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My Donal

[ Roud - ; Mudcat 68632 ; Owen Hand]

My Donal is a song written by Owen Hand about the sailor’s life from the point of view of his loved one waiting at home.

Ray Fisher sang My Donal in 1963 at the Edinburgh Folk Festival.

Owen Hand sang My Donal in 1965 on his first Transatlantic album, Something New. He also sang it a year later on the anthology Folk Scene. He commented in his original album’s sleeve notes:

I wrote this and the first idea for the song came when I was sailing from South Shields in a Whaler, Antarctic bound for seven months. I felt rather sad that there was no-one down on the Quay to say goodbye to me, even sadder at the thought that there was no foot of ground to come back to.

The Ian Campbell Folk Group sang My Donal on their 1966 album Contemporary Campbells. They commented in their liner notes:

We first heard this sung by Glasgow singer, Ray Fisher, who told us that it was written by her friend Owen Hand, from Edinburgh. At that time he was comparatively unknown, but since then, he has become a popular figure in British folk clubs, because he sings just as well as he writes.

Shayna Karlin sang My Donal on the 1968 album Soldiers and Sailors (Folksingers of Australia Volume 2). She noted:

Written by Scots singer, Owen Hand, himself a sailor. This beautiful song tells of the fears and loneliness of the women awaiting the return of their men who sail “southwards in search of the whale”.

Dick Gaughan sang My Donal in 1978 on his Topic album Gaughan. He noted on the album:

A song written by Owen Hand emphasising the fact that most of our luxuries are obtained at the expense of somebody else’s hard and frequently dangerous work.

and on his now defunct website:

The east coast of Scotland had a large whaling industry at one time centred round the port of Dundee and, to a lesser extent, Leith. There are still many songs survive from that time but most of the Scots songs do not have the triumphalist approach of many of the songs from other places, concentrating, like this one, on the hardships and dangers of the life. As a very young man Owen Hand sailed with one of the last whaling fleets. He was part of the early-mid 60s London scene and a regular at Les Cousins together with Bert Jansch (both from Edinburgh). He made one album for Xtra before giving up performing around 69.

The Wassailers sang My Donal in 1978 on their eponymous Fellside album, Wassailers, together with Richard Grainger’s song Whitby Whaler. They noted:

We put these two songs together because they both deal with the loneliness and fears of the wives and families of the men who spent so much of their lives away from home. My Donal was written by Owen Hand and contains an interesting reference to the fact that perfume is a by-product of the whale; a luxury often paid for with men’s lives. Whitby Whaler is a song by Teesider, Richard Grainger.

Janet Russell and Christine Kydd sang My Donal in 1987 on their eponymous Greentrax album Janet Russell & Christine Kydd.

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset sang My Donal in 2007 on their CD The Bairns.

Josienne Clarke sang My Donal in 2011 on her and Ben Walker’s CD The Seas Are Deep.

Barbara Dickson sang My Donald in 2011 on her Greentrax album Words Unspoken.


Owen Hand sings My Donal

Oh my Donal he works on the sea
With the waves blowing wild and free.
He splices the rope and sets the sail;
Now he is awa tae the home o the whale.

Oh he ne’er thinks of me far behind
O’ the torments that rage in my mind.
He’s mine for only half part o the year,
Then I’m left all alone with nought but a tear.

Oh guid ladies who smell the wild rose,
Think ye for your perfume to where a man goes;
Think ye o the wives and bairnies so young
’Cause their man ne’er returned from hunting the sperm.

(repeat first verse)