Skeklers from Shetland

Leggi in italiano

From the Shetland Islands come the “straw men” called skeklers, “masks” who played a specific role in the celebrations of Halloween, New Year and even in peasant marriages.

They are fertility “wheat spirits”, the local version of the “begging eggs” tradition spread throughout Europe: “Skekling is an old Shetland folk tradition. A Skekler is the name for a type of disguised person dressed in a distinctive straw costume; it is a variant of the term ‘guiser’. Skeklers would go round the houses at Halloween, New Year, and turn up at weddings in small groups performing fiddle music in return for food and drink.”

Gemma Ovens

Singing the eggs” was part of the ritual beginning of the new year still widespread in Piedmont (although moved to March-April) and of a consolidated tradition in the Italian South (singing of the Strina): the eggs are certainly symbols of rebirth, good health and good harvest, it is the so-called “sympathetic magic” but it makes me think of the use (extensively documented in legends and fairy tales) of egg shells as “exorcism” against fairy pranks and in particular of the Servan ( silvanotti, sarvanot, sarvan, the peasant goblins), in the old days the peasants scattered the shells in front of the doors of the stables to prevent fairy jokes to the cattle; or the boiling eff shells in “counter-spell” against the Changeling. Furthermore the Irish leprechaun, elf of the woods, is master (or guardian) of great quantities of gold – just as it is said of the wild man.


The straw man’s mask (with the blackened face) and the disguised voice was described by Samuel Hibbert in his Description of the Shetland Islands in 1822, when the tradition was already dying out. Here is an accurate description dating back to 1850: “The kitchen was full of beings, whose appearance, being so unearthly, shook the gravity of my muscles and forced a cold sweat to ooze from every pore in my body… [they] stood like statues. One was far above the rest and of gigantic dimensions. eyes, mouth, or noses they had none, nor at least a trace of their countenance.
They kept up an incessant grunt — a noise partly resembling a swine or turkey cock. Their outer garments were as white as snow ans consisted of petticoats below and shirts on the outside with sleeves and collars. They were veiled and their headdresses or caps were about 18 inches in height and made of straw twisted and plaited. each cap terminated in three or four cones of a crescent shape, all pointing backwards and downwards with bunches of ribbons of every colour raying from the points of the cones.”
(from here)

We are in the presence of the umpteenth variant of the Wild Man between myth and ritual, here in his vegetable exception of Man of the Woods (a Jack in the Green of the dark part of the year) that at the end of winter “wakes” the wheat and promotes the germination. Thus the mask of the “straw man” screams (in a beastly way, not a human one) and brings confusion by becoming an instrument of the magic ritual.
There is also a photographic record of these magical creatures, a group of boys photographed in Fetlar in 1909 while there is evidence of tradition up until 1958, the tail of a ritual whose meaning was lost.

Children from Fetlar dressed as skeklers, Shetland, 1909. © Shetland Museum.

Da Skeklers

A lost tradition that in many parts of Shetland is trying to revive (see the photo shoot by Gemma Ovens )
A significant contribution comes from the musical group “Fiddlers’ Bid” that have included in their album “All dressed in Yellow” (2009) the traditional song Da Skeklers and reconstructed the straw costumes of these disturbing masks.
The melody is in set with “Aamer August” (Estonia), the march “Hunter’s Hill” (Scotland); “Sigurd ‘or Gord’s Spring” (from the Shetland Islands played by Catriona McKay’s harp); From Skeklers (from the Shetland Islands ).
So they write in the notes “People like these turning up at your isolated house in the middle of the winter. They would have been good enough to open the door?

In the occasion of the most important festival of the archipelago, Up Helly Aa , a team had the idea of recovering the straw man’s mask; already in 2007 for the opening of the new Shetland Museum, Euan Balfours had recreated the costume based on the photographic archives: the peculiarity of the costume lies in the conical straw hat with woven tip and decorated with ribbons, so it was discovered that the old men still remembered how the various ways of weaving the costume were synonymous with a typicality of the community; we also learn that the face of the mask had to be concealed, not simply dyed black, but veiled (cf)

Clutching at Straws (Clint Watt)

Massimo Centini “L’uomo selvatico” (1989)

The Dead Horse sea shanty: Working off the Dead Horse

Leggi in italiano

kw294114Paying off the Dead Horse” perhaps derives from a custom in negotiations between breeders: once the agreement was sanctioned with a handshake there was no way to go back even if the horse died soon after.
Flogging a dead horse” or “beating a dead horse” has entered the nineteenth-century ways of saying to indicate a way of doing that has no prospects or outlets (it is useless to whip a horse when it is dead because it will never rise again).
But “to work (for) the dead horse” means wasting money to buy useless things (like a dead horse).

Working off the Dead Horse

“Working off the Dead Horse” still has a further meaning in marine jargonas, explained by Italo Ottonello: at the signing of the recruitment contract for long journeys, the sailors received an advance equal to three months of pay which, to guarantee the respect of the contract, it was provided in the form of “I will pay”, payable three days after the ship left the port, “as long as said sailor has sailed with that ship.” Everyone invariably ran to look for some complacent sharks who bought their promissory note at a discounted price, usually of forty percent, with much of the amount provided in kind.
So often there was nothing left of the advance, spended for the personal equipment (boots, wax, knives etc that were charged to the sailor) or more commonly for women and “drinks”.
Thus the sailor worked for the first month for “nothing” that is for “the dead horse”; others mean that it is the sailor who is an exploited horse because in the first month on the ship he does not work for himself, but for his creditors.
In support of the first hypothesis there are those who maintain that once the driver of a horse who was employed by a chief was responsible for the death of the horse and would no longer receive his salary until he repaid the cost of the horse.


A curious ceremony took place aboard the sailing vessels: a horse was assembled with discarded objects (stitched worn sails, old barrels and worn ropes) and dragged around the deck of the ship; then an auction was opened with the auctioneer who praised the good qualities of the animal, at the end the horse was hoisted with a rope on the highest flagpole and thrown into the sea, while the last part of a song’s melody was sung as requiem. called “Paying off the dead horse”.
The ceremony … became a rather half-hearted affair in the latter days of sail, whereas in days gone by it was a spectacular effort, particularly in the emigrant ships, and one of the best descriptions is given in Reminiscences of Travel in Australia, America, and Egypt,by R Tangye (London, 1884).” (Stan Hugill)


The custom gradually declined and the song became a halyard shanty. Thus R Tangye writes : “Being a month at sea the sailors performed the ceremony called ” Burying the Dead Horse,” the explanation of which is this: Before leaving port seamen are paid a month in advance, so as to enable them to leave some money with their wives, or to buy a new kit, etc., and having spent the money they consider the first month goes for nothing, and so call it ” Working off the Dead Horse.” The crew dress up a figure to represent a horse; its body is made out of a barrel, its extremities of hay or straw covered with canvas, the mane and tail of hemp, the eyes of two ginger beer bottles, sometimes filled with phosphorus. When complete the noble steed is put on a box, covered with a rug, and on the evening of the last day of the month a man gets on to his back, and is drawn all round the ship by his shipmates, to the chanting of the following doggerel: oh! now, poor Horse, your time is come; And we say so, for we know so. Oh! many a race we know you’ve won, Poor Old Man. You have come a long long way, And we say so, for we know so. For to be sold upon this day, Poor Old Man. You are goin’ now to say good-bye, And we say so, for we know so. Poor old horse you’re a goin’ to die, Poor Old Man.
Having paraded the decks in order to get an audience, the sale of the horse by auction is announced, and a glib-mouthed man mounts the rostrum and begins to praise the noble animal, giving his pedigree, etc., saying it was a good one to go, for it had gone 6,000 miles in the past month ! The bidding then commences, each bidder being responsible only for the amount of his advance on the last bid. After the sale the horse and its rider are run up to the yard-arm amidst loud cheers. Fireworks are let off, the man gets off the horse’s back, and, cutting the rope, lets it fall into the water. The Requiem is then sung to the same melody. Now he is dead and will die no more, And we say so, for we know so. Now he is gone and will go no more; Poor Old Man.
After this the auctioneer and his clerk proceed to collect the ” bids,” and if in your ignorance of auction etiquette you should offer yours to the auctioneer, he politely declines it, and refers you to his clerk!”

