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Mingulay Boat Song

[Hugh S. Roberton]

Sir Hugh Roberton (1874-1952) was conductor of the famous Orpheus Choir of Glasgow for which he made many choral arrangements of Scots songs. He also published Songs of the Isles (1950), a collection of traditional tunes for which he invented English words. Mairi's Wedding (the Lewis Bridal Song), Westering Home and the Mingulay Boat Song were all popularised by Roberton and they remain perennial favourites.

The remote, barren island of Mingulay lies to the south of Barra in the Western Isles. Sometimes referred to as ‘the nearer St Kilda’, it was a crofting and fishing community of about 160 people until 1912. Isolation, infertile land, lack of a proper landing place and the absentee landlord problems familiar to the Western Isles and Highlands, resulted in a gradual disintegration of Mingulay's culture. The process of voluntary evacuation began in 1907 with land raids by the impoverished crofters to the neighbouring island of Vatersay, and Mingulay is now completely deserted. But summer visitors to Barra regularly brave the two-hour journey in exposed seas from Castlebay to Mingulay, inspired by Roberton's evocative but sentimental song, which has no connection with either the island or its people.

Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor with The Galliards sang Mingulay Boat Song in 1961 on their Decca album Scottish Choice.

Paddy Hernon of Vancouver sang Mingulay Boat Song at the Seattle Chantey Festival during the American Sail Training Association's 1978 Tall Ships Pacific. This was published a year later on the Folkways album Sea Songs Seattle.

Welsh comedian and singer Max Boyce MBE sang Mingulay Boat Song in 1981 on his album It's Good to See You.

The Australian Band Lyrical Folkus sang Mingulay Boat Song in 1999 on their album The Persimmon Tree.

Richard Thompson sang Mingulay Boat Song in 2006 on the theme album Rogue's Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys.

Grace Notes sang Northern Ride / Mingulay Boat Song in 2007 as the title track of their Fellside CD Northern Tide. This track was also included in 2012 on their anniversary CD 20. Lynda Hardcastle commented in their liner notes:

I've been singing this beautiful song in the bath for year. It's yet another sea song! When we were rehearsing Linda Kelly's Northern Tide it naturally flowed into Mingulay. It's a song with a fantastic chorus that seems to resonate with folkies everywhere.

This YouTube video shows Grace Notes at the Ram Club, Thames Ditton, Surrey, in February 2011:

David Gibb and Elly Lucas were nominees for the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards 2011. Their Mingulay Boat Song was included on the anthology BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards 2011.

Lyrics

Grace Notes sing Mingulay Boat Song Richard Thompson sings Mingulay Boat Song

Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let her go, boys!
Bring her head round, and all together.
Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let her go, boys,
Sailing homeward to Mingulay.

Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let him go, boys!
Heave ahead, round and into the weather,
Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let him go, boys
Sailing homeward to Mingulay.

What care we though, white the Minch is?
What care we for wind or weather?
Pull her round, boys, every inch is
Heading homeward to Mingulay.

What care we though, white the Minch is?
What care we, boys, for windy weather?
When we know that every inch is
Closer homeward to Mingulay.

Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let her go, boys!
Bring her head round, and all together.
Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let her go, boys,
Sailing homeward to Mingulay.

Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let him go, boys!
Heave ahead, round and into the weather,
Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let him go, boys
Sailing homeward to Mingulay.

Wives are waiting by the harbour,
looking seaward from the heather;
Let her go, boys! And we'll anchor
'Ere the sun sets on Mingulay.

Wives are waiting at the pier head,
Gazing seaward from the heather;
Heave her head round and we'll anchor
'Ere the sun sets on Mingulay.

Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let her go, boys!
Bring her head round, and all together.
Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let her go, boys,
Sailing homeward to Mingulay.

Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let him go, boys!
Heave ahead, round, into the weather,
Hill-yo-ho, boys! Let him go, boys
Sailing homeward to Mingulay,
Sailing homeward to Mingulay.

Links

See also the Mudcat Café thread Mingulay Boat Song's Minch ??? , from which I also copied the first two paragraphs of text.