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Outlander: Wool Waulking Songs

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Diana Gabaldon

“Hot piss sets the dye fast,” one of the women had explained to me as I blinked, eyes watering, on my first entrance to the shed. The other women had watched at first, to see if I would shrink back from the work, but wool-waulking was no great shock, after the things I had seen and done in France, both in the war of 1944 and the hospital of 1744. Time makes very little difference to the basic realities of life. And smell aside, the waulking shed was a warm, cozy place, where the women of Lallybroch visited and joked between bolts of cloth, and sang together in the working, hands moving rhythmically across a table, or bare feet sinking deep into the steaming fabric as we sat on the floor, thrusting against a partner thrusting back.”
(From DRAGONFLY IN AMBER, Chapter 34, “The Postman Always Rings Twice”. Copyright© 1992 by Diana Gabaldon.)
The Scottish women have developed a particular technique for the twisting of the tweed, that woolen fabric from Scotland, warm, resistant and almost indestructible, used by fishermen and shepherds to keep warmer in a climate so cold and windy.
Cloth were “mistreated” by a group of women sitting around a table with 4 beat: first, the fabric is banged on the table in front of you, then slammed towards the center of the table, then returned to the initial position and then is passed to the next woman (clockwise). To count the time and make the work less monotonous the women sang some songs, there was the ban dhuan (or the song-woman) that directed the song, while the others followed her in the refrain. After some songs the fabric was softer, thicker, and more tightly woven.

OUTLANDER TV, season I: “Rent”

In Outlander TV serie this glimpse of life in a scottish village of eighteenth-century, is developed in the Dougal Mackenzie’s journey, as he collects rents from the tenants of Castel Leoch. Claire goes on the road with Dougal, and almost by chance, she hears some voices and sees the women as they are waulking the tweeds.

Outlander I, episode 5: Mo Nighean Donn

English transaltion*
Oh how my mind is heavy
as I’m north west of the Storr (1)
My brown haired girl hò gù Hì rì rì hù lò
My brown haired girl hò gù.
My brown haired girl, I remark
At the fair of the young women.
Hì rì rì hù lò  My brown haired girl hò gù.
And we will walk hand in hand
Hì rì rì hù lò  My brown haired girl hò gù.
Regardless of any living elders (2).

Gur e mise tha fo ghruaim
‘S mi ‘n taobh tuath dhan an Stòr.
Mo nigh’n donn hò gù Hì rì rì hù lò
Mo nigh’n donn hò gù 
Mo nigh’n donn shònruich mi fhéin thu
ann an broad nam ban òg
Hì rì rì hù lò Mo nigh’n donn hò gù 
‘S bidh mo làmh na do làimh
Hì rì rì hù lò Mo nigh’n donn hò gù 
Dh’aindeoin èildeir tha beò.

1)  The Storr is a rocky hill on the Trotternish peninsula of the Isle of Skye in Scotland
2) Similar expressions are recurrent in popular songs when a young couple “swimmed against the tide” about courtship and don’t followed the tradition.  (celtic wedding)

Clair takes part in the fulling of the tweed and sings with the village women. The ban dhuan is Fiona Mackenzie

Two are the Wool Waulking Songs  in  Outlander: Season 1, Vol. 2 (Original Television Soundtrack) 
Latha Siubhal Beinne Dhomh” and “Mo Nighean Donn” (a tribute to Claire’s brown hair)

Latha Siubhal Beinne Dhomh

Originally from the island of Barra “Latha Siubhal Beinne Dhomh” (One day as I roamed the hills) is about a man roaming around the Highlands, who comes across a beautiful young girl gathering herbs; these accidental encounters on the moors (between the heather and the broom in bloom) are the subject of many traditional Scottish songs from ancient origins, and often man is not limited to the request for a kiss! The girl rejects him because she considers him a vagabond. As usual in the choice of musical tracks, the lyrics always have an affinity with the story told in the saga.

Hi ill eo ro bha ho
Hi ill eo bhòidheach
‘S na hi ill eo ro bha ho

English translation*
One day as I was traveling a hill
A day of traveling moorland
I met a girl
beautiful, tresses in her hair
A little knife in her hand
As she was reaping daisies
As she was reaping watercress
I went over to her
And I asked her for a kiss
“Oh, oh, my! (1)
O hairy old man! (2)

(It’s in my own father’s house
That the company would be found:
Twenty hatted-men
A dozen cloaked women
With white towels
Spread out on tables
With clay cups
And glasses full of beer)”

Latha siubhal beinne dhomh
Latha siubhal mòintich
Thachair orm gruagach
Dhualach, bhòidheach
Sgian bheag na làimh
‘S i ri buain neòinean
‘S i ri buain biolaire
Theann mi null rithe
Dh’ iarr mi pòg oirre
Ud! Ud! Ud-ag araidh!
A bhodachain ròmaich

(‘S ann an taigh m’ athar fhèin
Gheibht’ an còmhlan
Fichead fear adadh ann
Dusan bean cleòca
Tubhailtean geal aca
Sgaoilt’ air bhòrdaibh
Cupannan crèadh’ aca
‘S glainneachan beòraich)

1) or “Hoots toots!”
2) or ” you shaggy old man!”, a shaggy peasant

Mo Nighean Donn

“Mo Nighean Donn” (My brown-haired lass) does not have a real meaning, it seems more than the ban dhuan to report the gossip of the moment.  Outlander: Season 1, Vol. 2 (Original Television Soundtrack) 
Dougie MacLean in Whitewash 1990 
(a Celtic song with instrumental parts and male voice)

English translation*
Oh how my mind is heavy
as I’m north west of the Storr
My brown haired girl hò gù Hì rì rì hù lò
My brown haired girl hò gù.
Right now I’m in the loch by forest
And Effie will not be joning me.
The militia has been risen
And that will take away the young lads from us.
They will be out for a month
This will not leave us full of sadness.
My brown haired girl who gained recognition
At the fair of the young women.
My brown haired girl won a bet
Where the warriors were encamped
I’m tired of setting my nets
In the lower parts of each cove.
(I will head over the hill
Where there is the beautiful young women.
And we will walk hand in hand
Regardless of any living elders.
And my hand will be around you
Though I’d prefer to embrace you.
And if I manage to reach over to you
You’ll get a crown in your hand.
You’ll get that and something better
A good, young, strong sailor.)

Gur e mise tha fo ghruaim
‘S mi ‘n taobh tuath dhan an Stòr.
Mo nigh’n donn hò gù Hì rì rì hù lò
Mo nigh’n donn hò gù
‘N-dràst’ an loch fada choill
‘S nach tig Oighrig nam chòir.
Thog iad a’ mhailisi suas
‘S bheir siud bhuainn gillean òg.
Cha bhi iad a-muigh ach mìos
‘S cha bhi ‘n cianalas oirnn.
Mo nighean donn choisinn cliù
Ann an cùirt nam ban òg.
Mo nighean donn choisinn geall
Far na champaich na seòid.
Tha mi sgìth cur mo lìon
Ann an iochdar gach òb.
Thèid mi null air a’ bheinn
Far eil loinn nam ban òg.
(‘S bidh mo làmh na do làimh
Dh’aindeoin èildeir tha beò.
‘S bhiodh mo làmh mud chùl bhàn
Gad a gheàrrt’ i mun dòrn.
Ach ma ruigeas mise null
Gheibh thu crùin na do dhòrn.
Gheibh thu sin is rud nas fheàrr
Maraiche math làidir òg.)


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 tramite il sito dell'associazione L'ontano []

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