> Folk Music > Songs > The Braes of Strathblane / The Bleaches So Green

The Braes of Strathblane / The Bleaches So Green

[ Roud 1096 ; G/D 6:1132 ; Ballad Index McCST053 ; Bodleian Roud 1096 ; trad.]

Bothy Songs and Ballads Vagabond Songs and Ballads Traditional Tunes Travellers’ Songs From England and Scotland Songs From North-East Scotland

Maggie Stewart sang The Braes o’ Strathblane to Isabel Sutherland and Joby Blanchard at Blairgowrie, Perthshire, in July 1955. This recording was included in 2012 on the Topic anthology Good People, Take Warning (The Voice of the People Volume 23).

Blin’ Robin Hutchison sang The Braes o’ Strathblane to Hamish Henderson in Inverness in 1953. This recording was released in 2006 on the Kyloe album Hamish Henderson Collects.

John Reilly sang The Braes of Strawblane to Tom Munnelly in his own home in Dublin, Winter 1967. These recordings were released in 1977 on Reilly’s Topic album of “songs of an Irish traveller”, The Bonny Green Tree. Tom Munnelly noted:

A song whose provenance is widely but thinly spread. It has been noted in Nova Scotia and Maud Karpeles recorded it in Newfoundland under the title The Bleaches So Green. She comments that she knows of no other version of the song, but suggest an Irish origin. (Maud Karpeles: Folk Songs From Newfoundland, 1971)

G. Malcolm Laws includes it in his index of Native American Balladry as The Chippewa Girl. He quotes Earl C. Beck: “Several lumberjacks from the Saginaw valley know this song … it grew up where the Chippewa Indians dwelt and was sung in the shanties of the upper part of the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.” (Earl Clifton Beck: Songs of the Michigan Lumberjacks, Ann Arbor 1941, and G. Malcolm Laws: American Balladry from British Broadsides, Philadelphia 1964)

Because of its reference to the bleaching of linen I would not be surprised if this song is sung in the northern counties though I have, as yet, not recovered it in that region. However, I heard it sung by a group of travellers in Blairgowrie, Perthshire in 1967. They called it The Braes of Strathblane as does Kidson (Traditional Tunes, Oxford 1891) and Ord (The Bothy Songs and Ballads of Aberdeen, Edinburgh 1930)

Ian Manuel sang The Braes o’ Strathblane in 1972 on his Topic album The Frosty Ploughshare. A.L. Lloyd noted:

This lyrical piece, with its handsome mixolydian tune, belongs to a slightly earlier epoch and quite a different territory from that of the most typical bothy songs, which are late 19th century and Northeastern. The classical bucolic atmosphere is that of the early 19th century, and the setting is in the south of Sterlingshire, barely ten miles from the centre of Glasgow. Writing in 1899, Robert Ford says: “There has been no ploughman or ploughman’s sweetheart or wife in all the Blane Valley for fifty years and more with whom this song has not been as familiar as the lines of the 23rd Psalm.” Northeastern farmhands tried to annex the song to their locality by changing it to The Braes o’ Strathdon, but that didn’t fool many.

Ossian sang The Braes o’ Strathblane in 1978 on their Iona album St. Kilda Wedding. They noted:

Several versions of the song are found throughout Scotland but its origins are uncertain. In the Hebrides it is known as Stra’ Bàn where the words are an almost direct Gaelic equivalent of those sung here. Similarly Gavin Greig collected a version of the song in the North East called The Braes of Strathdon but commented, “further south the song is known as The Braes of Strathblane and I think there is little doubt that it belongs originally to Stirlingshire and that it has been localised in the North East simply by changing the name of the Strath”. (Greig XVII.)

The words here were first published in Mavers Collection (1866) and are recorded as those heard in Kintyre. The song was an unusually unhappy ending for this ‘boy meets girl in the month of May’ type.

The Clutha sang The Braes o’ Strathblane on their 1996 album On the Braes.

Aileen Carr sang The Braes o’ Strathdon at a Celtic Connections concert at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in January 2001. This and other recordings from the concert were released in 2002 on the Greentrax CD Scots Women. The liner notes commented:

A lovely and rather plaintive tale of unrequited love, is a version of a song also known as The Braes of Strathblane. The text Aileen sings here was collected in Aberdeenshire by Peter Hall, and given to her by Tom Spiers, who discovered it while sorting through and re-recording the material that Peter had collected.

Ellen Mitchell sang The Braes o’ Stra’blane in 2001 on her and Kevin Mitchell’s Musical Tradition anthology Have a Drop Mair. She and Rod Stradling noted:

Ellen: I learned snippets of various versions of this song over a number of of years. One was from Willie Devine, an Irish friend now living in Glasgow. I kept his tune and put a compiled set of Scottish words to it. Strathblane has a history of cloth manufacture, dying and weaving. Many Irish people, mainly young women, came over to work there, and history records that they arrived rosy cheeked and healthy and failed away into ill-health because of the nature of the work and the poor living conditions. Strathblane is a village at the foot of the Camsie Hills, just above Glasgow to the north; over the years it has expanded into a suburban sprawl.

