Bonny House of Airlie


Crediting Lou Killen as his source Jon says, “Another song that I learnt partly as an exercise – hell of a song to sing and Lou’s a hell of a singer to learn it off.” We’re staying in Child Balled territory here and this is #199. For once this is categorically linked to an historic event, even if the ballad is probably somewhat embellished by the presence of Lady Ogilvie, who almost certainly would not have been at home had 1,000 men (more in some variants of the story) come to call. At least not without a roughly equal number of her own standing in the way. Having said that I’m no expert on the history of Scotland and this Wiki link has a more graphicly expressed fate for the Lady of Ogilvie. Although equally I’ve read elsewhere that the castle was deserted as everyone had fled, so whether this is simply to make a political point of some sort I can’t say. Another dabble suggested that Argyll eventually had his comeuppance in the shifting political landscape of the C17th. This link looks to tell a plausible story and it’s possible several events have been rolled into one song, but perhaps those more thoroughly schooled in the Clans and National Covenant Rebellion can enlighten us. Mainly Norfolk is once more packed with information about the recordings and quotes again from the various sleeve notes that have gone before. I couldn’t find sufficient on Mudcat to embellish anything here, but again if you know differently please add away.

You can buy the August digital album now from all good download stores:



10 Responses to “Bonny House of Airlie”

  1. Susan Churchman says:

    Thank you Jon – it is great to hear you tackle some of the mickle ballads – what about Fair Annie and the Trumpeter of Fyvie? The Bonnie House o’ Airlie is also available on Folkway Recordings by Max Dunbar, but I especially love Kate Rusby’s version, which ignores the dowry for the politics. There are in fact a number of instances of ladies defending their castles in the Civil War while their lords were away fighting – see Antonia Fraser’s “The Weaker Vessel” for some examples – so whether it be for the defence of her dowry or her monarch, Lady Ogilvie stands in a proud tradition.

  2. StephenH says:

    It is often difficult, I think, to make the grand old ballads sound fresh and interesting. Jon has succeeded here, and his singing style is well-suited to the task. I enjoyed the rendition because it sounds like Jon is genuinely enjoying singing it – sometimes I get the impression that people tackle Child Ballads and others just to prove they can get through them in one go!

  3. Kathy Inglis says:

    Well sung Jon-the only other version of this I’ve ever heard was by Hughie Jones of the Spinners, and he still sings it beautifully, and I sang it for a while some 20 years ago. Hughie’s version also leaves out the dowry, so this is the first I’ve heard these verses. I shall look up the versions mentioned by Susan Churchman-it’s a gripping story and a haunting melody. Thanks.

  4. theOtter says:

    Thanks for doing another Child ballad. I hope there’ll be plenty more! I first heard Bonnie House of Airlie on a recording by Ewan MacColl, which I downloaded from itunes.

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    Just catching up on my listening to AFSAD. What a cracker! Very Rob Roy, the film! Brilliantly sung, Jon, and new to me (‘cos I don’t know much!) But learning each day!

  6. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Bonny House of Airlie from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There are 9 records of Bonny House of Airlie in the Library, all collected either in Scotland or Nova Scotia in Canada.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. When searched on Roud No. 794, this rises to 89 records – again, almost exclusively from Scotland and Nova Scotia, save a handful of version from the USA.
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 collection.
    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.
    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  7. Jane Ramsden says:

    In the search for folk songs new and old, apart from the repeat opportunity to listen to Steve Knightley talking about the Cecil Sharp Project on Mike Harding via BBC iPlayer (see link in my comment under yesterday’s Lord Randal) here is a link to a podcast called Under The Mason’s Apron:

    The Home page describes it thus: Real Folk for real folk… like you!

    “A monthly-ish podcast featuring folk music old and new for aficionados and the uninitiated alike. From the famous to the obscure, signed or unsigned, live or dead, good or …erm… whatever.

    Join Tinker Mal and Planxty Gramster for an hour of heart-warming songs and tunes and infantile wit. If we like it, we’ll play it. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

    Want to hear your stuff played on the show? We welcome submissions from artists who would like us to play their music.”

    Sounds fun!

  8. Liz Randall says:

    Thank you for singing this in english – all other recordings I have are (not surprisingly) in broad scots and this is the first time I have managed to understand the story!

  9. Diana says:

    Another sad tale but an entertaining one. Easily understood with Jon’s version. Liked it very much.

  10. Larkworthy says:

    Is there something rather magical about googling “Bonnie House of Airlie on 8/28 on the very day it appears on your calendar of songs?

    What an amazing site for this Johnny-come-lately to follow.

Your Reply

Warning: Undefined variable $user_ID in /customers/a/0/f/ on line 121