top of page

Auld Robin Gray

Written in 1771 by Lady Ann Lindsay/Barnard (1750-1825)
From Johnson’s Scots Musical Museum Vol3 (1771)
arr. Lainey Dempsey (2020)

Auld Robin Gray

When the sheep are in the
fauld and the kye at hame,
And a’ the world tae sleep is
The waes o’ my heart
fa’ in showers fae my ee
and my gudeman
sleeps sound by me

My faither coudne work and
my mither coudne spin
I toil’d night and day
but their bread I coudna win
Auld Rab maintained them
and wi’ tears in his ee
Said Jenny for their sake,
oh mairry me

I hadna been wed
a week or maybe four
When downstairs
mournfuly a’ nicht at the door
I saw my Jamie’s wreath
fer I coudna think it he
Till he said I’ve come hame
fer tae mairry thee

My heart it said nay
I wanted Jamie back
But the wind it had grown
strong and his ship it was a
His ship it was a wreck
oh why didna Jenny die?
And why do I live
to say wae is me?

My Jamie loved me well
he sought me for his bride
But saving fer a crown
he had naething else beside
To make that crown a pound,
my Jamie gade to sea
And the crown and the pound
they were baith fer me

Oh sair did we greet
and mickle did we say
We took but ae kiss
and we tore ourselves away
I wish I were dead
but I’m no like to die
And why do I live
to say wae is me

He had nae been gone
for 12 months and a day
When my faither broke his leg
and oor kye was stown awa’
My mither she fell sick
and my Jamie at the sea
And auld Robin Gray
came a courtin’ me

My faither pressed me sair
my mither didna speak
She look’d in my face
and my heart was like to
They gied him my hand
though my heart was at the
And auld Robin Gray
is gudeman tae me

I care nae to work
I care nae to spin
I darena think o’ Jamie
for that wad be a sin
But I’ll do my best
a gudewife to be
For auld Robin Gray
he is kind to me

A composition from 1771 crediting a woman with authorship is a rare thing and this song is also just a great bit of melodramatic storytelling. A quick flick through some old books revealed that Auld Robin Gray was one of the most popular songs of its da According to the Reverend Charles Rogers in his book ‘Scottish Minstrel’ (1885)

‘...the popularity obtained by the ballad has seldom been was made the subject of a play, of an opera and of a was sung in every fashionable circle as well as by the ballad singers from Lands End to John o’ Groats and printed in every collection of national song.....the author had been advertised for in the public prints, a reward being offered for the discovery.’


Lady Ann Lyndsay wrote it when she was 21 and despite its popularity did not come forward as the author till over 50 years later. A couple of years before she died she sent a copy of the original manuscript to her friend Sir Walter Scott.


We can only speculate as to why Lady Ann Lyndsay wished to remain anonymous but due to the prevailing attitudes of her time, it’s likely that if the song were known to have been written by a woman, it would not have been so revered. 100 years after Auld Robin Gray was written, Reverend Rogers writes of Lady Ann Lyndsay;


‘ amiability of manners and kindliness of heart, she added the more substantial, and, in females, the more uncommon quality of eminent devotedness to intellectual labour.’


I suspect if Lady Ann Lyndsey had ever been able to meet Reverend Rogers he would not have inspired her amiability of manners!

This is a live recording around the campfire complete with crackles , bum notes, foot stomps and clunking weans.

bottom of page