by Mary Brooksbank (1897 – 1958)
(also known as "Love and Freedom" and "As I Cam Ower Strathmartine Mains")
As I cam by Strathmartine Mains
Wha dae ye think I seen
But a braw young piper laddie cam
A-linkin ower the green
Singin 'Hey Donal, Ho Donal
Dirrum a doo a day'
He played a reel, an he played a jig
An he played a sweet strathspey
He roosed ma hairt till the beat kept time
Tae the tappin o my tae
Oh I've nae gowd tae offer ye
For I've gaithered little gear
But we'll hae love an freedom
Gin ye'll follow me my dear
There's gowd in the broom o the Sidlaw Hills
Honey frae the heather sweet
There's a speckled troot in the purlin tarn
A velvet carpet 'neath oor feet
Syne he blew up his chanter
An sic a spring he plays
That I chose love an freedom
Now ah wander a' my days
A-linkin : moving fast, walking briskly
Chanter: Pipe on which a bagpipe melody is played
Mains: the home farm of an estate
Purlin : flowing with a swirling movement
( Mary Brooksbank had ‘hidlin’ –‘secret’-
according to Songs and Ballads of Dundee)
Spring: lively dance-tune
Tarn: small mountain loch
Christine Kydd brought this song to Sangschule.
Former mill-worker Mary Brooksbank told Maurice Fleming, as the song would suggest: “I’ve aye loved the countryside. If I hadn’t lived my life in Dundee I’d have liked it to be in the country. I was a great walker when I was young.” Often she escaped the city at weekends to ramble with friends in the Sidlaws and along the Carse of Gowrie to Longforgan.
An interview in Chapbook vol.3, no.4 in 1966 says that she was born in a single-end in Aberdeen where her father worked on the docks and helped to establish the Dockers' Union. Next door lived "a happy gallus family, who travelled all summer and came back to roost in winter. One of the McPhail boys played the squeeze-box and they sang like linties." From this traveller family Mary's mother, herself a fine singer, picked up the tune to which Mary was later to put the words of this song.
Nigel Gatherer in Songs and Ballads of Dundee says that the Brooksbanks were a singing family, and that it was “while Mary was nursing her sick mother that she began writing poetry and songs, which she eventually published in 1966, in a collection called Sidlaw Breezes. The cost of the book was covered by Mary herself, and she lost money on it.” It was reprinted after her death by David Winter and Son Ltd., at the instigation of Dundee writer David Phillips but is out of print again.
Dundee journalist and writer Maurice Fleming interviewed Mary Brooksbank in 1966 for Chapbook when she was a tiny, stocky woman in her sixties, who sang and played the fiddle at Dundee Folk Club. He recorded and collected her songs.
Mary said that she hadn’t a stitch when she was born : “My mither had nothing for me – nothing. But all the neighbours rallied roon and gave her this and that. They rigged me oot. And they bathed my eyes. Afterwards my mither blamed that for me bein nearly blind for so long. ….Maybe it was something these women did, even though they meant well.” She was nearly blind for her first year.
When Mary was eight, the family sailed on the “Princess Maud” for Dundee. A coal merchant carried their belongings to the boat, and her mother gave him a yellow canary for his trouble. Nigel Gatherer says her mother was originally a fisher lass, but worked in the jute mills in Dundee, often leaving Mary to look after the younger children. Mary was largely self-educated. Her father was often unemployed and away for weeks looking for work.
Mary started work as a shifter at thirteen in the Baltic Jute Mill and became a spinner at fifteen. She became politically active very young and “led protest marchers through the streets of Dundee in the Twenties.” There was much more to this self-educated former mill-worker than first appeared, and Hamish Henderson was to describe her as “a heroine of the working class movement in Dundee, and a free-spoken, free-thinking old rebel who got thrown out of the CP for denouncing Stalin in the early thirties.”
Tim Neat, in his biography of Hamish Henderson, tells how “in 1970, at the age of 73, she went out to Hanoi to tend the wounded and help rebuild a city being bombed ‘round the clock’ by B52 bombers.” From Hanoi she sent Hamish a postcard saying that, in spite of the poverty of the people, their life had a quality which made it seem to her like paradise – “like the dreaming of all great revolutionaries.” According to Neat, Mary Brooksbank “gave her life to peace campaigning and the communist cause.”
She figures in the website: www.dundeewomenstrail.org.uk
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