The ritual echoes ancient propitiatory and auspicious rituals such as those of the Poor Old Horse at Christmas.


Other titles: Poor old man, Poor old Horse
Use: Halyard e Long drag shanty

Assassin’s Creed -IV Black Flag

A poor old man came riding by.
And we say so, And we know so.
O, a poor old man came riding by,
O, poor old man.

Says I, “Old man, your horse will die.
“And if he dies we’ll tan his hide.
And if he don’t, I’ll ride him again.
And I’ll ride him ‘til the Lord knows”
He’s dead as a nail in the lamp room door (1), And he won’t come worrying us no more
We’ll use the hair of his tail to sew our sails
and the iron of his shoes (2) to make deck nails,
Drop him down with a long long rope
Where the sharks have his body
And the devil takes his soul (3)!

1)Charles Dickens in “A Christama Carol”:  “that Marley was as dead as a door-nail”. The expression is very ancient used both by Shakespeare and even before in the Middle Ages c. 1350. Will. Palerne: For but ich haue bot of mi bale I am ded as dorenail
But William and Mary Morris, in The Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins, quote a correspondent who points out that it could come from a standard term in carpentry. If you hammer a nail through a piece of timber and then flatten the end over on the inside so it can’t be removed again (a technique called clinching), the nail is said to be dead, because you can’t use it again. Doornails would very probably have been subjected to this treatment to give extra strength in the years before screws were available. So they were dead because they’d been clinched.” One of our traditional ceremonial sea songs, “Dead Horse Shanty,” uses the line “dead as a nail on the lamproom door.” We might assume that these nail heads were appropriately flattened. For those who are now curious to know what a “dead horse” had to do with sailors, it was a symbol of the advance pay they or their crimp received before boarding ship. So they didn’t earn any additional pay until they had worked off the “dead horse.” (from here). 
In the old-time navy, you get the combination of a wooden ship and gunpowder – potentially troublesome. Especially as the gunpowder was stored down below decks where there were no windows to let in the light. Taking a lit torch or candle into the gunpowder store was frowned upon, often briefly and from a great height. The lamp-room was next to the gunpowder store, with a glass window to throw light on the powder without risk of ignition. Nails in the woodwork were also a source of risk, because if struck they could create a spark. Nails in the lamp-room door and around the powder store were ‘deadened’ by being painted over with pitch to protect from this eventuality. With people ashore living in wooden houses with thatched roofs, the practice of ‘deadening’ door nails with pitch or something similar was probably more widespread“,
2) the hooves
3) or
We’ll hoist him up to the main yardarm
We’ll drop him down to the depths of the sea

We’ll sing him down with a long, long roll
Where the sharks’ll have his body
and the devil have have his soul

Robin Holcomb Rogue’s Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs, and Chanteys, ANTI 2006

Poor old man came ridin’ along
And we say so,
And we hope so.
Poor old man came ridin’ along
Poor old man.
Well poor old man your horse he must die
And we say so,
And we hope so.
Poor old man your horse he must die
Poor old man.
Well 30 days have come and gone (1)
And we say so,
And we hope so.
30 days have come and gone
Poor old man.

And now we are on a good month’s pay
And we say so,
And we hope so.
I think I hear our wharfing man say
Poor old man.
So give them grog for the 30th day
And we say so,
And we hope so.
Give them their grog for the 30th day
Poor old man.
Then up hail ox (2) to the old main yard arm
And we say so,
And we hope so.
Then cut him drip and do him no harm
Poor old man.
A poor old man came ridin’ along

1) in this version the ceremony obviously takes place after the first month of navigation
2) it was the simulacrum of the horse to be hoisted on the highest yard and then thrown into the sea, so why an ox?

Ian Campbell – Farewell Nancy 1964

I say, “Old man, your horse is dead.”
And we say so, And we know so.
I say, “Old man, your horse is dead.”
O, poor old man.
One month a rotten live we’ve led
While you lay on y’er feather bed
But now the month is up, ol’ turk
get up, ye swine, and look for work
get up, ye swine, and look for graft
while we lays on an’ yanks(1) ye aft
An’ yanks ye aft t’ th’ cabin door
and hopes we’ll never see ye more

1) to yank: pull, or move with a sudden movement


Keith Kendrick – Short Sharp Shanties : Sea songs of a Watchet sailor vol 3 

A poor old man came riding by.
And we say so,
And we know so.

O, a poor old man came riding by,
O, poor old man.

Says I, “Old man, your horse will die
Says I, “Old man, your horse will die.
And if he dies I’ll tan his hide
(if he leaves my old sail a ride?)
As I was rambling down the street
flesh young girl I chanced for to meet
say I “Young girl (whan’t you send a treat?)
Yes you’ve come to the bottom of the street
Aloft we went in a low back car
she took me to jack store’s bar
She pull him for some cakes and wine
to plumb well as my desire
I plumbed the well and the fancy was gone
but now I left her on the strand


Poor old horse: winter hoodening

Leggi in italiano
Samhain (the New Year of the Celts) ended on 11 November with a pagan festival still practiced in the early Middle Ages, to which the Church superimposed the feast of Saint Martin. (see first part)


For the Celts the horse was a sacred animal, a symbol of royalty and attribute of various deities.
Symbol of wealth and buried together with his master (or worthy of a ritual burial if he fell in battle) the white one was raised by the Druids and used for prophecies and sacrificial rites.
Totemic animal for many Celtic tribes that take its name, its flesh was taboo except in particular ritual times. 


The soulers and the wassailers or more generally the gangs of young people who went around the farms as beggars during the winter festivals were once (and still today) accompanied by the hobby horse.
The spirits of the Earth who govern fertility were depicted as a horse and associated with the young women not yet married (fertility carriers). An even more Celtic connotation is the identification of the “hobby horse” with the Goddess Mare (the Earth Goddess): we find it in the myth of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon and the northern Italian goddess Epona.


obby_oss_sHistorical references to the hobby horse date back to the late Middle Ages (early 1500s) with traces still in the Victorian era: in 1803 the presence of a horse made with the skin of a stallion with a man spraying water on the crowd is documented.
In the Middle Ages the “cavallino” was a character of the cheerful brigade of Robin Hood and was connected with the fertility rituals of the spring festival and the May dances, but also with the Christmas celebrations.
Some scholars trace the ritual back to pre-Christian celebrations connected with the Beltane Celtic festival. But equally numerous are the references to the winter rituals of Samhain.
In the ritual of hoodening a man wears a blanket or a white sheet that covers him entirely and carries a horse’s head on a stick, most commonly a wooden head with jaws with hinges so that it can be maneuvered to open and close ( once a real horse skull). Sometimes a burning candle is placed in the skull with very disturbing effects.