This song was printed as a broadside by Ross (Newcastle), Stewart (Carlisle) and Dalton (York) and in books such as Ord’s Bothy Songs and Ballads and Ford’s Vagabond Songs and Ballads which probably accounts for it’s having been much collected—11 versions in Greig-Duncan. It has been recorded by three singers in the oral tradition, but none are available on CD.

George Sansome sang The Bleaches So Green in 2020 on his eponymous album George Sansome. He noted:

Mr Joe Swayle Ewart sang this to Maud Karpeles in Trepassey, on the Avalon Peninsula in Newfoundland on 3 August 1930. Karpeles later published the song in her book Folk Songs From Newfoundland (1934). A big thank you to Bill Johnston and Sheila Darling for letting me borrow their copy!

The phrase “The Bleaches So Green” appears to be a corruption of “The Braes o’ Strathblane”, a Scottish song from which The Bleaches So Green takes its story. In 19th century Strathblane (12 miles north of Glasgow), fabric was laid out and pinned down on the banks of the Blane Water for bleaching; the song title may also be a reference to this process.

The subject of the song demonstrates respect for women and respect for consent, themes which do not occur often enough in folk song.


John Reilly sings The Braes of Strawblane

For the old town of Tralee one evenin’ in June,
Through the woodbine mound daisies an’ meadows in bloom
I espied a wee lassie at the end of a lane
An’ she breachin’ her linen by the braes of Strawblane.

For I stepped up unto her an’ I made my address:
“Are you breachin’ your linen my charmin’ wee lass.
For twelve months an’ better since I had deep in my mind,
Oh, that we would get married, love, if you were inclined.”

“Well to marry, to marry kind sir l’m too young
An’ besides all ye young men has a platterin’ fine tongue.”
Sayin’, “My Daddy an’ Mammy, oh, quite angry would be
That’s if I would go marry a rover like thee.”

“You consent, my wee lassie, and do not say no.”
Sayin’, “You don’t know the pain love, oh, that I undergo.
For the clouds they look weary, I’m afraid we’ll have rain,
Oh, but l’ll go my way love, round the braes of Strawblane.”

“Consented, consented it is all of the times;
Since the last words you have spoken I have now changed my mind.
The clouds they look weary, l’m afraid we’ll have rain,
Oh but I’Il court some other round the braes of Strawblane.”

Aileen Carr sings The Braes o’ Strathdon

As I was a-walking one morning in May
Doon by a bonnie braeside I fondly did stray
I spied a bonnie lassie, she wis standing her lane
She wis bleaching her claes on the braes o’ Strathdon

I stepped up tae her as I seemed for tae pass
Ye’re bleaching yer claes, my bonnie young lass
It’s twelve months and mair since I’ve had ye on my mind
Jist for tae get married if you are inclined

Tae marry, tae marry, I’m three time o’er young
Besides a’ you young men have flattering tongues
My faither and my mither they would baith angry be
If I was tae marry a rover like ye

Come a’ ye pretty fair maids, take a warning frae me
And never slight a young man for his poverty
For slighting of a young man I’m afraid ye’ll get nane
And single ye’ll wander the braes o’ Strathdon

Ellen Mitchell sings The Braes o’ Stra’blane

As I was a-walking one morning in May,
Down by yon flow’ry meadow I careless did stray.
I spied a wee lassie, she was standing alain
A-bleachin her claes on the braes o Stra’blane

I stepped right up tae her as I meant tae pass,
Sayin, “You’re bleaching your claes here, ma bonny wee lass,
And it’s a twelvemonth and better since I’ve had a mind
That we could get married if you were so inclined.”

“Oh tae marry, tae marry, kind sir I am too young,
And besides a ye young men have a flatterin tongue,
And ma mammy and daddy would quite angry be
If I was tae marry a rover like ye.”

“Oh consent dearest lassie, and do not say no.
For you don’t know the pains, love, that I undergo.
Oh consent, dearest lassie, and ye’ll be ma ain,
And we will live happy on the braes o Stra’blane.”

“Oh get ye gone young man, for I care na whit ye say,
And I think ye’d be better to go on your way.
For I am far happier as I stand here alane,
Than wi you and your still on the braes o Stra’blane.”

I turned masel roon wi a tear in ma ee
Sayin, “May you get a good one whoever he be.
Aye, I’ll go court another, leave you standin alane.
Aye, I’ll soon get another on the braes o Stra’blane.”

“Oh, come back dearest laddie, ye hae won my heart.
And we will get married and we’ll never mair part.
Oh we’ll never mair part ’til the day that we dee,
And may a good attend us wherever that we be.”

“Oh noo you’ve consented, but it’s quite out of time.
Since the last word you spoke, I have altered my mind.
And the clouds they are low’rin, I fear we’ll have rain.”
So they shook hands and parted on the braes o Stra’blane.

So come all ye young lasses and a warning take by me,
Never slight any young man who would prove true to ye.
For the slighting o this young man, I fear I’ll get nain,
And forlorn I will wander round the braes o Stra’blane.