John O'Groat's House
Back to John O'Groat's House
JOHN O'GROAT'S HOUSE (Taigh Iain Ghròt). AKA and see "Johnny Groat's House (1)." Scottish, Reel. C Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB (Athole, Fraser, Hunter): AABB' (Kerr). Hunter (1988) notes that John O'Groats is a village on the north coast of Caithness, and 'John O'Groat's house' is mentioned in early 17th century chronicles. The family held lands in Canisbay from the 15th century onwards, and at some point there were eight families bearing this name. They would meet annually to feast until "disputes over precedence arose," which were settled by one "John O'Groat who built a house with an octagonal room and table so that all were 'head of the table'" (I believe this story was also told of one of the Irish O'Neills, featuring the line "Where O'Neill sits is the head of the table"-AK). This tune and "North Side of the Grampians" "form a medley, so popular on the north side of the Grampians as to rival any now current, being in sterling dancing style" (Fraser). The reel was probably composed by Capt. Simon Fraser.
The original John O'Groat was a Dutchman named Jan De Groot, who settled in Caithness and was given a license to operate a ferry to Orkney in 1486. Local lore has it that he built an octagonal house in the village that bears his name, and that he built an octagonal table so that he could eat with his many sons. The shape of the table prevented jealousies or arguments over who found favor by sitting closest to the head of the table. A similar title (but different melody) is Thomas Davis's "Johnny Grot's House (2)."
Source for notated version:
Printed sources: Fraser (The Airs and Melodies Peculiar to the Highlands of Scotland and the Isles), 1816/1874; No. 195, p. 81. Hunter (Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 189. Kerr (Merry Melodies), vol. 3; No. 124, p. 15. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 73.