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Hoy’s Dark and Lofty Isle

When we started this project, we didn't know who wrote Hoy's Dark and Lofty Isle, although Sarah Jane thought its lyrics suggest it may have been penned in the nineteenth century. Local tradition in Hoy, as noted by Alan Bruford, states that Mary lived in Hoy (Bruford 1987, 110).  It tells of a sailor returning from Greenland whaling, and dying within sight of Hoy and the home of his sweetheart Mary.

During the course of the project, one of our volunteers searching the OLA found a copy of the song printed in a back copy of the local paper, The Orcadian.  A written note accompanying the song said that it was written by "the late J Aim".  Sarah Jane did some research, and discovered that the author was a James Aim who was a school teacher in Sandwick, Orkney in the later 1800s.  We'll put up some more information this once the cataloguing and databases are complete.  


There are a number of versions know of this song and although the words vary and the tunes differ they appear to stem from a single original piece. The most common version is a 6/8 tune with the last of the three couplets repeated, although a North Ronaldsay version has a different tune and structure, with no repeat of the last couplets. This version, sung by Sydney Scott and recorded by Alan Bruford in 1965, was said to have been learned from a Hoy man a hundred years ago and is the version on which the Song Shop based their recent recording of the song.

The earliest printed version of this song found so far is from The Orcadian (the local newspaper) in 1933 (words only) and again in 1934 (words and tune).

Archive versions include: -

Davie Laughton, recorded by Peter Kennedy in July 1955.  First published on Folktrax cassettes 1980. http://www.folktrax-archive.org/menus/cassprogs/189orkneysingers.htm

Peter Pratt from Toab, recorded by Peter Kennedy 1955.

Sydney Scott from North Ronaldsay, recorded by Alan Bruford in 1965 and Ann Marwick in the 1980s.

Ethel Findlater, Dounby, recorded by Peter Kennedy in 1955 and Alan Bruford in the 1960s amongst others.

Several artists have recorded versions of this songs including Knowe o’ Deil (Orkney Anthem Attic Records 1980s), Seelyhoo (First Caul  Greentrax 1996) and the Songshop choir (Fruteetee 2008).

Bruford, Alan. 1987. “Song Manuscripts in Orkney and Shetland” in Russell, Ian (ed) Singer, Song, Scholar, 1987. Sheffield.


The Cock o' Byam

At the Kirkwall Songshare on 31st January, Brian Cromarty sang a song about murder!  Here are the words to the song that he sung, taken from a poem written by David "Porky" Horne (1876-1940), a well known Kirkwall butcher who also took many photographs in and around Orkney.  (Wasn't he a talented chap?)

The Cock o' Byam
by David Horne (1876 – 1940)

When the cock o’ Byam crew
All he said was “Doodle do!
“Cock a doodle do! doodle do!”
Everybody knew,
He knew, you knew, I knew;
Merely “Cock a doodle do!”
‘Twas all the Cock o’ Byam meant,
From rising sun till the day was spent;
When he crew

All he said was“Doodle do!” 

But when the orraman passed by,
To muck the byre or clean the stye,
Grey Fear would clutch his scraggy throat,
Dryer far than a wind-sooked oat:
He thought of the burn
And a lass’ wan face,
Her eyes fast closed
From dark Disgrace;


He saw her face in his plate of brose,
Whenever he handled his Sunday clothes;
Dripping wet through the creaking yett
She would glide to his side
At the dead o’ night,
Her staring eyes
Glazed with fright.
She followed him round
At every turn,
Past the shore and the growling burn.

But worst of all
When the auld cock crew,
He always said “I knew it was you!
I knew it was you!
And you knew too!”
“One, two, three!” the Avenger crew,
“You! you! you!
You can’t thraw my neck,
Not you!”

But all the cock o’ Byam meant
Was “Doodle do!”
Merely “Cock a doodle do!”

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