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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Howe

'THE SKYE BOAT SONG'...

Updated: Apr 6, 2023


I first heard 'The Skye Boat Song' when I was a child and in fact I actually wrote this arrangement for string quartet when I was in my teens! I've reworked it so that it flows a bit more naturally and I've altered it in places. I'm not quite sure why I arranged it in B flat major! It's made it more difficult to play, but I decided to keep it in that key because I think it works nicely and fits the mood of the tune.


I think many people recognise this tune now because it's the theme music to the TV series 'Outlander' and so it's having a renewed moment of popularity. And I read that for the new and upcoming series, premiering in Summer 2023, the theme has been recorded by Sinead O'Connor. I'm looking forward to that for sure.


'The Skye Boat Song' is a traditional Scottish song that describes how, after his defeat in the battle at Culloden in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie was taken by rowing boat from Uist to Skye with the help of Flora McDonald, in order that he might escape the British Soldiers. It is a 'Rowing song' known as 'Iorram' (pronounced 'Irram'). This means that the tempo can be set by imagining that the three beats in the bar correspond with the action of lifting the oars out of the water, dipping them in again and pulling the stroke.


It seems a good time to also mention that I have just added to the site a string quartet arrangement of the beautiful and mournful tune 'Will he no come back again'. It's interesting because the subject of that song is the sadness felt by the supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie after he escapes from Scotland all together and runs away to the continent. They are longing for his return in the future. So the two songs have a shared history.


I have also done an arrangement of another boat song, 'The Mingalay Boat Song'. That will be the subject of a future blog so keep your eyes peeled!!

Thanks for reading.



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