The real Skye boat song
by Ken Bowker

All is rarely what it seems ....

Everyone knows the Skye Boat Song, don't they?

You know, the one that goes:

"Speed bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing
Onward, the sailors cry
Carry the lad that is born to be king
Over the sea to Skye."

Well, that's not quite how it started.

Miss Annie MacLeod was in Skye in the 1870s, being rowed across Loch Coruisk. The crew struck up a rowing song, "Cuchag nan Craobh"*, and she subsequently wrote the tune down.

Annie MacLeod, later Lady Wilson, was a friend of the Blackburn family at Roshven House and was staying there in 1882, working with the composer Sir Harold Boulton on a song collection, "Songs of the North". The party were being rowed along Loch Ailort so that Sir John could catch the Post Cart from Lochailort to return to Fort William when they started humming the tune and then struck into song with the words:

"Row us along, Roland and John,
Over the sea to Roshven".

At the time, the romantic notion of the "Prince across the Water" was extremely popular, if sometimes incorrect, and Boulton later rewrote the words to produce the well-known version we know today.

* Cuchag nan Craobh - The Cuckoo in the Grove