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The Fair o Balnafannon / The Lass Among the Heather

[ Roud 2894 ; G/D 4:873 ; Ballad Index UNFoBal ; trad.]

Songs From North-East Scotland

Lizzie Higgins sang The Fair of Balnafannon on her 1969 Topic album Princess of the Thistle. Peter Hall noted:

A number of songs exist of love among the heather, and as they all postdate The Laird o’ Drum and echo this ballad in both sentiment and setting there is good reason to believe that this is their parent. The Fair of Balnafannon seems to be an adaptation of the older Braes o’ Balquhidder in both melody and text. Other related songs are Queen Among the Heather, Skippin Barfit Through the Heather and Lovely Nancy.

Tom Spiers sang The Fair o Balnafinnan on Shepheard, Spiers & Watson’s Springthyme 2005 CD They Smiled As We Cam In. He noted:

I learned this from a recording of Jeannie Robertson made by Peter Hall in the 1960s. It was a poor recording so I adapted some of the words which I couldn’t make out. Subsequently I discovered that the line that I had converted into “She was the flooer o the evening” was sung by Jeannie as “She was fair as the Annan”—but by then I had taken a liking to my way of it. A song composed by Hugh McWilliams, a County Antrim schoolmaster, and published by him in 1831 under the title The Lass Among the Heather seems to have given rise to this song known in Ireland and Scotland under various similar titles and in the Greig-Duncan collection as The Fair of Balnaminna. The song was clearly inspired by the Paisley poet Robert Tannahill’s The Braes o’ Balquhidder and the two songs are often found mixed together. The McPeake’s famous Will Ye Go Lassie Go must also derive from the Tannahill song. The folk process at work!

Roisín White sang Lass Among the Heather on her 2009 Veteran CD With Thanks - Le Buíochas. The album’s booklet noted:

This song, which begins with a journey from the fair at Ballymoney in Co. Antrim, appears in Robin Morton’s Folksongs Sung in Ulster having been collected by Fergie Woods of Belfast from Tommy McCabe of Swan’s Cross, Co. Monaghan, in the 1960s. Morton suggests that the song is related to Queen Among the Heather which he traces back as a version of The Laird o’ Drum (Child 236), although in John Moulden’s book Songs of Hugh McWilliams, Schoolmaster, 1831 there is evidence that it was actually McWilliams who wrote it. Scottish versions are included in the Greig-Duncan Collection from Miss Lizzie Crighton, where the fair in the first line is at ‘Balnamenny’ and from J. W. Spence where the location becomes ‘Baldnaminna’. In Ireland the song turns up in Paddy Tunney’s book Where Songs Do Thunder and it appears in one of the song lists of Co. Cork singer Elizabeth Cronin, although unfortunately she seems never to have recorded it.


Tom Spiers sings The Fair o Balnafinnan

I wis comin fae the fair, fae the fair o Balnafinnan,
Fan I spied a bonnie lass, she wis the flooer o the evenin;
I’ve asked her far she dwelt, as we strolled along thegither,
“On thon bonnie mountain side,” she’s replied, “among the heather.”

I will build my love a bower, by thon clear crystal fountain,
And cover it aa ower, wi the flooers o the mountain;
I’ll range the mountain side, though it be sae dreich and dreary,
And bring hame aa my spoils tae the bower o my dearie.

(repeat first verse)