“Fhear a Bhata (Fhir a Bhata: I Climb the Mountains)”


Song of longing with a Gaelic chorus. The singer asks where is her lover, the boatman. When will she see him? Her friends/other boatmen say he is unfaithful. She waits long, and looks far for word of her lover, fearing she has been forgotten


The Lesley Nelson-Burns site Folk Music of England Scotland Ireland, Wales & America collection is the source for the translation -- by Lachlan MacBean -- used as the basis for the DESCRIPTION, as well as for the attribution. That site's entry for the song credits Craig Cockburn with the data and includes other important information. However, MacBean's translation, apparently copied from _The Minstrelsy of the Scottish Highlands_ edited by Alfred Moffat (Bayley & Ferguson, Glasgow), pp. 18-19 in the soft-cover edition printed ca 1960, pp. 26-27 in the hard-cover edition printed ca 1908, is written to be sung to the original music and so may not exactly carry the sense of the Gaelic. The translation of the chorus is from a note sent by George Seto whose site includes, among other subjects, Cape Breton Music and -- more to the point here -- an index of published Gaelic songs.

The chorus

"Fhir a bhata, na horo-eile, Gu ma slan dut,

's gach ait an teid thu"


"O my boatman, na horo eile, Wishing health to you,

And [at] each place, will you come (return) [to me]?"

includes untranslated phrases such as "na horo eile." Creighton and MacLeod, _Gaelic Songs in Nova Scotia_ (National Museums of Canada 1979) refers to these phrases as "Gaelic vocables" (e.g., p 181). My take on this is that they are untranslatable in the same sense that the yodel of a Jimmy Rodgers blue yodel is transcribable into French but not translatable.

Peacock notes that this "is called a milling song ... used to accompany the work of shrinking wool homespun. The wet cloth is alternately kneaded and pounded on a large table by several people either seated or standing. A leader sings the verses, and everyone comes in on the chorus." "Milling wool" and "waulking tweed" is the same process. For a note on the process and the songs see "Waulking" by Craig Cockburn at the Silicon Glen site- BS

In a way, this isn't really a single song, because the translated version has circulated on its own. But it seemed better to lump to prevent confusion. - RBW


  1. SHenry H834, pp. 289-290, "The Boatman/Fear a Bhata" (1 text, 1 tune)
  2. Peacock, pp. 786-787, "Fhir a Bhata" (1 text, 1 tune)
  4. ADDITIONAL: Bell/O Conchubhair, Traditional Songs of the North of Ireland, pp. 26-28, "Fear an Bhata" ("The Boatman") [Gaelic and English]
  5. Roud #4356
  6. BI, HHH834


Author: Jane Finlayson (late 18th century)
Earliest date: 1939 (Sam Henry collection)
Found in: Britain(Scotland) Ireland Canada(Newf)