My compliments to the new bailiff

Western Isles

29 June 2021

Anonymous song Researched and sung by Peigi MacVicar

Lyrics

My compliments to the new bailiff
You have earned a reputation
When you arrived with a troop
Of noblemen from the land of MacLeod.

You came with your rounded barge
And went south-east of Portree
Your soldiers would collect tax
Even though a fist fight was needed.

The Laird of Lynedale yonder thought
That he could set a trap
But try as he might did he succeed
When the heroes were renewed.

Your page travelled around
The North End
Telling them unequivocally, without ill humour
That you were master of the ocean.

And which girl wouldn’t fall in love with you
You could move as fast as a bailiff
With your knaves around you
You spread your sails.

And which girl wouldn’t love you
Who night-watched without rest?
Not a Cooper who stayed in the warmth,
He didn’t manage to get near her.

It would be natural for the two of you to succeed
You are both educated.
You eloped with a noble maiden
And you got her in the May of her youth.

She is the offshoot of a vigorous tree
What’s beneath the ground and above it
A beautiful young fir
Without rot in root or foliage.

You are both MacDonalds on all sides
A red hand is the ensign of your people
A galley and a salmon, a wild lion,
A thistle and young, green heather.

Why I chose the song

I came across this song when I was researching the scandal associated with Jessie of Balranald on Tobar an Dualchais and I heard Annie Arnott and James MacDonald singing it. I recognised the tune from Julie Fowlis’s CD ‘Cuilidh’ but it was interesting to hear different versions of the song with different words. I found the words I’m using here on the BBC’s Bliadhna nan Òran.

The author

I couldn’t find any information about an author. Therefore I believe the song was disseminated by oral transmission.

The song

This song is about the scandal of Jessie of Balranald, as are the songs ‘An t-Aparan Goirid’(The Short Apron) and ‘Òran Dhòmnhaill Mhogastad’(Donald of Monkstadt’s Song). It is composed in praise of the new Bailiff, Donald of Monkstadt, asserting the fact that he was a hero, unlike the Bailiff Cooper, who was supposed to marry Jessie of Balranald according to her parents’ wishes.

More information

Donald of Monkstadt in Skye met Jessie of Balranaldwhile he was working in North Uist in 1849. At the same time Jessie’s parents were encouraging her to marry this Bailiff called Cooper because he was a rich man, unlike Donald. However Jessie didn’t like Cooper at all and she fled from Uist on the ship Eliza to be with Donald of Monkstadt. There was a great uproar with many people involved, some helping Jessie and Donald to elope, others chasing them. They went back and fore between Uist, Harris and Skye but eventually the couple moved to Australia.

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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