At Samhain in Ireland, appalling parades took place in the countryside and in medieval villages, led by Láir Bhán (the white mare) followed by a band of young men waving horns and asking for offers for Muck Olla.
William Hackett  wrote (1853): ‘It is not many years since on Samhain’s eve, 31st October, a rustic procession perambulated the district between Ballycotton and Trabolgan, along the coast. The parties represented themselves as messengers of Muck Olla, in whose name they levied contributions on farmers; as usual they were accompanied by sundry youths, sounding lustily on cows’ horns; at the head of the procession was a figure enveloped in a white robe or sheet, having, as it were, the head of a mare, this personage was called the Láir Bhán, “the white mare,” he was a sort of president or master of ceremonies. A long string of verses was recited at each house. (from here)

by Niamh Ní Ruairc


Mari Lwyd, or “Y Fari Lwyd” (in English Gray Mare) is the Welsh version of the hooden horse. Tradition still practiced in central and southern Wales, in particular at Llantrisant and Pontyclun at New Year. The mask consists of a horse’s head (a real skull) with a movable jaw and disquieting eyes made from two pieces of green bottle, decorated with colored ribbons and carried on a pole by a person hidden under a large white cloak. The beggars stop to sing in front of the doors of the houses and call the mistress and challenge her in a pwnco (a challenge in verse). The victory of the singing challenge allows the beggars to enter the house to eat sweets and drink beer.
As can be seen in the illustration by Paul Bommer, the landlady is holding a broom and does not want the group to enter because it is a bringer of disorder. In fact, once the company was entered, the mare would go around the room chasing the women; the mare is clearly a monstrous and otherworldly creature that must be appeased with some offerings and sometimes a small child could calm the beast with a treat.

English translation
Here we come
Dear friends
To ask permissions to sing
If we don’t have permission,
Let us know in song
How we should go away tonight
I have no dinner
Or money to spend
To give you welcome tonight
Welsh gaelic
Wel dyma ni’n dwad
Gyfeillion diniwad
I ofyn am gennod i ganu
Os na chawn ni gennad
Rhowch wybod ar ganiad
Pa fodd mae’r ‘madawiad, nos heno
‘Does genni ddim cinio
Nac arian iw gwario
I wneud i chwi roeso, nos heno

1) if the people were defeated in the poetic battle, Mari Lwyd claimed the right to stay at dinner with all her followers. Alternatively they offered a glennig (a small tip), a glass of glaster (water and milk) or beer.


In Kent the Heningening groups have returned (in the villages of San Nicola-a-Wade, Nether Hale, Sarre), in particular the tradition is very rooted in San Nicola-a-Wade where the hooden horse is called Dobbin, an old man poor horse exhausted by the labor of work: a sort of “sacred representation” is staged with various characters and songs; once the teams of hoodening went from house to house with musicians and the clatter of bells: the horse was accompanied by a group of peasants, one who holds the reins (the tamer), the other who carries a basket of fruit an another on the back, there is also “Mollie” or the “old lady” who carries a broom. Here the master knocks and as soon as the door is opened the horse kicks and scares, opening his mouth wide, while Mollie fucks the feet of one who has opened the door.. (see more)

The Horse regularly appeared through the year at, especially in Midwinter (Hallowtide, the Twelve Days of Christmas, et al). The Horse was a man dressed as an animal, covered in blanket and carrying a horse’s head, with reins, on a pole. The head was sometimes wooden but usually a real horse skull – hinged jaws allowed the mouth to snap open and shut. Along with other young men the horse ‘galloped’ and visited houses as a ‘lick-bringer’. This was not always successful and in 1839 at Broadstairs a woman was so terrified coming face-to-face with the ‘horse’ she died of fright. The custom was subsequently forbidden by local magistrates.
In East Kent Hoodening took place at Christmas. The Horse had a wooden head and sometimes a lighted candle was placed in the mouth. Farmworkers walked with the horse, one leading it by the reins or a rope and carrying a whip, and another worker light enough to ride on the horse’s back. A third known as Mollie or Old Woman was in female attire and carried a broom or besom.
In Reculver, only men who had worked with horses during the year were allowed to partake.  (in “A Dictionary of British Folk Customs” di Christina Hole, 1995 from here)


There are many versions of the song, which was a part of the Mummers play, who staged the death and resurrection of the horse

Shirley Collins from “False True Lovers” 1959

My clothing was once of a linsey-woolsey fine,
My mane it was sleek
and my body it did shine.
But now I’m getting old
and I’m going to decay,
Me master frowns upon me
and thus they all do say, “Poor old horse.”
My living was once to the best of corn and hay
As ever grew in England,
and that they all did say.
But now there’s no such comfort
as I can find at all.
I’m forced to nab the short grass
that grows against the wall,
“Poor old horse.”
This version is only a fragment and the initial part is missing in which the mummers / soulers ask to be welcomed at home

Kate Rusby from Sweet Bells 2008

We’ve got a poor old horse,
He’s standing at your door,
And if you’ll only let him in,
He’ll please you all (1) I’m sure (x2)
Now that he’s grown old
And nature doth decay,
My master frowns upon him now,
These words I’ve heard him say (x2)
Now that he’s grown old
And scarcely can he crawl,
He’s forced to eat the coarsest grass
That grows against the wall (x2)
This poor horse was once young,
And in his youthful prime
My master used to ride on him,
He thought him very fine (x2)
1) in the verse the song is highlighted as a begging song with propitiatory ritual

Paying off the dead horse: sea shanty version


On the streets of Padstow, a small fishing port in North Cornwall on the mouth of the Camel River, now a tourist destination, each May Day is celebrated with the Obby Oss Festival (continua)


Souling songs

Leggi in italiano

Souling songs are the songs of begging that the poor (mostly children) sang going from house to house during the evenings between the end of October and the beginning of November in the event of the celebration of All Saints (All Hallows Day = All- Souls’ eve) and the Feast of the Dead.

The banquet of the dead

Halloween is a pale echo of Samahin (Samain or Samhain), which in Gaelic means “End of the Summer”, or the Celtic New Year, a magical night in which the gods were asked for protection againts the coming of Winter.
Formerly it was customary to move from house to house during the celebrations of All Saints’ Eve with a small procession of masked people led by the “Ambassador of the dead” to ask for the donation of ritual food for the banquet of the Dead in which the whole community would have celebrated the anniversary.
In the Middle Ages in Ireland and Great Britain there was the custom of preparing a soul cake of round form as an offering to satiate the hunger of the dead who were believed to visit the living during Samain: to keep them good throughout the coming year, the housewives prepared some special sweets, which soon ended up satisfying the much more earthy and voracious appetites of the poor! These cakes were distributed in charity or given to the Soulers.
Even in certain regions of Italy (Emilia Romagna, or Sardinia and more generally in southern Italy) the practice of food begging was widespread among the poor and children: “Ceci cotti per l’anima dei morti” [“Chickpeas cooked for the soul of the dead“], they sang armed of spoons and bowls, in front of the gentry’ s houses.


The tradition of “a-souling” or “a-soalin” is identical to wassailing and Christmas caroling (see), but here in exchange for cakes, often called Soul, the beggars promised to recite prayers for the dead. More prosaically it was said that every cake eaten represented a soul freed from Purgatory. The custom is often seen as the origin of the modern “Trick or Treating” of children masked by ghosts or monsters that play at the doors of the houses asking for “some good thing to eat”.
Already at the end of the 1800s the tradition of the soul cake had faded, and where the begging tradition still survived, the children were given apples or coins: in general the children did their begging by day.
Soul! soul! for a soul-cake;
Pray, good mistress, for a soul-cake.
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Them who made us all.
Soul! soul! for an apple or two;
If you’ve got no apples, pears will do.
Up with your kettle, and down with your pan;
Give me a good big one, and I’ll be gone.
An apple or pear, a plum or a cherry,
Is a very good thing to make us merry.

Another Soulers song was transcribed by John Brand in his “Popular Antiquities” (1777) taken directly from the lips of “the merry pack, who sing from door to door, on the eve of All – Soul’s Day, in Cheshire
“Soul day, soul day, Saul
One for Peter, two for Paul,
Three for Him who made us all.
Put your hand in your pocket and pull out your keys,
Go down into the cellar, bring up what you please;
A glass of your wine, or a cup of your beer,
And we’ll never come souling till this time next year.
We are a pack of merry boys, all in a mind,
We are come a souling for what we can find,
Soul, soul, sole of my shoe,
If you have no apples, money will do;
Up with your kettle and down with your pan,
Give us an answer and let us be gone
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing that will make us all merry.


