig thu idir gur truagh a tha mi
Tha mo chridhe-sa briste brùite
‘S tric na deòir a’ ruith o m’ shùilean
An tig thu ‘n nochd no ‘m bi mo dhùil riut
No ‘n dùin mi ‘n doras le osna thùrsaich?
‘S tric mi foighneachd de luchd nam bàta
Am faic iad thu no ‘m bheil   thu sàbhailt
Ach ‘s ann a tha gach aon dhiubh ‘g ràitinn
Gur gòrach mise, ma thug mi  gràdh dhut

English translation
Oh my boatman, na hóro eile
Oh my boatman, na hóro eile
Oh my boatman, na hóro eile
My farewell to you wherever you go
I often look from the highest hill
To try and see the boatman
Will you come today or tomorrow
If you don’t come at all I will be downhearted
My heart is broken and bruised
With tears often flowing from my eyes
Will you come tonight or will I expect you
Or will I close the door with a sad sigh?
I often ask people on boats
Whether they see you or whether you are safe,
Each of them says
That I was foolish to fall in love with you.

Capercaillie from Get Out 1996

Talitha Mackenzie from “A Celtic Tapestry” vol. 2 1997

Alison Helzer  from Carolan’s Welcome, 2010.

Grace O’Malley Quartet live


Irish Gaelic version

Irish Gaelic (from here)
Fhir an bháta ‘sna hóró éile (1)
Fhir an bháta ‘sna hóró éile
Fhir an bháta ‘sna hóró éile
Ceád mile failte gach ait a te tú (2)
Théid mé suas ar an chnoic is airde,
Féach an bhfeic mé fear an bháta.
An dtig thú anoch nó an dtig thú amárach?
Nó muna dtig thú idir is trua atá mé.
Tá mo chroí-se briste brúite.
Is tric na deora a rith bho mo shúileann.
An dtig thú inniu nó am bidh mé dúil leat,
Nó an druid mé an doras le osna thuirseach?
Thúg mé gaol duit is chan fhéad mé ‘athrú.
Cha gaol bliana is cha gaol raithe.
Ach gaol ó thoiseacht nuair bha mé ‘mo pháiste,
Is nach seasc a choíche me ‘gus claoibh’ am bás mé.
Gheall mo leanann domh gúna den tsioda
Gheall é sin, agus breacan riabhach
Fainne óir anns an bhfeicfinn íomha
Ach is eagal liom go ndearn sé dearmad
Tá mo croíse ag dul in airde
Chan don fidleir, chan don clairsoir
Ach do Stuirithoir an bhata
Is muna dtig tú abhaile is trua atá mé

English translation (from here)
O Boatman and another “horo”! [i.e. welcome]
O Boatman and another “horo”!
O Boatman and another “horo”!
A hundred thousand welcomes everywhere you go
I went up on the highest hill
To see if I could see the boatman
Will you come tonight or will you come tomorrow?
If you do not come, I will be wretched
My heart is broken and crushed.
Frequent are the tears that run from my eyes.
Will you come today or when I’m longing for you,
Or shall I close the door with a tired sigh?
I gave you my love, and I cannot change that.
Not love for a year, and not just words of love,
But love from the beginning, when I was a child,
And I will never cease, even when my death bell tolls.
My love promised me a dress of silk
He promised me that and a gray tartan
A gold ring where I’d see my reflection
But I’m afraid he has forgotten
My heart is lifting
Not for the tailor or the harper
But for the navigator of the boat
If you don’t come, I’ll be very sad

1) basically a non-sense phrase that some want to translate “and no one else” ie as “mine and no other”
2) or “mo shoraidh slán leat gach áit a dté tú”

Niamh Parsons live and from Gaelic Voices 1999 (I, II, IV, V)

And why not! Let’s listen to this celtic-metal version of the German group founded by Ben Richter in 2001! Thanateros ( I, II, V)



Pubblicato da Cattia Salto

Amministratore e folklorista di Terre Celtiche Blog. Ha iniziato a divulgare i suoi studi e ricerche sulla musica, le danze e le tradizioni d'Europa nel web, dapprima in maniera sporadica e poi sempre più sistematicamente sul finire del anni 90

Lascia un commento

Il tuo indirizzo email non sarà pubblicato.

Questo sito usa Akismet per ridurre lo spam. Scopri come i tuoi dati vengono elaborati.