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Robert Tannahill's Legacy

Rabbie

Although not world-renowned like his great hero Robert Burns, Robert Tannahill is remembered today throughout Scotland. His name is firmly attached to the founding of what claims to be the "world's oldest formally constituted Burns Club in the world," its 40 members still meeting regularly in Tannahill's old cottage in Queen Street. His handwriting can be read in the opening pages of the minute book from his time as founding-secretary.

Of course, Tannahill's literary works are his real legacy. His first book of poems and songs was 175 pages in length and had to be financed on a subscription basis. He is often described as a shy man yet despite this, he managed to raise the money and to sell every one of the 900 copies. He obviously found this too personally exhausting and for the next volume relied on a publisher to produce the book. His fame also rests on what others have done with his works so for instance, the tune of "Waltzing Matilda" seems to have come from the music composed by Robert Barr for Tannahill's song, "The Bonnie Woods of Craigielea". His own song, "The Braes of Balquhidder" forms the basis of the folk song, "Wild Mountain Thyme" with its refrain, "Will ye go lassie, go".

Robert Tannahill left profile

The Poet was remembered for many years after his sad death, the memorial set over his grave in 1867 and another placed in Paisley Abbey in 1883 are evidence of the respect in which he was held. On the centenary of Robert's birth in 1874, a "Glen Concert" was held on the Gleniffer Braes above Paisley. These concerts continued until 1935, with choirs of 500-700 members performing his songs and hillside audiences of thirty thousand recorded.

They estimate there were 290 weaver poets in Paisley but it's Robert Tannahilll who is best remembered and the legacy of over 100 songs and poems he left to us.

The Wild Mountain Thyme (Will ye go lassie, go)

Wild mountain thyme

The song The Wild Mountain Thyme (Will ye go lassie, go) is usually credited to Francis McPeake senior, written sometime in the 1950's although some claim it was already sung by folk-singers before McPeake's version. It was sung on the radio in the BBC series "As I Roved Out" in 1957, by Francis McPeake's nephew of the same name. One thing all sources seem to agree on is that the current version was based on Robert Tannahill's "The Braes of Balquidder" although Grant states:

"Tannahill's melody is probably an earlier traditional air - he followed Robert Burns' interest in collecting and adapting traditional songs, and indeed he seems to have based this one on an even earlier song "The Braes o' Bowhether" - there is no evidence or local tradition that Tannahill ever actually visited Balquidder or indeed anywhere else in the Highlands."

Note from The Collected Works : "Balquhither is pronounced Balwhither, -quh expressing the sound wh in the Scottish language." Whoever wrote the songs, however you pronounce the words (and whatever the spelling!), you can see the lyrics below.

These two YouTube links offer contrasting treatments of the song. The Silencers play a modern folk version with a touch of humour while Lark and Spur offer a more romantic version with views of Scotland

The Wild Mountain Thyme - Will ye go lassie, go

  • Oh, the summertime is comin', (has come)
  • And the trees are sweetly blooming, (turnin')
  • Where the wild mountain thyme
  • Grows around the blooming heather (purple heather)
  • Will ye go, lassie, will ye go?
  • And we'll all go together to pick wild mountain thyme
  • All around the blooming heather.
  • Will ye go, lassie, will ye go?
  • I will build my love a bower (tower)
  • By yon pure crystal fountain
  • And around it I will place (and on it I will pile)
  • All the flowers of the mountain.
  • Will ye go, lassie, will ye go?
  • And we'll all go together to pick wild mountain thyme
  • All around the blooming heather.
  • Will ye go, lassie, will ye go?
  • If my true love e'er should leave me (she won't have me)
  • I would surely find another
  • Where the wild mountain thyme
  • Grows around the blooming heather.
  • Will ye go, lassie, will ye go?
  • And we'll all go together to pick wild mountain thyme
  • All around the blooming heather.
  • Will ye go, lassie, will ye go?
  • Oh, the autumn-time is comin',
  • And the leaves are gently falling,
  • Where the wild mountain thyme
  • Grows around the blooming heather
  • Will ye go, lassie, will ye go?
  • And we'll all go together to pick wild mountain thyme
  • All around the blooming heather.
  • Will ye go, lassie, will ye go?

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