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Kellyburn Braes by Robert Burns

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The theme of the Devil who tries to take a sinner to hell is a classic of the Celtic tales. In the ballad “Devil and the Farmer’s wife” dating back to 1600, the woman deserves the hell for her spiteful and disrespectful behavior; but the devil himself cannot tame her, indeed he risks losing his tranquility. 


The ballad has spread widely in England, Ireland, Scotland and America with fairly similar text versions, albeit with melodies declined in a different way.
THE DEVIL AND THE PLOWMAN (english version)
Lilli burlero
THE FARMER’S CURSED WIFE (american version)
KILLYBURN BRAE (Irish version)
KELLYBURN BRAES (Scottish version)

Robert Burns rewrote the song from a traditional local version, but also published another version more similar to the one released in Ireland.


Robert Burns in “Scots Musical Museum” 1792 No. 379: There lived a carl in Kelly burn braes. Tune: Kellyburn braes
Alan Reid from The Complete Songs of Robert Burns Vol I, 2009

There lived a carl  (1)
in Kellyburn Braes,
Hey and the rue
grows bonie wi’ thyme; (2)

And he had a wife
was the plague o’ his days,
And the thyme it is wither’d
and rue is in prime

Ae day as the carl
gaed up the lang-glen,
He met with the devil,
says, how do you fen?
I’ve got a bad wife, Sir,
that’s a’ my complaint,
For, savin your presence,
to her ye’re a saint,
It’s neither your stot
nor your staig I shall crave,
But gie me your wife, man,
for her I must have,
O, welcome most kindly!
the blythe carl said;
But if ye can match her –
ye’re waur than ye’re ca’d,
The devil has got
the auld wife on his back,
And like a poor pedlar
he’s carried his pack,
He’s carried her hame
to his ain hallan-door, (3)
Syne bade her gae in,
for a bitch, and a whore,
Then straight he makes fifty,
the pick o’ his band,
Turn out on her guard
in the clap of a hand,
The carlin gaed thro’ them
like ony wud bear,
Whae’er she gat hands on,
cam near her nae mair,
A reekit wee devil
looks over the wa’,
O help, Master, help!
or she’ll ruin us a’,
The devil he swore
by the edge o’ his knife, (4)
He pitied the man
that was ty’d to a wife,
The Devil he swore
by the kirk and the bell,
He was not in wedlock, thank Heav’n,
but in hell,
Then Satan has travell’d
again wi’ his pack,
And to her auld husband
he’s carried her back,
I hae been a Devil
the feck  o’ my life,
But ne’er was in hell
till I met wi’ a wife
1) Carl: old fellow
2)it is a typical nursery rhyme on the magic herbs present in many ballads The officinal herbs in the medieval garden were the main ingredients of the filters of love or amulets cast out devils to undo curses and evil spells.
3) hallan: Partition between cottage door and fireplace
4) For the Celts iron is the blood of the earth and has always had a magical meaning, a metal brings good fortune for its strength; the power of iron or its magic was such that it succeeded in destroying evil or distancing spirits and making them return to their world.


Robert Burns in “Scots Musical Museum” 1796, No. 448: Kellyburnbraes. Tune: The lass that made the bed to me

Stewart Cameron live

Thair wis an auld carle on Kellyburn Braes (ritefal, ritefal, tittie fal day)
Thair wis an auld carle on Kellyburn Braes
He mairriet a wife an he rued the day (wi ma rite falal, tittie falal, ritefal, ritefal, tittie falay)
Ae day the auld fairmer wis haudin the plou
Whan up jumps Auld Nick(1) an says “Hou dae ye do?”
Says the Deil tae the fairmer, “A’ve come for yer wife,
For A hear she’s the bane an the curse o yer life”
At this the auld fairmer he dances a reel
Cryin, “Tak her, O, tak her, O, tak her tae Hell”
The Deil he humphit her up oan his back/ Whan thae landit in Hell, lat her doun wi a crack
Thair wis seiven wee deivils wis hingin in chains
She picked up a stick an she scattert thair brains
The ither wee deivils aa stertit tae bawl
“O, tak her back, daddie, she’ll murder us aa”
Sae the Deil he humphs her again oan his back
Whan he got tae the tap, flung her doun wi a crack
He says, “A’ve been the Deivil for maist o ma life
But a ne’er wis in Hell til A met wi yer wife”
Nou, it’s true at the weemin is worse than the men
For thae gang doun tae Hell an get flung out again!
1) nickname for the devil
2) typical dance tune in 4/4 of the Celtic areaa
3) Evidently hell is under the ground and to return to the surface the devil must go up


Pubblicato da Cattia Salto

Amministratore e folklorista di Terre Celtiche Blog

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