Maids of Arrochar (The)

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MAIDS OF ARROCHAR, THE. AKA - "Maid of Arrochar." Scottish, Slow Air (6/8 time). D Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AABB. Arrochar is a village located near the head of Loch Long, Argyll and Bute, Scotland. It is overlooked by a group of mountains called the Arrochar Alps, and in particular the distinctive peak of The Cobbler. The air was composed by John MacDonald, Dundee, according to MacDonald in his Gesto Collection (1895, p. 35). The Gows also attributed it to John McDonald Esq. (a dancing master who also composed "The Memory of Joys that are past" and "The Contrivance") in their Fourth Collection (1800). However, tune was first published in John Bowie's 1789 collection.

An old postcard of Loch Long and the village of Arrochar, with Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond in the background.

"Maid of Arrochar" was the melodic vehicle poet Robert Tannahill (1774-1810) chose to set some verses to, a piece about the Scots hero William Wallace, although he himself did not think it was one of his better efforts. In a letter to James Barr, 19th July, 1806, he wrote: "According to promise, I send you two verses for the 'Maids of Arrochar;' perhaps they are little better than the last. I believe the language is too weak for the subject; however, they possess the advantage over the others of being founded on a real occurrence. The battle of Falkirk was Wallace's last, in which he was defeated with the loss of almost his whole army. I am sensible that to give words suitable to the poignancy of his grief, on such a trying reverse of fortune, would require all the fire and soul-melting energy of a Campbell, or a Burns." Tannahill's "Lament of Wallace After the Battle of Falkirk" begins:

Thou dark winding Carron, once pleasing to see,
To me thou can'st never give pleasure again;
My brave Caledonians lie low on the lea,
And thy streams are deep-ting'd with the blood of the slain,
Ah! base-hearted treachery has doom'd our undoing,--
My poor bleeding country, what more can I do?
Even valour looks pale o'er the red field of ruin,
And Freedom beholds her best warriors laid low.

The air has some currency in modern times among Cape Breton musicians, in particular harmonica player Tommy Basker and the Barra MacNeils.

Source for notated version:

Printed sources: Carlin (The Gow Collection), 1986; No. 347. Gow (Fourth Collection of Niel Gow's Reels), 2nd ed., originally 1800; p. 30. MacDonald (The Gesto Collection), 1895; p. 35. MacDonald (The Skye Collection), 1887; p. 182. O'Farrell (Pocket Companion, vol. II), c. 1806; p. 91.

Recorded sources: Tommy Basker - "The Tin Sandwich." The Barra MacNeil's - "The Traditional Album." Rounder 7059, Alex Francis MacKay with Gordon MacLean - "Gaelic in the Bow" (2005).

See also listing at:
Alan Snyder's Cape Breton Fiddle Recording Index [1]




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