The song “Soul cake” also known as “A Soalin”, “Souling Song Cheshire” “Hey ho, nobody home” was published (text and melody) by Lucy Broadwood and JA Fuller Maitland in the English County Songs in 1893, reporting the tradition still alive in Cheshire and Shropshire (West Midlands) of “souling”: the transcription was a few years earlier at the hands of Rev. MP Holme of Tattenhall, Cheshire as he had heard it from a local school girl. In 1963, the American folk group Peter, Paul and Mary recorded a version of this traditional song, entitled “A ‘Soalin”, reworking the song dating back to the Elizabethan era “Hey ho, nobody home”.
During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, depending to the county or local customs, the quest was made by the poorest on the evening of Saint Stephen or Christmas Eve and it was a bad omen to send the beggars away empty-handed.


Sung As a Round (XVI sec)
Voice 1: Hey, ho, nobody home;
Voice 1: Meat nor drink nor money have I none,
Voice 2 : Hey, ho, nobody home;
Voice 1: Yet will I be merry.
Voice 2: Meat nor drink nor money have I none,
Voice 3: Hey, ho, nobody home;
Voice 1: Hey, ho, nobody home;
Voice 2: Yet wiIll be merry.
Voice 3: Meat nor drink nor money have I none,
Voice 1: Meat nor drink nor money have I none,
Voice 2: Yet will I be merry.
Voice 1: Yet will be merry.

Peter, Paul & Mary from “A Holiday Celebration” 1988

Sting live (from II to IV)

Sting in If on a Winter’s Night 2009


Hey ho, nobody home,
meat nor drink nor money have I none
Yet shall we be merry,
hey ho, nobody home
Meat nor drink nor money have I none
Yet shall we be merry,
Hey ho, nobody home
A soul, a soul cake,
please good missus a soul cake.
An apple, a pear, a plum, a cherry,
any good thing to make us all merry,

A soul, a soul cake,
please good missus a soul cake.
One for Peter, two for Paul, (1)
three for Him who made us all.
God bless the master of this house,
and the mistress also.
And all the little children
that round your table grow.
The cattle in your stable
and the dog by your front door. (2)
And all that dwell within your gates
we wish you ten times more.
Go down into the cellar
and see what you can find.
If the barrels are not empty
we hope you will be kind.
We hope you will be kind
with your apple and strawber’ (3)
For we’ll come no more a ‘soalin’
till Xmas time next year.
IV (4)
The streets are very dirty,
my shoes are very thin
I have a little pocket
to put a penny in
If you haven’t got a penny,
a ha’ penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’ penny
then God bless you
Now to the Lord sing praises all you within this place
And with true love and brotherhood
each other now embrace
This holy tide of Christmas,
of beauty and of grace
Oh tidings of comfort and joy
1) Peter and Paul are the saints of the Roman Church: Peter, the apostle indicated in the Gospels as the canonical stone on which the Church is founded and Paul, who spread Catholicism among the Gentiles
2) or “Likewise young men and maidens, Your cattle and your store”
3) strong beer=strawber: Sitng sings “pear”
4) a typical wassail stanza
5) the verse added by Paul Stookey comes from Carol “God rest you Merry Gentlemen” (whose melody intertwines with that of Soul Cake) see

Kristen Lawrence from A broom with a view 2014: All Hallows Version- Kristen writes and arranges music she calls her Halloween Carols

Soul Day, Soul Day, we be come a’ souling.
Pray, good people, remember the poor,
And give us a soul cake.
Soul, soul, a soul cake!
Please, good lady, a soul cake!
An apple, a pear, a plum or a cherry,
Any good thing to make us merry.
Soul, soul, a soul cake!
Pray we for a soul cake!
One for Peter, two for Paul,
And three for Him who made us all.
God bless the master of this house,
the mistress also,
And all the little children
who ‘round your table grow.
Likewise, your men and maidens,
your cattle and your store,
And all that dwell within your gates,
we wish you ten times more.
I bridge
Souling Day,
so we pray for the souls departed.
Pray give us a cake,
For we are all poor people
well-known to you before.
II bridge
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate,
Crying for butter, to butter his cake.
Up with your kettles, and down with your pans,
Give us our souling, and we’ll be gone.
Down into the cellar,
and see what you can find.
If your barrels are not empty,
we hope you will prove kind.
We hope you will prove kind
with your apples and your grain,
And we’ll come no more a’ souling
‘til this month comes again.
Soul Day, Soul Day, we have been praying
For the souls departed, so pray good people, give us a cake.
So give us a cake for charity’s sake
And our blessing we’ll leave at your door.

Samhain version

Soul, soul, soul cakes!
We come hunting for soul cakes!
We are dead, but like we said,
On this night we’ll take your bread
And while you’re out of your abode,
Lighting fires of Samhain old,
Think of us, out of body
As we are, you, too, shall be.
Samhain Night, at long last,
We parade from ages past
A journey from the Otherworld
Oh, the hairs that we have curled!
Winter’s Eve surrounds us,
Its open portal astounds us.
We creep into the living sphere,
And see where memories summon here.
Find us in this coldness,
Visiting with much boldness.
Share your food; we’ll share our power
To discern a future hour.
Summer’s End, Summer’s End
Will the sun return, vital warmth to send?
Summer’s End, Summer’s End
Darkness lengthens in its stride
across the sleeping land.
Little Jack, Jack sat on his gate,
Offering goblins and demons his cake.
Up with the chill and down with the sun,
Waning and waning, the Dark Half’s begun.
All this night as boundaries untie,
Visitors friendly and frightful stop by.
Up with your mask and down with your feet,
Marching and marching to lead out the fleet.
How about this dwelling?
Its offerings are compelling,
With drinks and cakes and porridge,
And cherries and berries from storage.
Rattles at your door!
Don’t be scared, but give us some more!
A banshee (1) or a fershee (2) might delight
by new firelight.

1) “woman of the fairies”
2) Fer-side [Fershee], a male fairy

Some recipes

With the name of Soul Cake we indicate many variations of traditional sweets from sweet bun to dried fruit cake.

Parkin cakeSoul-mass Cake

In Italy the tradition is mainly based on biscuits vaguely reminiscent of the bones of the dead or the fingers of hands. In Piedmont they are the “ossa d’mort”, a base of almonds, but they can also be a variant of offelle with dried figs, almonds and sultanas (Lombardy and Tuscany) or in the form of horses (Trentino Alto Adige).


I’ll Hie Me To The Shieling Hill

Robert Tannahill published the song “I’ll Hie Me To The Shieling Hill”  in his “Poems and Songs, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” (1807) written on a traditional and very popular tune: “Gilly Callum”
Robert Tannahill
pubblicò la canzone “I’ll Hie Me To The Shieling Hill” nel suo “
Poems and Songs, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect” (1807) scritta su un’aria tradizionale molto popolare: “Gilly Callum”

Ghillie Callum

“Ghillie Callum” is one of the oldest and most famous traditional Scottish dances and the tune was published with numerous variation sets. A faster version is called “Tail Toddle”
The earliest record of the tune is in David Young’s 1734 Drummond Castle Manuscript (in the possession of the Earl of Ancaster at Drummond Castle; sometimes called the Duke of Perth MS because of the inscription); Glen (1891) finds it also in Bremner’s 2nd Collection or Scots Reels or Country Dances (London, 1768, p. 108) under the title “Keelum Kallum taa fein.” (from here)

Originally, ghillie was the name given to the young man [gaelic “gille”= “youth” or “lad.” from the irish giolla] who would guide the Highland chiefs on hunting and fishing expeditions. It was later generalized to describe the men servants who always accompanied Highland chiefs.
But Ghillies are also a soft shoe worn for traditional Scottish Highland Dances. 
“Ghillie Callum” è una delle danze scozzesi più antiche e famose e la melodia è stata pubblicata in numerosi arrangiamenti. Una versione più veloce s’intitola Tail Toddle.
La prima registrazione della canzone è del 1734 nel “Drummond Castle Manuscript” di David Young (in possesso del Conte di Ancaster al Drummond Castle, a volte chiamato duca di Perth MS a causa dell’iscrizione); Glen (1891) lo trova anche in “2nd Collection or Scots Reels or Country Dances” (Londra, 1768, pagina 108) con il titolo “Keelum Kallum taa fein”.
Ghillie era il termine originariamente dato per “giovane ragazzo” [ dal gaelico “gille” = “giovanotto” o “ragazzo”- giolla in irlandese] che guidava i capi degli altipiani nelle spedizioni di caccia e pesca. In seguito fu generalizzato per descrivere i servitori uomini che accompagnavano sempre i capi delle Highlands. Ma ghillies sono anche una le scarpe in morbida pelle indossata per le tradizionali danze scozzesi delle Highland. 

