Sangstories - Stories of Scottish Songs

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

The Boatie Rows

   
by John Ewen  18th C

Oh weel may the boatie row
An muckle may she speed
Weel may the boatie row
That wins oor bairnies' breid

The boatie rows, the boatie rows,
The boatie rows fu weel,
An’ muckle luck maintain the boat,
The murlin an the creel

We dropped oor lines in Largo Bay
An fishes we got nine,
There's three t' bile an three t' fry,
An three t' bait the line

When Sandy, Jock and Janetie
Are up an gotten lear
They'll help t' gar the boatie row
An lighten a’ oor cares

Oh weel may the boatie row
That fills a heavy creel
An helps t' clad oor bairns an’ aa
An buys oor porridge meal

Words:
Gar
: make
Lear: learning
Murlin: round, narrow-mouthed basket used by fishermen

Scott and Anne Murray of Sangsters taught Sangschule this song.

According to Robert Chambers in Scottish Songs Prior To Burns (1890): “ This beautiful song of the domestic affections, which Burns thought nearly equal to "There’s Nae Luck About The House" was stated by him to have been the composition of  ‘a Mr Ewen of Aberdeen’, and the statement has never been contradicted. The person referred to appears to have been Mr John Ewen, a dealer in hardware in Aberdeen, who died on the 21st of October 1821, at the age of eighty. He was a native of Montrose, and at his death he destined his entire fortune, of about £16,000, for the founding of a hospital for the nurture and education of poor children in that burgh. It will be learned with surprise, that in this destination he overlooked a daughter who had married, as he probably thought, imprudently – a strange comment of fact upon the sentiment so touchingly indicated in the song. The will, however, was set aside by a decision of the House of Lords.”

There are 7 verses shown in Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum Vol.5 (P.427), and in Scottish Songs Prior To Burns edited by Chambers, who says that ‘it was customary to give only the first, second and sixth verses.’
Here is the old text given by Chambers. The ‘choruses’ tend to differ, relating to the verse they follow. (In Johnson’s older version, every one differed.)

O weel may the boatie row, (glide easily)  / And better may she speed! / And weel may the boatie row,/ That wins the bairns’ bread! / The boatie rows, the boatie rows,/ The boatie rows indeed / And happy be the lot of a’ /That wishes her to speed!

I cuist my line in Largo Bay/ And fishes I caught nine, / There’s three to boil, and three to fry,/ And three to bait the line. / The boatie rows, the boatie rows,/ The boatie rows indeed / And happy be the lot of a’,/ That wishes her to speed!

O weel may the boatie row/ That fills a heavy creel / And cleads (clads, clothes)  us a’ frae head to feet/ And buys our parritch-meal / The boatie rows, the boatie rows, /The boatie rows indeed / And happy be the lot of a’,/ That wish the boatie speed

When Jamie vow’d he would be mine,/ And wan frae me my heart / O muckle lighter grew my creel, / He swore we’d never part / The boatie rows, the boatie rows,/The boatie rows fu’ weel, / And muckle lighter is the lade, (load)  / When love bears up the creel.               

My kurch (headscarf) I put upon my head,/ And dress’d mysel fu’ braw,                  
I trow my heart was douf
(dull, sad) and wae /When Jamie gaed awa’. / But weel may the boatie row,/ And lucky be her part; / And lightsome(light, carefree) be the lassie’s care,/ That yields an honest heart!  
        
When Sawnie,(Sandy) Jock, and Janetie,/ Are up, and gotten lear, (learning) / They’ll help to gar (make) the boatie row,/ And lighten a’ our care./ The boatie rows, the boatie rows,/ The boatie rows fu’ weel, / And lightsome be her heart that bears/ The murlain, and the creel! (fish baskets)

And when wi’ age we’re worn down,/ And hirpling (hobbling) round the door, / They’ll row to keep us hale (healthy) and warm/ As we did them before / Then, weel may the boatie row,/ That wins the bairns’ bread / And happy be the lot of a’,/ That wish the boat to speed!