Translate this page into  
Translation by GO! Network


Origins of traditional songs

I'm starting a collection here of interesting stories about the origins of traditional songs, or those songs thought to be traditional. I'll keep adding to it as I find more information. The songs available are:

Mairi's Wedding

Linn Schulz in Nottingham, New Hampshire, supplied the following article from the Glasgow Daily Record, date unknown, to the SCOTS-L mailing list:

Step we gaily on we go, this IS Mairi's wedding
Now it's All for Mairi's birthday!
She'll still be singing at 90

by Stephen Houston

Millions of Scots have sung Mairi's Wedding. And now, thanks to the Record, they can meet the bride herself.

For one of our best-loved tunes was written for Mary McNiven.

And the OAP is still stepping gaily, even though she'll be NINETY tomorrow.

Scots schoolkids have been learning the song for generations, and it's a firm favourite all over the world.

At her cottage on Islay yesterday, Mary said: "I can't believe it became so popular. But when it was first played to me I found it very catchy—and I still do."

The song was originally written in Gaelic—that's why she was "Mairi" instead of "Mary"—for the Mod of 1935.

Her pal Johnny Bannerman composed it and it was first played to her at the Old Highlanders Institute in Glasgow's Elmbank Street.


"I still have a clear recollection of that day," said Mary. "Johnny just said the song was for me."

It was translated into English a year later, by Sir Hugh Robertson.

Although Mary herself was real, the wedding wasn't. For she didn't get hitched to Skye-born sea captain John Campbell until six years later. John died 17 years ago.

Mum of two, Mary, who won a Mod gold medal for singing in 1934, will enjoy a family birthday party in Glasgow this weekend. And it won't be complete without the famous song.

Her daughter Christine, a teacher from Hyndland, Glasgow, said: "Mum still sometimes sings it in Gaelic and people are always asking her to. I suspect she'll sing it to celebrate her birthday."

(The article is accompanied by a photograph of Mary by William Thornton and a copy of her wedding picture.)

The tune for this song can be found in the Marjorie Kennedy-Fraser collection of music of the Hebrides, published in the early 20th century. It is untitled.

George Seto contacted me from Nova Scotia, where he has a nice collection of Gaelic songs, including the original words to Mairi's Wedding, which are reproduced below.

Màiri Bhàn
Fonn: Mairi's Wedding
     'S i mo ghaol-sa Màiri Bhàn
      Màiri bhòidheach sgeul mo dhain
      Gaol mo chridh'-sa Màiri Bhàn
      'S tha mi 'dol 'ga pòsadh
1.  Thuit mi ann an gaol an raoir
    Bha mo chridhe shuas air beinn
    Màiri Bhàn ri m' thaobh a' seinn
    Tha mi 'dol 'ga pòsadh
2.  'S ann aig céilidh aig a' Mhòd
    Thachair mise ris an òigh'
    'S ise choisinn am Bonn Oir
    'S tha mi dol 'ga pòsadh
3.  Bi mo ghaol do Mhàiri Bhàn
    Dìleas, dùrachail gu bràth
    Seinnidh sinn d'a chéil' ar gràdh
    'S tha mi dol 'ga pòsadh

Go to the traditional song index page.

BookGo to music encyclopedia directory

Hearth Go to The Standing Stones home page

Lighthouse Go to the Standing Stones Site Map (listing of the entire contents of this website)

Stonehenge border

STANDING STONES is registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office as a federal service mark. Unauthorized use of this mark for performing live or recorded music, or providing music-related information over the Internet, in interstate commerce in the United States, is prohibited. For full details on the activities covered by this mark, consult the US Patent and Trademark Office database.

Stonehenge border