Scottish Sword dance

It is an ancient dance of war of the Scottish Gael.
Legend tells that Callum (Malcolm MacDuncan “Canmore”), crossed his sword over that of a defeated enemy  at the Battle of Dunsinane in 1054 and danced round and over the blades in triumph.
The dance evolved into a battle dance performed by Highland warriors, to a test of skill and agility. 
È un’antica danza dei guerrieri celti scozzesi. La leggenda narra che Callum (Malcolm MacDuncan “Canmore”-testagrossa) incrociò la sua spada su quella di un nemico sconfitto nella battaglia di Dunsinane nel 1054 e ballò attorno alle lame in segno di trionfo. La danza si trasformò in una danza di battaglia eseguita dai guerrieri delle Highland, come prova di abilità e agilità. 

At the beginning the dancer performs the steps outside the sword  “addressing the swords” (asking permission “to dance”) then he dances over the crossed blades with his back never turned to the swords. The dancer who touched the sword he would be wounded the next day in battlefield!
All’inizio il danzatore esegue i passi fuori dalla spada “rivolgendosi alle spade” (chiede il permesso di “danzare”) poi balla sulle lame incrociate con la schiena mai girata verso le spade. Il danzatore che toccava la spada sarebbe stato ferito il giorno successivo sul campo di battaglia!

I’ll Hie Me To The Shieling Hill

A young girl prefers to marry Donald, the young shepherd rather than accept the courtship of the rich but old Callum, loving the life of the shepherd in the open air, rather than the air of the city
Una fanciulla preferisce sposare Donald, il giovane pastore piuttosto che accettare il corteggiamento del ricco ma vecchio Callum, perchè ama la vita del pastore all’aria aperta, piuttosto che l’aria della città.

Ross Kennedy in The Complete Songs of Robert Tannahill Volume I  (2006) 

I’ll hie me to the shieling hill,
And bide amang the braes, Callum,
Ere I gang to Crochan mill ,
I’ll live on hips and slaes, Callum.
Wealthy pride but ill can hide
Your runkl’d mizzly shins, Callum,
Lyart pow, as white’s the tow,
And beard as rough’s the whins, Callum.
Wily woman aft deceives!
Sae ye’ll think, I ween, Callum,
Trees may keep their wither’d leaves.
‘Till ance they get the green, Callum.
Blithe young Donald’s won my heart,
Has my willing vow, Callum,
Now, for a’ your couthy art,
I winna marry you, Callum.
Traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
Mi affretterò all’alpeggio (1)
e starò sulle colline, Malcom (2)
presto me ne andrò dal filatoio Crochan (3)
e vivrò sui pendii di prugnole (4) Malcom.
Il ricco orgoglio eccetto il male (5) può nascondere/ i tuoi stinchi chiazzati e rugosi (6), Malcom/ il capo striato, bianco come il lino
e la barba ruvida come le ginestre, Malcom.
La donna astuta spesso inganna!
Così penserai che io mi lamenti, Malcom
gli alberi possono conservare le foglie appassite,
fino a quando rinverdiranno, Malcom
il giovane e gioioso Donald vinse il mio cuore
e ha la mia promessa matrimoniale, Malcom
ora, nonostante la tua amicizia
non ti sposerò, Malcom

1) Shieling refers to a mountain pasture used for the grazing of cattle in summer, implying transhumance between there and a valley settlement in winter.  (from Wiki) [Un alpeggio utilizzato per il pascolo del bestiame in estate, che implica la transumanza tra lì e un insediamento vallivo in inverno] 
2) Callum= Malcom
3) PAISLEY (Renfrewshire) was a renowned textile center specializing in the processing of silk and cotton thread. The weavers were very skilled and with the introduction of the jacquard loom (1804) for the production of shawls with Kashmir design (Paisley shawls). But in 1700 the weavers still carried out their work in a traditional way, on manual looms and in the typical house-shop dwellings
Paisley era un rinomato centro tessile specializzato nella lavorazione del filo di seta e di cotone. I tessitori erano molto abili e con l’introduzione del telaio jacquard (1804) riuscirono a produrre disegni sempre più elaborati, sono rinomati soprattutto per la produzione di scialli con disegno Kashmir ( e che venivano esportai per il mercato indiano) diventati di moda dopo che la giovane regina Vittoria ne sfoggiò uno (Paisley shawls). Ma nel 1700 i tessitori svolgevano il loro lavoro ancora in modo artigianale, su telai manuali e nelle tipiche abitazioni casa-bottega. Crochan mill probabilmente era il posto di lavoro della ragazza, uno dei tanti opifici tessili di Paisley o Glasgow
4) hip= a curving projection on the lower slopes of a hill side;  slae= sloe, the blackthorn
5) una traduzione un po’ letterale di cui non colgo il significato forse ill= fortuna, fato
6) mizlie-shins= discoloured skin on the legs by sitting too close to the fire, or by exposing them to extreme cold


Land of Youth, l’Altrove celtico

Read the post in English

L’Altro Mondo viene descritto diffusamente nei racconti celtici come una terra meravigliosa. Altrove è un isola oltre il mare (o sotto il mare) situata simbolicamente ad Ovest. Sebbene Altrove si raggiunga solo con la morte, alcune leggende e poesie celtiche narrano di poeti, eroi semi-divini o semplici visitatori che ci sono arrivati in vita. (prima parte)


Il racconto arriva dall’Irlanda ed è Oisin (in italiano cerbiatto) poeta e guerriero dei Fianna o Feniani (vedi) conosciuto anche con il nome di Ossian, ad andare con Niamh dalla Chioma d’Oro, figlia di Manannan  il Dio del Mare irlandese a Tír na nÓg (La Terra della Giovinezza).
La fata si era innamorata di Oisin e delle sue poesie e lo convince a unirsi a lei per vivere “per sempre felici e contenti” in una Terra oltre il Mare.


Ecco le parole pronunciate da Niamh dalla Chioma d’Oro per convincere Oisin a montare sul suo cavallo bianco e seguirla nella sua “Isola della Giovinezza Eterna”.

