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Updated 02/05/2020


Loch Tay Boat Song
Annie C. MacLeod

Loch Tay is a freshwater loch in the central highlands of Scotland, in the Perth and Kinross and Stirling council areas. It is the sixth-largest loch in Scotland by area and over 490 feet deep at its deepest.

In the Iron Age, some of the Celtic people of the area lived on defensible, artificial islands in the loch, called crannogs (shown above). They are thought to have originated before 2000 BCE, though they continued to be built and used as dwellings and refuges into the Middle Ages. Crannogs (also found elsewhere in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales) not only afforded excellent protection from unruly neighbors but also from the more dangerous wild animals (wolves, bears, boars, and lynxes) that were once common in the British Isles. More than 20 crannogs (most now submerged) have been identified in Loch Tay.

The loch is a popular spot for salmon fishing, and many of its surroundings feature in the traditional Scottish 'Loch Tay Boat Song'. This is a very sad song in which the protagonist muses on unrequited love for a red-haired woman (a Nighean ruadh) whilst rowing at the end of a working day.

The tune was composed by Annie C. MacLeod. The words are by Sir Harold Boulton who also wrote Bonny Strathyre and The Skye Boat Song. Boulton (1859 June 1, 1935) was born in Charlton then part of Kent, was an English baronet, songwriter and philanthropist, most famously author of the lyrics to the Skye Boat Song. He first became interested in Scottish folk songs as an undergraduate at Oxford.


Lyrics by Sir Harold Boulton

When I've done my work of day
And I row my boat away
Down the waters o' Loch Tay
As the evening light is fading

And I look upon Ben Lawers
Where the after-glory glows
And I think on two bright eyes
And the merry mouth below

She's my beauteous nighean ruadh
She's my joy and sorrow too
And although she is untrue
Well, I cannot live without her

For my heart's a boat in tow
And I'd give the world to know
Why she means to let me go
As I sing horee horo
Nighean ruadh, your lovely hair
Has more glamour I declare
Than all the tresses rare
'tween Killin and Aberfeldy

Be they lint white, brown or gold
Be they blacker than the sloe
They are worth no more to me
Than the melting flake of snow

Her eyes are like the gleam
O' the sunlight on the stream
And the songs the fairies sing
Seem like songs she sings at milking

But my heart is full of woe
For last night she bade me go
And the tears begin to flow
As I sing horee, horo