Sheep Shanks

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X:1 T:Sheep Shanks M:C| L:1/8 R:Reel B:Stewart-Robertson – The Athole Collection (1884) Z:AK/Fiddler’s Companion K:A g|a2ed cAec|Bcde fBbg|a2ed cAec|dfec A/A/A A:| e|cAEA cAec|Bcde fBfd|cAEA cAec|dfec A/A/A Ae| cAEA cAec|Bcde fBfd|deae dfba|gefg aAA||



SHEEP SHANKS. AKA and see “Honorable Mrs. Maule,” "Linen Cap (The)," “Miss Maule's Reel.” Scottish, Reel (cut time). A Major. Standard tuning (fiddle). AAB (Athole, Hunter): AABB' (Gatherer, Kerr). An 18th century composition by Robert Mackintosh ('Red Rob', 1745-1807), a contemporary of fiddler-composer Niel Gow, originally titled “Miss Maule's Reel,” or “Honorable Mrs. Maule” (in MacDonald’s collection). It is among Mackintosh's more popular melodies among Cape Breton fiddlers.

Sheep shanks probably refers to a leg of mutton; good eating in and of itself, but the bones could also be used in a variety of ways. The were often boiled in soup for their marrow, as this humorous passage illustrates:

The tale is that the people of Kirkmahoe were so poor, they could not afford to put any meat into their broth. A 'cute cobbler invested all his money in buying four sheep-shanks, and when a neighbour wanted to make mutton broth, for the payment of one halfpenny the cobbler would "plump" one of the sheep-shanks into the boiling water, and give it a "wallop" or whisk round. He then wrapped it in a cabbage-leaf and took it home. This was called a gustin bone, and was supposed to give a rich "gust" to the broth. The cobbler found his gustin bone very profitable.[1]

There were other uses as well. Sheep-shanks were sometimes used as blades for makeshift ice-skates. In 1881 the English traveler John Coles observed that a farmer at Galtalaekur, Iceland, "had ornamented his house outside with the bones of sheep's-legs, which were stuck in layers round the doors and window frames." In 19th century Iceland an entire wall built from sheep shanks and sheep shanks embedded between layers of turf in farmhouse walls were also seen[2]. In Scotland, sheep-shanks (the metacarpal bones of the sheep, in this case) were used as fasteners for slate roofing flags[3]. Finally, sheepshanks is a type of knot.

Additional notes

Source for notated version: -

Printed sources : - Gatherer (Gatherer’s Musical Museum), 1987; p. 12. Hunter (Fiddle Music of Scotland), 1988; No. 252. Kerr (Merry Melodies, vol. 3), c. 1880’s; No. 98, p. 12. Lowe (Lowe's Collection of Reels, Strathspeys and Jigs, Book 6); 1844. Stewart-Robertson (The Athole Collection), 1884; p. 27.

Recorded sources: -

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



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  1. E. Cobham Brewer, Brewers Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 1898.
  2. Dick Ringler et al, "Bard of Iceland: Jonas Hallrimsson, Poet and Scientist", 2002, p. 337.
  3. "Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland", vol. 14, 1880, pp. 180-181.