Oisin a caccia incontra Niamh sul suo bianco cavallo
Oisin a caccia incontra Niamh sul suo bianco cavallo

(tratto da qui)
“Delightful is the land beyond all dreams,
Fairer than anything
your eyes have ever seen.
There all the year the fruit is on the tree,
And all the year the bloom is on the flower.
There with wild honey
drip the forest trees;
The stores of wine and mead shall never fail.
Nor pain nor sickness knows the dweller there,
Death and decay
come near him never more.
The feast shall cloy not, nor the chase shall tire,
Nor music cease for ever through the hall;
The gold and jewels of the Land of Youth
Outshine all splendors ever dreamed by man.
You will have horses of the fairy breed,
You will have hounds that can outrun the wind;
A hundred chiefs shall follow you in war,
A hundred maidens
sing thee to your sleep.
A crown of sovereignty your brow shall wear,
And by your side a magic blade shall hang,
And you will be lord
of all the Land of Youth,
And lord of Niamh of the Head of Gold.”
traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
“Deliziosa è la terra al di là di tutti i sogni
Più bella di ogni altra cosa
che i tuoi occhi abbiano visto mai.
Ci sono tutto l’anno frutti sugli alberi,
e tutto l’anno i boccioli sono in fiore.
Gocciolano di miele selvatico
gli alberi della foresta;
le scorte di vino e idromele non mancano mai.
Né dolore né malattia conosce colui che vi dimora,
la morte e la vecchiaia
non lo toccheranno mai più.
Delle feste e della caccia non ci si stanca,
né la musica smetterà di risuonare per la sala;
l’oro e gioielli della Terra della Giovinezza
oscurano tutti gli splendori mai sognati dall’uomo.
Avrai cavalli della razza fatata
avrai segugi che corrono più veloci del vento;
un centinaio di capi ti seguiranno in guerra,
un centinaio di fanciulle
canteranno per te che dormi.
Una corona di re porterai alla fronte,
e il tuo fianco con una lama magica cingerai,
e tu sarai signore
di tutta la Terra della Giovinezza,
e signore di Niamh dai capelli d’oro. “

Oisin & Niamh by Jim FitzPatrick


Ma dopo tre anni Oisin ebbe il desiderio di ritornare a visitare l’Irlanda, il padre e tutti i suoi compagni, la sua nostalgia rappresentava una nota stonata in quell’isola di perfezione perchè Oisin aveva perso la sua serenità; Niamh non si oppose al suo desiderio, ma gli raccomandò di non scendere mai dal cavallo che lo avrebbe riportato sulla terra cavalcando sul mare: un divieto un po’ oscuro la cui pericolosità non venne colta appieno da Oisin.
Ritornato nell’amata Irlanda i luoghi che conosceva erano svaniti, il padre era morto da centinaia d’anni, le grandi fortezze dei Fianna erano in rovina.

“Oisin and St. Patrick”, P.J. Lynch

Amareggiato, sulla via del ritorno, Oisin cadde di sella e divenne improvvisamente vecchio: i tre anni trascorsi sull’Isola dell’eterna Giovinezza corrispondevano a trecento anni sulla terra!
Secondo una versione della storia Oisin non morì ma sopravvisse magicamente fino all’arrivo in Irlanda di San Patrizio, al quale ebbe modo di narrare le gesta dei Fianna.
Così nel 1889 Yeats immagina il loro dialogo in “The Wandering of Oisin” (in italiano “Il vagabondaggio di Oisin”).

Land of Youth

Così nel 1992 Máire Brennan e Tim Jarvis traspongono la leggenda nella canzone intitolata “Land of Youth”: il coro in gaelico irlandese è l’invocazione incantatrice della Fata Niamh che ha attraversato il mare sul suo magico destriero.

Maire Brennan in Marie, 1992

Is gra geal mo chroi thu
Fan liom i gconai
Is gra geal mo chroi thu
Beith mise dilis
Is gra geal mo chroi thu
Tusa mo mhuirin
Is gra geal mo chroi thu
Fan ag mo thaobh sa
Beauty and grace(2) with golden hair
Eyes like pearls
Came from the sea
Wherever you will go I will go
Wherever you will turn I’ll follow so
Take me to the Land of Youth
Three hundred years (3)
Carried away on impulse
Followed my heart to the Land of Youth
Three hundred years and time stood still
Campanions calling (4)
There’s a warning
Three hundred years
Fallen to earth (5) the thunder sound(6)
Years overtake him
A grey old man
traduzione italiano Cattia Salto
“Tu sei l’amore lucente del mio cuore
resta sempre con me
Tu sei l’amore lucente del mio cuore
restami fedele
Tu sei l’amore lucente del mio cuore
sii il mio innamorato
Tu sei l’amore lucente del mio cuore
restami accanto”
I (la risposta di Oisin)
“Oh Bella Grazia dai capelli dorati
e occhi di perla
che vieni dal mare.
Ovunque tu andrai io andrò
ovunque ti sposterai io ti seguirò ancora,
portami nella Terra della Giovinezza”
300 anni
Rapito dall’impulso
seguii il mio cuore nella Terra della Giovinezza
300 anni e il tempo si fermò;
i compagni gridano
c’è un pericolo!
300 anni
caduto a terra, in un lampo
gli anni lo raggiunsero,
un vecchio uomo grigio

1) traduzione in inglese tratta da qui
You are the bright love of my heart
Stay with me always
You are the bright love of my heart
Be true to me
You are the bright love of my heart
You are my sweetheart
You are the bright love of my heart
Stay by my side
2) letteralmente  “Bellezza e grazia”, ho preferito considerare beautiful come aggettivo
3) 300 anni è il tempo che Oisin trascorre sull’Isola delle Fate mentre la fata gli fa credere che sono trascorsi soltanto 3 anni, o meglio i 3 anni sull’Isola corrispondono a 300 sulla Terra
4) nel sintetizzare la storia in pochi versi Maire trasforma la nostalgia di casa di Oisin in una preoccupazione nei confronti dei compagni di caccia, i Fianna; Oisin teme che siano in pericolo e vuole ritornare sulla Terra per aiutarli
5) la leggenda narra che Oisin nell’aiutare un gruppo di contadini a spostare un grosso masso, cade da cavallo e viene raggiunto dal tempo che fino ad allora  aveva ingannato
6) letteralmente “rombo del tuono”


Crònan Cuallaich a herding croon

Leggi in italiano

“Crònan Cuallaich” is a Scottish Gaelic song collected on the island of Benbecula (Hebrides) and also transcribed by Alexander Carmicheal in his “Carmina Gadelica” Vol I # 105.
In English “herding croon” is a prayer of protection, sung to the grazing cattle to keep it quiet. The structure, however, is that of the waulking song and as such handed down in the Hebrides.

Russet Highland Cattle, Uig Beach, Isle of Lewis. © J. Lynn Stapleton, 1st August 2013

The Highland cow looks very funny, it almost seems like a Himalayan jak, it is a bovine breed originally from Scotland, also known as Hebridean breed, Hairy Coo, Heilan Coo or Kyloe. With a long, thick and bristly fur and horns of up to one and a half meters it is docile in character, lives outdoors all year round and rarely gets sick. Its particular physical constitution is due to the adaptation to cold and even glacial climates. As far as one single race is concerned, there are two ancestors: one of black color and of smaller size, the other one of reddish color and of bigger size. The breed is very appreciated for its meat (lean and without cholesterol), and has been exported to various parts of the world in America, Australia and Europe, in Italy we find it in South Tyrol, Veneto, Liguria and Lombardy.

