Donald of Monkstadt’s Song

Western Isles

29 June 2021

Anonymous Researched and sung by Peigi MacVicar

Lyrics

Chorus
Welcome to you, I’ll drink to your health
That’s how I would greet you
Welcome to you, I’ll drink to your health

When we reached Rodel
We got a good fair wind
We got sight of the vessel
Tha inflicted damage on lame Cooper.

What a hurley-burley there was
Climbing and descending the stairs
Doors were broken, locks were split
And they brought her out in spite of all.

Out came the bailiff, Cooper
Holding a double-barrelled gun
He spoke in Gaelic and English
“Who is there!” or “Who goes there?"

Then Cooper said to Ailig
“Get up, go and don’t dally;
You’ll get a thousand and a farm
If I get my missing sweetheart .”

Ailig rose early in the morning
And took with him a sure-footed horse.
When he reached the back of Harris
The Eliza had left under sail.

The lovely couple left
From Balranald yesterday
Master Donald and Miss Jessie
They took to their heels together.

Why I chose this song

I came across this song on Tobar an Dualchais while I was researching the scandal about Jessie of Balranald and Donald of Monkstadt. I heard a recording of Annie Arnott of Lianacro in Skye singing and it was interesting as she knew the story of Donald of Monkstadt, and the story from a Skye perspective, as well as the Uist perspective in the song ‘Mo Bheannachd don Bhàillidh Ùr’. I found the words in the book ‘From the Farthest Hebrides’ and that gave me another couple of verses as well as the transcriptions from Tobar an Dualchais.

The author

From listening to different versions of the song it seems likely that it was disseminated by oral tradition and each singer had slightly different words. Thus it could be said that each singer was a new author, with different perspectives on the story.

The song

This song tells in a light-hearted style about Donald of Monkstadt who met Jessie of Balranald in North Uist and their elopement. Since this was a huge scandal at the time (1849) the truth might be exaggerated, but the song tells the story in a fairly clear manner and how Donald of Monkstadt went to get Jessie of Balranald from Uist where he was working. Jessie’s parents were not happy as they wished her to marry Cooper, the bailiff, who was quite a rich man. Donald and Jessie fled to Skye on the ship Eliza and there was a great uproar while Jessie’s family tried to get her back. There was even a court case in Inverness, demonstrating the number of people affected by this happening. When they were finally free they went to Australia and never came back.

More information

This song mentions Monkstadt in Skye and Balranald in North Uist. I have a connection with both places as my house is near Monkstadt and I have family in North Uist near Balranald.
Because of that it was interesting for me to learn through songs about the connections between the two places. While Donald of Monkstadt was living in North Uist he stayed in a house in Baleloch, the very place where my family and I stay when we visit. Cooper the Bailiff was the man Jessie’s parents wanted her to marry but she was in love with Donald of Monkstadt.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Calum Alex MacMillan for his guidance and my father for encouraging me to research various topics.

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