Popular Ballads of the Olden Time

The following is from Popular Ballads of the Olden Time: Third Series - Ballads of Scottish Tradition and Romance Selected and Edited by Frank Sidgwick:

The Battle of Harlaw

The Text of this ballad was sent to Professor Child by Mr. C. E. Dalrymple of Kinaldie, Aberdeenshire, from whose version the printed variants (Notes and Queries, Third Series, vii. 393, and Aytoun's Ballads of Scotland, i. 75) have been more or less directly derived.

The ballad is one of those mentioned in The Complaynt of Scotland (1549), like the 'Hunttis of Chevet' (see p. 2 of this volume). It is again mentioned as being in print in 1668; but the latter may possibly refer to a poem on the battle, afterwards printed in Allan Ramsay's Evergreen. The fact that the present ballad omits all reference to the Earl of Mar, and deals with the Forbes brothers, who are not otherwise known to have taken part in the battle, disposes Professor Child to believe that it is a comparatively recent ballad.

The Story--The battle of Harlaw was fought on July 24, 1411. Harlaw is eighteen miles north-west of Aberdeen, Dunidier a hill on the Aberdeen road, and Netherha' is close at hand. Balquhain (2.2) is a mile south of Harlaw, while Drumminnor (15.3) is more than twenty miles away--though the horse covered the distance there and back in 'twa hours an' a quarter' (16.3).

The ballad is narrated by 'John Hielan'man' to Sir James the Rose (derived from the ballad of that name given earlier in the present volume) and Sir John the Gryme (Graeme). 'Macdonell' is Donald of the Isles, who, as claimant to the Earldom of Ross, advanced on Aberdeen, and was met at Harlaw by the Earl of Mar and Alexander Ogilvy, sheriff of Angus. It was a stubborn fight, though it did not last from Monday to Saturday (23), and Donald lost nine hundred men and the other party five hundred.

Child finds a difficulty with the use of the word 'she' in 4.3, despite 'me' in the two previous lines. Had it been 'her,' the difficulty would not have arisen.

As I cam in by Dunidier,
  An' doun by Netherha',
There was fifty thousand Hielan'men
  A-marching to Harlaw.
    Wi' a dree dree dradie drumtie dree

As I cam on, an' farther on,
  An' doun an' by Balquhain,
Oh there I met Sir James the Rose,
  Wi' him Sir John the Gryme.

'O cam ye frae the Hielan's, man?
  An' cam ye a' the wey?
Saw ye Macdonell an' his men,
  As they cam frae the Skee?'

'Yes, me cam frae ta Hielan's, man,
  An' me cam a' ta wey,
An' she saw Macdonell an' his men,
  As they cam frae ta Skee.'

'Oh was ye near Macdonell's men?
  Did ye their numbers see?
Come, tell to me, John Hielan'man,
  What micht their numbers be?'

'Yes, me was near, an' near eneuch,
  An' me their numbers saw;
There was fifty thousan' Hielan'men
  A-marchin' to Harlaw.'

'Gin that be true,' says James the Rose,
  'We'll no come meikle speed;
We'll cry upo' our merry men,
  And lichtly mount our steed.'

'Oh no, oh no,' says John the Gryme,
  'That thing maun never be;
The gallant Grymes were never bate,
  We'll try phat we can dee.'

As I cam on, an' farther on,
  An' doun an' by Harlaw,
They fell fu' close on ilka side;
  Sic fun ye never saw.

They fell fu' close on ilka side,
  Sic fun ye never saw;
For Hielan' swords gied clash for clash
  At the battle o' Harlaw.

The Hielan'men, wi' their lang swords,
  They laid on us fu' sair,
An' they drave back our merry men
  Three acres breadth an' mair.

Brave Forbės to his brither did say,
  'Noo, brither, dinna ye see?
They beat us back on ilka side,
  An' we'se be forced to flee.'

'Oh no, oh no, my brither dear,
  That thing maun never be;
Tak' ye your good sword in your hand,
  An' come your wa's wi' me.'

'Oh no, oh no, my brither dear,
  The clans they are ower strang,
An' they drive back our merry men,
  Wi' swords baith sharp an' lang.'

Brave Forbės drew his men aside,
  Said 'Tak' your rest awhile,
Until I to Drumminnor send,
  To fess my coat o' mail.'                    ['fess,' fetch]

The servant he did ride,
  An' his horse it did na fail,
For in twa hours an' a quarter
  He brocht the coat o' mail.

Then back to back the brithers twa
  Gaed in amo' the thrang,
An' they hewed doun the Hielan'men,
  Wi' swords baith sharp an' lang.

Macdonell he was young an' stout,
  Had on his coat o' mail,
An' he has gane oot throw them a',
  To try his han' himsell.

The first ae straik that Forbės strack,  ['ae,' one]
  He garrt Macdonell reel,
An' the neist ae straik that Forbės strack,
  The great Macdonell fell.

An' siccan a lierachie                           ['lierachie,' confusion, hubbub]
  I'm sure ye never saw
As wis amo' the Hielan'men,
  When they saw Macdonell fa'.

An' whan they saw that he was deid,
  They turn'd an' ran awa,
An' they buried him in Leggett's Den,
  A large mile frae Harlaw.

They rade, they ran, an' some did gang,
  They were o' sma' record;
But Forbės an' his merry men,
  They slew them a' the road.

On Monanday, at mornin',
  The battle it began,
On Saturday, at gloamin',
  Ye'd scarce kent wha had wan.

An' sic a weary buryin'
  I'm sure ye never saw
As wis the Sunday after that,
  On the muirs aneath Harlaw.

Gin ony body speer at you                              ['speer at,' ask of]
  For them ye took awa',
Ye may tell their wives and bairnies
  They're sleepin' at Harlaw.

The Laird of Knottington


Copyright © Scotland from the Roadside 2016