The Battle o Harlaw

Track Information

Original Track ID


Original Tape ID



A song recounting the events of the Battle of Harlaw from the perspective of the defenders of land invaded by a Highland army under MacDonald. The invaders are eventually defeated after losing heart when two noble brothers kill MacDonald.

Item Notes

15 verses of 4 lines with refrain. Hamish Henderson joins in the refrain.

The Battle of Harlaw (Cath Gairbheach in Gaelic) took place near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, on 24th July 1411 between Donald MacDonald of Islay, Lord of the Isles, and an army commanded by Alexander Stewart, Earl of Mar. Despite the biased and historically inaccurate view of this Scots song (e.g. MacDonald was not in actual fact killed at the battle), and some Gaelic songs that place the outcome more in MacDonald's favour, the battle is generally considered to have been a draw, owing to the severe casualties on both sides. It is remembered as a particularly bloody and savage battle in Scottish history. The site of the battle lies approximately three kilometres north-west of Inverurie.

Greig-Duncan vol. 1, pp. 302-313, no. 112
'Scottish Ballads' (E. Lyle, 1994) pp. 44-47
'Come Gie's a Sang' (S. Douglas, 1995) pp. 20-21
'Bothy Songs & Ballads' (J. Ord, 1930) pp. 473-475
'The Scottish Ballads' (R. Chambers, 1829) pp. 20-28
'The Scotish (sic) Minstrel' vol. 4 (R. A. Smith, 1821) p. 36
'Ballads of Scotland' vol. 1 (W. E. Aytoun, 1858) pp. 64-78
'Book of Scottish Ballads' (A. Whitelaw, 1845) pp. 138-140
'The Scottish Folksinger' (N. Buchan & P. Hall, 1973) pp. 132-133
'Ancient & Modern Scottish Songs' vol. 1 (D. Herd, 1869, 1973) pp. 37-45
'Last Leaves of Traditional Ballads' (A. Keith, G. Greig, 1925) pp. 101-106
'The Scots Musical Museum' vol. 6 (J. Johnson & R. Burns, 1853 edition) p. 528, no. 512

Item Subject/Person

MacDonald, Donald of Islay, Lord of the Isles

Recording Location

County - Angus

Parish - Dundee

Village/Place - Dundee

Item Location

County - Aberdeenshire

Parish - Chapel of Garioch

Village/Place - Harlaw








R2861; GD112; C163;