> Danny Spooner > Songs > Kishmul’s Galley

Beinn a’ Cheathaich (The Misty Mountain) / Kishmul’s Galley

[ Roud - ; Henry H535(b) ; Ballad Index K002 ; Mudcat 8189 , 11832 ; trad.]

Sam Henry’s Songs of the People

Flora MacNeil of Barra, Outer Hebrides, sang the Gaelic waulking song Beinn a’ Cheathaich (The Misty Mountain) on the anthology Sailormen and Servingmaids (The Folk Songs of Britain Volume 6; Caedmon 1961; Topic 1970).

Calum and Annie Johnston sang Latha dhomh ’s mi ’m Beinn a’ Cheathaich (One Day When I Was in the Mountain of Mist) in a recording made on between 1953 and 1972 on their 2010 Greentrax CD Songs, Stories and Piping from Barra (Scottish Tradition 13).

The Poozies sang Beinn’ a’ Cheathaich (The Misty Mountain), on their 1995 CD Dansoozies.

Darren MacLean sang Beinn a’ Cheathaich on the TMSA Young Trad Tour 2005.

Ray and Archie Fisher sang Kishmul’s Galley, “one of the Hebridean songs made famous in a rather poetic English version by Kennedy-Fraser”, on the 1964 Decca anthology Edinburgh Folk Festival Vol. 2.

Owen Hand sang Keishmul’s Galley on his 1966 Transatlantic album I Loved a Lass. He noted:

This song, which I first heard sung by Ray and Archie Fisher, is a rough translation from a heroic Gaelic ballad.

Nigel Denver sang Kishmul’s Galley on his 1967 Decca album Rebellion!.

Norman Kennedy sang Kishmul’s Galley in 1968 on his Folk-Legacy album Ballads & Songs of Scotland. The album’s booklet commented

In its natural state, this is a waulking song, one of the few types of work song still sung in the British Isles. Waulking is the method used in the Outer Hebrides to shrink the newly woven cloth, which is sewn together to form a complete circle and then soaked in hot urine. It is placed on a table, on either side of which are two rows of women who pass the cloth round sunwise, using a rhythmic, kneading motion in time to the song. The chorus, or fonn, is sung by the whole company and is usually a set of meaningless vocables. The solo singer sings the narrative lines, and often these pieces are of great length.

Kishmul’s Galley is well known outside of Gaeldom because of its appearance in the Marjory Kennedy-Fraser collection, although it is there so arranged as to give little idea of the traditional manner of performance.

Kishmul’s (Kisimul’s) Castle was built in the 13th century at the southern end of the Isle of Barra and was the stronghold of the MacNeills of Barra. The chiefs of the MacNeills were famous for their self-esteem, and it is said that every evening after the chief had eaten, the MacNeill’s piper was sent out onto the battlements to announce “The MacNeill has dined. The other potentates of the earth may now dine.” They even had their own version of the story of the flood, in which God is said to have told Noah to invite, as well as a pair of each species of animal, the MacNeill chief and his wife. A messenger was duly sent to Barra and returned with the chief’s thanks, but also with the reply, “The MacNeill has a boat of his own.”

Danny Spooner, accompanied by Mick Farrell, sang Kishmul’s Galley in 1978 on their album Limbo. He noted:

This rowing song from the Hebrides has been translated from the Gaelic, and while still a fine song in this form, it will have lost a lot in translation. The people of these and other Scottish Islands were fierce pirates, and often left their impregnable island fortresses to harry other islands and the mainland. Such was their reputation that Elizabeth I was forced to make a peace treaty with them. Kennedy and Lomax (Caedmon collection) believe this type of song, known as ‘waulking song’, came to Scotland from Scandinavia and relates to similar songs which they collected on the Faeroe Islands.

I happened to singing it one night at Ian Ball’s ‘shack’ and the effect on ‘the Farrell’ was such that he begged Ian to turn on the recorder and wove a bit of uilleann pipes around it. I wonder it it would ever work so well again?

Jim and Sylvia Barnes sang Kishmul’s Galley on their 1991 album Mungo Jumbo.

Davy Steele sang Kishmul’s Galley on his 1997 CD Chasing Shadows.

Old Blind Dogs sang this with the title Gaelic Song in 2007 on their CD Four on the Floor. They noted:

A great waulking song from the Isle of Barra, where Rory [Campbell]’s Dad is from. It recounts the vision of a galley approaching Kisimul Castle, the seat of the Clan MacNeill, and the hospitality that awaits.

Barbara Dickson sang Kishmul’s Galley in 2011 on her Greentrax album Words Unspoken.


The Poozies sing Beinn’ a’ Cheathaich

Latha dhomh ’s mi ’am Beinn’ a’ Cheathaich

Chorus (after each verse):
Air far a la lo ro ho bhi ho
Hoireann is o ho ro hi o ho
Hi ri ho ro ho bha h ohug o ro

Faicinn do bhàt’ a bhith gabhail

Mach o dhùthaich Mhic Gilleathain

Steach gu Ciosmail an aighear

Far am faighte cuirm ri gabhail

Ol fion o’ oidhche gu latha

Sioda donn ga chur air mnhathan

Pìobaireachad na feadan laghach


One day I was on the Misty Mountain

Watching your boat being brought

From the land of MacLean

Into Kishmul of the merry making

Where there was feasting and drinking

From night ’til day.

Brown silk on women and

Piping from fine chanters.

Danny Spooner sings Kishmul’s Galley

High upon Bennachie
On the day of days seawards I gaze
Watching Kishmul’s galley sailing

Chorus (after each verse):
Ah-hee ya-hoo fol-you-oh

Bravely home she battled
’Gainst the hurtling waves
No more no rope
Anchor cable or tackle has she

Now at last ’gainst wind and weather
They’ve brought her to
’Neath Kishmul’s walls
Kishmul castle o’ ancient glory

Here’s the red wine
And feast for heroes
And the harping too, ah-hee ya-how
Sweet harping too ah-hee ya-hoo

(repeat first verse)

Davy Steele sings Kishmul’s Galley

High on Bennachie
On that day of days seaward I gaze
Watching Kishmul’s galley sailing

Chorus (after each verse):
Ahee ahowlow valee ahowlow

Bravely against wind and tide
They have brought us
To ’neath Kishmul’s walls,
Kishmul’s castle of ancient glory.

Here’s red wine,
A toast of heroes
And harping too and harping too
Watching Kishmul’s galley sailing

(repeat first verse)