Saturday, August 11, 2012

An Islay Song from 1850

'Poems and songs, satirical and descriptive, bearing on the political, moral, and religious character of man in this country, at the present day' was written by Alexander M'Gilvray (or McGilvray as it would be spelt now) and published in 1850. The title page describes the author as 'Alexander M'Gilvray, Paisley', with the book printed by William Gilchrist of Glasgow 'for the author' (i.e. the collection appears to have been self-published).

M'Gilvray (1800-1871) was born in Paisley and made his adult living there as a baker. One of the poems in his collection though is described as 'written while the author was residing in Islay in 1822' - indeed within he mentions being 'located on the Rinns of Islay'. That poem, 'Epistle to W.C.', includes the lines 'Die when I will, I'll ne'er repent, the days in Islay I have spent'.

Maybe it was around this time that he wrote his song 'Islay' (tune 'Haughs of Cromdale'). Where are the 'fields of Elistore' he mentions? I assume this is Ellister farm, near Portnahaven.


Now I must leave the peaceful shore,
The pleasant fields of Elistore,
Nor dare to hope I'll ever more
Behold the hills of Islay.

No more I'll climb thy mountains high,
To view the meeting sea and sky —
The stately vessels gliding by.
On every side of Islay.

On sunny shores, beyond the wave,
Let merchants seek the gold they crave;
Give me a walk, at dusky eve.
Along the shores of Islay.

How sweet to rove o'er hill and plain,
When low the sun hangs o'er the main;
O when he wakes, and spreads again,
His golden beams o'er Islay!

By simple Nature's power impress'd.
Here friendship glows in every breast;
The houseless, wandering, stranger-guest,
Has bless'd the Isle of Islay

From strife of noisy towns secure,
Here mortals spend their days obscure;
And long may harmony endure
Throughout the Isle of Islay.

Unknown to crime, unknown to shame,
May ne'er ambition blast thy name.
Nor cursed lust for wealth and fame,
Corrupt the sons of Islay.

Here all the bliss of life they share,
In innocence, and free from care;
With hearts as light and pure as air,
Upon the hills of Islay.

Here Liberty her throne maintains:
O'er thy delightful hills and plains
No domineering tyrant reigns
—A heaven on earth is Islay!

Though ne'er to tread thy shores again,
My heart with thee shall still remain;
Where'er I wander, I'll retain
My dearest wish for Islay.

Anybody want to have a go at singing it?!

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