Distant Oaks in “Gach Là agus Oidhche: Music of Carmina Gadelica” 2003

An crodh an diugh a dol imirig,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Ho ro la ill o,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Dol a dh’ itheadh feur na cille,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Am buachaille fein ann ’g an iomain,
Ho ro la ill o,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
’G an cuallach, ’g an cuart, ’g an tilleadh,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Bride bhith-gheal bhi ’g am blighinn,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Muire mhin-gheal bhi ’g an glidheadh,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
’S Iosa Criosda air chinn an slighe,
Iosa Criosda air chinn an slighe.
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o.

english translation
The cattle are today going a-flitting(1),
Going to eat the grass of the burial place,(2)
Their own herdsman there to tend them,
Tending them, fending them, turning them,
Be the gentle Bride(3) milking them,
Be the lovely Mary keeping them,
And Jesu Christ at the end of their journey.
1) escaping on the sly
2) according to the testimony of Marjory Kennedy-Fraser the locality of reference is Grimnis (Griminish) in particular a fairy hill (a burial mound)
3) the goddess Bride is syncretically approached to Jesus Christ and to the Virgin Mary. The invocation to the Gruagach, the sea maid, a sort of guardian spirit of the house and of the cattle, is inevitable


The song is among those collected by Marjory Kennedy-Fraser in his trip to the Hebrides and merged in her book “Songs of the Hebrides“. The melody is also reported by Frances Tolmie who collected it at Kilmaluagon on the Isle of Skye.
Alison Pearce in Land of Hearts Desire – Songs of the Hebrides. A classical version (soprano and harp) with the arrangement of Kennedy-Fraser

Today the kye win to hill pasture,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Sweet the grass of cool hill pastures
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Breedja(3) fair white be at their milking,
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Lead the kye to the hill pastures
Hill-i-ruin is o h-ug o,
Today the kye “flit”(1) to hill pastures
There to graze on sweet hill grasses
Mary(1), gentle be at their keeping,
Keeping all out on hill pastures
1)Bride and the virgin Mary are confused in a single protective deity, or in this version of the rev Kenneth Macleod Mary is more prosaically a beautiful herdswiman. The task of watching cattle in the pastures was once reserved for boys and girls.

the kulning of Jonna Jinton

A pretty girl milking her cow


Crodh Chailein (Colin’s cattle) a highlands milking song

Leggi in italiano

In the rural economy of the past milking the cows (as well as the preparation of butter and cheese) was a task performed by women. Thus the wisdom of the Celtic women has given rise to a whole series of work songs, which are also spells to ward off the evil eye and to calm the cows, so that the milk production is abundant and blessed. It is well known that goblins are fond of butter and milk, and folklore includes witches and disturbing animals like milk suckers with hostile intentions, or determined to make the milk sour, or to prevent the transformation of the cream into butter!


A maiden milking a cow is a figure found carved on the walls of many medieval churches, and is a very old presence in the land of Ireland, or more generally along the coasts of Europe: already in the megalithism there are names like The Cow and Calf attributed to particular rocks.. see more

MILKING SONG: Colin’s cattle

In the peasant world there existed a whole series of prayers and invocations, often in the form of songs, which were part of the cultural baggage dating back to the time of the Druids; these Ortha nan Gaidheal in Scottish Gaelic, come from the bardic tradition that survived in the folklore, through the centuries of Christianity and despite the English cultural hegemony, and were collected and translated at the end of 1800 by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), who published them in his book “Carmina Gadelica”.

Adriaen_van_de_VeldeCrodh Chailein” ( “Colin’s cattle”) is classified as a “milking song” and recorded on the field by Alan Lomax (South Uist) in the 1950s: it is a lullaby whispered to the cows to keep them quiet during milking, and to stimulate them magically in the production of a lot of milk. Scottish cows are so used to this treatment that they do not give milk without a song !!
Listen these three milking songs in sequence:: “Crodh Chailein”, “Chiùinan Ghràidh” e “a’ Bhanarach Chiùin”

Ethel Bassin in her “The Old Songs of Skye: Frances Tolmie and her Circle” (1997) shows two verses of the song collected by Isabel Cameron of the Isle of Mull (internal Hebrides) along with the legend of its origin reported by Niall MacLeòid , “the Skye bard.”
Who sings is the woman kidnapped by the fairies on her wedding day and yet she gets permission to go every day to milk the cows of her husband named Colin: the husband can hear her singing but he can not see her. The bard assures us that the woman will return after one year and a day to her human husband! The abduction of the bride on wedding day was not so remote a possibility according to the beliefs of the time and there were many tricks to keep the fairies away in that occasion! (see more).
According to another legend, Colin’s wife dies at a young age and comes back a few months after her burial for the evening milking of the cows singing this song

Mary Cameron Mackellar writes in her essay ‘The Shieling: Its Traditions and Songs’ (Gaelic Society of Inverness 1889 from here) “Weird women of the fairy race were said to milk the deer on the mountain tops, charming them with songs composed to a fairy melody or “fonn-sith.”  One of these songs is said to be the famous “Crodh Chailein.”  I give the version I heard of it, and all the old people said the deer were the cows referred to as giving their milk so freely under the spell of enchantment. .. Highland cows are considered to have more character than the Lowland breeds, and when they get irritated or disappointed, they retain their milk for days.  This sweet melody sung – not by a stranger, but by the loving lips of her usual milkmaid – often soothes her into yielding her precious addition to the family supply.”
Mary Mackellar lyrics
Seist (chorus)
Chrodh Chailein, mo chridhe,
Crodh Iain, mo ghaoil,
Gun tugadh crodh Chailein,
Am bainn’ air an fhraoch.
Gun chuman, gun bhuarach,
Gun lao’-cionn, gun laogh,
Gun ni air an domhan,
Ach monadh fodh fhraoch.
Crodh riabhach breac ballach,
Air dhath nan cearc-fraoicb,
Crodh ‘lionadh nan gogan
‘S a thogail nan laogh.
Fo ‘n dluth-bharrach uaine,
‘S mu fhuarain an raoin,
Gun tugadh crodh Chailein
Dhomh ‘m bainn’ air an fhraoch.
Crodh Chailein, mo chridhe,
‘S crodh Iain, mo ghaoil,
Gu h-uallach ‘s an eadar-thrath,
A beadradh ri ‘n laoigh

The melody (see) also called Crochallan is also known as My Heart’s In The Highlands . The oldest version in print (text and score) is in “The Elizabeth Ross Manuscript” (1812)

Donald Sinclair from Tiree 1968

Between the Times

Scots Gaelic (from here)
Seist (chorus)
Crodh Chailein mo chridhe
Crodh chailein mo ghaoil
Gu’n tugadh crodh Chailein
Dhomh bainn’ air an fhraoch
Gu’n tugadh crodh Chailein
Dhomh bainn’ air an raon
Gun chuman(1), gun bhuarach
Gun luaircean(2), gun laugh.
Gu’n tugadh crodh Chailein
Dhomh bainne gu leoir
Air mullach a’ mhonaidh
Gun duine ‘nar coir
Gu bheil sac air mo chridhe
’S tric snidh air mo ghruaidh
agus smuairean air m’aligne
Chum an cadal so bhuam
Cha chaidil, cha chaidil
cha chaidil mi uair
cha chaidil mi idir
gus an tig na bheil uam.
The cattle of Colin my dearest,
The cattle of Colin my love,
Colin’s cattle would give me milk
Upon the heather
Colin’s cattle would give me milk
Upon the field,
without a cogue(1), without a shackle,
without a luaircean(2), without a calf.
Colin’s cattle would give
plenty of milk to me,
on top of the moor
without anyone near us.
There is a weigh on my dart,
and often tears on my cheek,
And sorrow on my mind
That has kept sleep from me.
I will not sleep, I will not sleep,
I will not sleep an hour,
I will not sleep at all
until what I long for returns.

1) cogue = wooden vessel used for milking cows
2) luaircean = a substitute calf, an inanimate prop over which the skin of a milk cow’s deceased calf was draped, in order to console her with it’s scent, thus encouraging her to continue to produce milk

Morvyn Menzies

English translation Charles Stewart*
I won’t sleep, I won’t sleep
I won’t sleep one hour,
I won’t sleep at all
Until what was taken returns.
May Colin’s cattle give me
Milk for their love of me,
At the top of the hill
With no one nearby.
Cows of my beloved Colin
Iain’s cows, my dear;
Cows that would fill up the milking bucket,
Cows that rear the calves
My heart is heavy,
Tears frequently on my cheeks,
My mind is dejected,
And this stops me sleeping.
I won’t go to the birch wood
Or gathering nuts;
On a brown, ragged plaid
I wait for the cows.
Scots Gaelic (from here)
Cha chaidil, cha chaidil,
Cha chaidil mi uair,
Cha chaidil mi idir
Gus an tig na bheil bhuam.
Gun toireadh crodh Chailein,
Dhomh bainn’ air mo ghaol,
Air mullach a’ mhonaidh,
Gun duine nar taobh.
Seist (chorus)
Crodh Chailein mo chridhe,

Crodh Iain, mo ghaoil;
Crodh lìonadh nan gogan,
Crodh togail nan laogh.
Gu bheil sac air mo chridhe,
’S tric snigh’ air mo ghruaidh,
Agus smuairean air m’ aigne,
Chùm an cadal seo bhuam.
Cha tèid mi don bheithe,
No thional nan crò;
Air breacan donn ribeach
Tha mi feitheamh nam bò.

