Simon Chadwick - Early Harp

The Battle of Harlaw was fought in Aberdeenshire 600 years ago, in July 1411. There is a complex web of stories, songs and tunes around the battle from both sides.

Events: Wighton workshops poster

Music workshops, every Saturday during July, in the Wighton Centre, Dundee, 2pm. Download the poster (PDF).

MacMhuirich stone dedication, and MacMhuirich Symposium, Edinburgh, 22-23 July 2011. Organised by the Clan Currie Society: Full details.

Tuesday 5th July, 12.45pm, Priors House, Cathedral ruins, St Andrews: Medieval Battle Music. A half hour concert featuring The Battle of Harlaw, and other harsh sounds of combat and ceremony. more...

Recordings: The following CDs are available, featuring Harlaw music. Click to purchase from the Emporium:
Bonnie Rideout, Harlaw Scotland 1411 a double CD of Harlaw music and songs.
Simon Chadwick, Clàrsach na Bànrighe includes the Dow setting of the Harlaw ceol mor.
Andrew Lawrence-King, Exquisite Consorts includes the English masque tune.
Alison Kinnaird, The Silver String includes the English masque tune followed by “the March of Donald, Lord of the Isles to the Batle of Harlaw”.

Songs: there are two main song traditions associated with the Battle of Harlaw.

A Gaelic brosnachadh, or incitement to battle, composed by Lachlann Mór MacMhuirich, is preserved in the Red Book of Clanranald. Only the words survive, not the tune, though in modern times it has been fitted to various versions of the tunes here.
Listen online at the BBC:
Murdo McLeod (voice) and Alison Kinnaird (Gaelic harp)
(set to the English masque tune)

Child no. 163 is a Scots ballad.
Listen online at Tobar an Dualchais:
Lucy Stewart, 1960
Jeannie Robertson, 1953
An older, more literary version of the ballad text is set to Dow’s version of the pibroch tune (see below) in the Scots Musical Museum (vol 6, 1803): Google books link. From the same book, Stenhouse's commentary.

Tunes: There are many variants of the Harlaw tunes. These links gather some of them together.

Pibroch, the Desperate Battle or the Battle of the Birds, from 19th century piping sources: Dr. William Donaldson, “The Desperate Battle”, 2009, Pipe and Drum website (PDF). This PDF presents facsimiles of the main manuscript and printed sources of the pipe tune. The pibroch is titled in English, “The Desperate Battle”, or “The Battle of the Birds”, which are English versions of the Gaelic “Cath Gailbheach” or “Cath nan Eun”. Presumably, “Gailbheach” originally refers to Garioch (Gaelic Ghairbheach), a place name for the area of Harlaw. I don’t know where the birds come from, though there is a well known Gaelic folk tale of the Battle of the Birds, Cath nan Eun. I suspect this may be a 19th century renaming of the tune.
Listen online at Tobar an Dualchais:
Calum Beaton, 1970
Stenhouse published a simpler variant of the tune in the mid 19th century, in his comentary to the Scots Musical Museum. Google books link.
The version I play in the video above was published by Daniel Dow, 1776, as “Battle of Hara Law”
Listen online at the BBC:
Bonnie Rideout
An earlier and more corrupt version is in the Rowallan lute book, 1620, “Battle of Garlan”

A somewhat different tune is preserved in an English masque manuscript from the 1620s: “The Battell of Harloe”, BL Add ms 10444, f4v & f59v

There is also a rather different pibroch called “Harrows March”, in the Campbell Canntaireachd manuscript, which may or may not be connected to the battle.

Click here for my sources handout listing all the songs and tunes.

Simon Chadwick, St Andrews, Fife. Return to Index page