Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

Tales of Scottish traditional and newer songs sung by Sangschule of Linlithgow

Birnie Bouzle

 adapted from a poem/song by James Hogg  (1770 – 1835)
Air:‘The Braes O’ Tullymet’

(Chorus 1)
Gin ye'll mairry me lassie
At the kirk o Birnie Bouzle
Till the day ye dee lassie
Ye will ne'er repent  it

Ye will wear when ye are wed
A kirtle and a Hielan plaid
An lie upon a heather bed
Sae couthy an sae canty

(Chorus 2)
Ye will gang sae braw lassie
Tae the kirk o Birnie Bouzle
Little brogues an a’, lassie
Vow but ye'll be canty

Yer wee bit tocher is but sma
But hoddin grey will wear for a’
I'll save my siller tae mak ye braw
An ye will ne'er repent it
Chorus 1

We'll hae bonny bairns an aa
Some lassies fair and laddies braw
Jist like their mither ane and aa
An yer faither he's consentit
Chorus 1

I'll hunt the otter an the brock
The hart, the hare, the heather cock
I'll pu ye limpets frae the rock
Tae mak ye dishes dainty
Chorus 1

Words:
Braw:
fine
Brock: badger
Brogues: historically a Highlander’s shoe of untanned hide stitched with leather
Canty: cheery
Couthy: snug, pleasant
Gin: if
Hart: stag
Heather cock: grouse, black or red
Hoddin grey: homespun woollen cloth, undyed
Kirtle: short skirt, outer petticoat
Plaid: length of tartan woollen cloth worn as an outer garment or as a woman’s shawl
Siller: silver, money
Tocher: bride’s dowry
Vow: exclamation of admiration or surprise

Gordeanna McCulloch brought this song to Sangschule. The tune is a strathspey and Tulliemet is a hamlet in Perthshire near Ballinluig.

“Birniebouzle” stems directly from a song written by James Hogg (1770-1835). The Saltire Society’s edition of his works comments on the name: “possibly deriving from birnie (‘land covered with birns, i.e. scorched stems of heather’) and bouzy (‘covered with bushes’). The editors’ note goes on: “It has the marks of an imaginary name for a barren stretch of land, which may derive from folklore or Hogg himself.”

Norman Buchan (editor of 101 Scottish Songs) heard the song from Isabel Sutherland and followed up by visiting Aggie Stewart of Banff from whom he got two more verses. He felt that though Hogg’s  “Birniebouzle” was the origin of the song, it had changed and developed considerably by oral transmission” However our version is less rich than Hogg’s in one line; we repeat ‘canty’ in our second chorus where he has ‘vaunty’ meaning proud.

Hogg’s story takes a different shape; the man makes a discouraging list of things she won’t have as well as the dainties she will, like porcupine and seal, and draws a picture of a hard life to come. Only when she says she’ll put up with anything and be a hardworking wife does he reveal that he is rich after all. What she said after that, Hogg does not record.

This version appeared in Hogg’s The Forest Minstrel (1810). Hogg wrote in his 1831 collection that ‘this has been a popular street song for nearly thirty years.’
Will ye gang wi me, lassie,/To the braes o’Birniebouzle?
Baith the earth an’ sea, lassie,/ Will I rob to fend ye (
maintain)
I’ll hunt the otter an’ the brock; / The hart, the hare, an’heather-cock;
An’ pu’ the limpat off the rock, To fatten an’ to fend ye.

If ye’ll gang wi’ me, lassie, /To the braes o’Birniebouzle,
Till the day ye dee, lassie, / Ye sall aye hae plenty:
The peats I’ll carry in a skull;
(basket) / The cod an’ ling wi’ lines I’ll pull;
An reave the eggs o’ mony a gull,
(steal) / To mak ye dishes dainty.

Sae cheery will ye be, lassie,/ I’ the braes o’Birniebouzle;
Donald Gun and me, lassie,
(name for Highlander) / Ever will attend ye.
Though we hae nouther milk nor meal, /Nor lamb nor mutton, beef nor veal,
We’ll fank
  (snare)the porpy(porpoise) an’ the seal,/ An’ that’s the way to fend ye.

An’ ye sall gang sae braw, lassie,/ At the kirk o’Birniebouzle;
Wi’ littit
(little) brogs an’ a’ lassie,/ Vow but ye’ll be vaunty; (proud)                     
An ye sal wear, when you are wed, / The kirtle an’ the Highland plaid,
An’ sleep upon a heather bed, / Sae cozy an’ sae canty

“ If ye will marry me, laddie,/ At the kirk o’Birniebouzle;
My chiefest aim shall be, laddie,/ Ever to content ye:
I’ll bait the line an’ bear the pail,/ An’ row the boat an’ spread the sail,
An dadd
(strike)the clotters (lumps, clots) wi’ a flail, / To mak our tatoes plenty.” (tatties)                        

“Then come awa wi’ me, lassie, / To the braes o’Birniebouzle;
An’ since ye are sae free, lassie,/ Ye sall ne’er repent ye:
For ye sal hae baith tups
(rams) an’ ewes, / An’ gaits (goats)an’ swine, an’ stots (bullocks)an’ cows, 
An’ be the lady o’ my house, / An’ that may weel content ye.