* in “The Killin Collection of Gaelic Songs”

typical pipe band version

second part


Some Cradle songs from the Isle of Man

Leggi in italiano

In Manx Gaelic we have some lullabies from folklore, fairy melodies handed down from mother to daughter, which are the splits of life of the old time. The traditional music of the island has experienced a revival in the years of 1970 with a stirring of interest towards the local Gaelic and more generally of popular culture. Today Manks is taught thanks to the records of the 50-70 years released by the last Manx speakers. A great contribution to the compilation was made by Mona Douglas (1898-1987) who began collecting the songs from 1914 and until 1950 and who did a great job of classification and translation.

“The Smuggler’s Wife’s Song”

Also titled Arrane Ben Hraghtalagh, Smuggler’s Lullaby, Song Of The Smuggler’s Wife, it is a lullaby sung to the occasion, not so much to the child, as to the husband to warn him of the raid of the English excise men.

Caera in Suantraighe 2006

Mannin Folk 

English version
See the excise men are coming
(Sleep my little hero)
They’ll be seeking wine and whiskey
(Sleep my little hero)
Ah me, child of mine
Sleep my little hero
Daddy’s late and we must warn him
This time he’ll have nothing illegal
The Englishmen may board us
Nothing wrong they’ll discover
Let them searching on boat or dwelling
Nothing’s in the hold but herrings.
Manx Gaelic
Jeeagh quoi to cheet! T’an Ferny Keeshyn
(Chaddil oo my Laala!)
Shirraghey son ushteybio ny feeyney.
(Chaddil oo my Laala!)
Oghene, lhiannoo meein,
(Chaddil oo my Laala!)
Hig yn Fer thie ‘sy thie anmagh…
As cha bee noiraanaght echey…
Cuin vees ny Sostynee cheet orrin…
Cha vow ad rederbee meereiltagh…
Lhig daue shirr ayns thie ny baatey…
Beggan aynjee nish agh sceddan!


Mona Douglas classifies this song as originally composed in English and then translated into Manks. The text recalls the nursery rhyme “Rock-a-bye Baby” (in Mother Goose’s Melody 1765)

Rock-a-bye baby
On the tree tops,
When the wind blows,
The cradle will rock
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
and down will come Baby,
Cradle and all.

Cairistiona Dougherty & Paul Rogers in two versions

 with final melody composed of Caz (flute)

live (voice and guitar)


English translation Mona Douglas
O hush you my child, sleep while I sing
the wind blows your hammock will swing
But if the branch breaks down, down we shall fall
The babe in the cradle, the singer and all!
Oh hush my child on a wave born along
The tall ship is swaying, loud the wind’s song
‘Tis over the tide-ways, over the sea
Wrapped safe you will slumber sailing to me.
On the hills of the West, O child of my love
When darkens the twilight, peace broods above
But cobwebs of music (1) through the air go
Hark! Can you not hear them drift to and fro?
Manx Gaelic
O bee dty host, lhiannoo, er dty lunjean
Tra heidys y geay eisht leaystee yn clean
My brishys y bangan neose gys yn ooir
Hig lhiannoo as clean as ooilley nyn droor
O bee dty host, lhiannoo, er baare y tonn
Tra yllys yn geay lunjeanee y lhong
She harrish yn aarkey, harrish y cheayn
Ayns lhiabbee t’ou cadley, lhiannoo veg veen
Heear er y chronk glass, O lhiannoo my chree
Tra cheerys yn oie vees ooilley ec shee
Agh ass yn aer feayn hig snieuaneyn kiaull
Eaisht! Cluinnee uss adsyn syn troailt noon as noal?

1) The image of the spiders that weave the canvas in the silence of the night is very powerful: it is the concept of Wyrd, the Wyrd canvas which in ancient iconografy is represented by a network of lozenges.
It is a network of threads that runs through the earth, it is the link of destiny for which we are all bound one to others.

Arrane ny niee


Eirisionic carols or The Olive Branch

Leggi in italiano

In ancient Greece at the end of autumn and at spring it was practiced by children (boys) the ritual of “Eiresione” or Iresione, in which they carried from home to home, some olive branch (or laurel) decorated with red wool and white, various seasonal fruits and little jars of oil and honey, in hopes of receiving presents.
In this way they were thanking Gods (in particular Apollo, as God of the Sun) for the harvest.

Greek children carolling

The song, attributed to Homer (in Lifes of Homer pseudoerodotea), dates back to the 6th century BC and it is the forefather of the songs of begging perpetuated by the peasant tradition throughout Europe and in particular in the Piedmontese “canto delle uova” and “il canto della Strina” in Magna Graecia.
The beggars promise happiness to those who will give something and and promise of returning each year as the swallow.
The turrets of a man of infinite might
of infinite acrion, substance infinite,
we make access to; whose whole being rebounds
from earth to heaven, and naught but bliss resounds..

This garland is clearly the symbol of divinity, the arrival of God and the renewal of the year.
The ritual took place in two main festivals the Pyanepsie in the fall and the Tharghelie in the spring.

child bearing the Eiresione

The Pyanepsie, in fact, celebrated at the beginning of autumn in honor of Apollo or Helios and the Hore, foresaw that a young man with both living parents would bring an olive branch adorned with woolen bandages, fruits and animal products, called eiresion, which was posted on the gate of the temple of Apollo and on the entrance to the common houses, where it would remain until the following year, when it would be replaced by the new one. Pausanias traces the tradition back to Theseus who, leaving for Crete, had dedicated the branch in the temple of Apollo to Delos, and another would have brought it home when he returned after killing the Minotaur: “on this day we bring the eighion , a branch of olive tree wrapped in wool, as Teseo had once brought the branch of supplicants, full of firstfruits of every kind, to indicate the end of infertility, and sang: “Eiresione for us brings figs and bread of the richest, brings us honey in pots and oil to rub off from the body, Strong wine too in a beaker, that one may go to bed mellow.”
The same branch adorned with first fruits, oil, milk and honey also appears in the Targhelias of April-May, and one might think that it could be tracing an ancient rural custom aimed at propitiating the beginning of the harvest and thanking to its conclusion.(translated from here)

Eirene (Irene) is also the goddess of peace of the group of Hours “… the Goddess who dispenses wealth and makes young people grow …” (Euripides, the Bacchae 419/420) depicted with an olive branch and the cornucopia with little Pluto, the god of wealth, in her arms .

Horai (Hours) dance


It is Dionysus who leads the procession of the Horai, (the Hours) the three young ladies who personify the renewal of the nature, the daughters of Zeus and Themis, the Universal Order.

They are also the personification of the three Seasons: Thallo, the goddess of Spring who presides over the blossoming of plants; Auso or Auxo, which represents the summer luxuriance; Carpo, the goddess of Autumn that represents the maturity and the fruit of the plants.
At first 3 then 4, 10, they became 12 as months and 24 as hours.
The Horai were the guardian virgins of Olympus, with their circular dance (like the solar wheel), which making the door of Olympus appear or disappear in the clouds. They are depicted as they dance around the solar chariot of Apollo.

An idea of how dance took place, it comes from the Romanian folk tradition, with Hora