Monday, August 15, 2005

Sunday's Song: MacPherson's Farewell

Over at Ezra's, I mentioned one of my favorite songs, Óró Sé Do Bheatha 'Bhaile. Another one, which I learned from the good people of the Harvard Celtic Society, is MacPherson's Farewell. (The song also goes by MacPherson's Lament and MacPherson's Rant, the latter of which seems more appropriate than the former.)

The story told by the song is over 300 years old -- Scottish bandit James MacPherson, the illegitimate son of a Highland lord and a Gypsy woman, was captured by the authorities and hanged. According to legend, he was a skillful fiddler, and on the gallows he played his fiddle and then offer it to anyone who would perform the subversive act of fiddling at his wake. Seeing no takers, he broke his fiddle right there so that it wouldn't fall into unworthy hands after his death. The fiddle was recovered by a member of his clan, and now it sits in the clan museum. Yet another legend is that local officials who wanted him killed were afraid of a pardon being delivered by higher authorities, so they put the town clock forward 15 minutes so they could hang him before the pardon would arrive.

I've never found a particularly good recording of this song. As for the lyrics, there's a whole bunch of different versions of this song to be found on the internet. I really have no idea which one most closely resembles whatever MacPherson originally said. When I sing it, I do the version I've linked to, but I swap out the anti-vengeance lyrics for a more fiery verse from the Robert Burns version:

I lived a life of sturt and strife;
I die by treachery
It burns my heart I must depart,
And not avenged be.

(I'm usually a pretty terrible singer. But practice makes better, and I've done these songs a couple hundred times. Apologies to my old Celtic Society buddies who had to suffer through the earlier versions.)


Anonymous said...

It is a bonnie song.

GreenWyvern said...


I found your old posting about McPherson's Rant while search for info on it.

There's an excellent version on YouTube here: