The Hairst o Rettie

Joe Aitken: On Autumn Harvest ah003.
Old Songs & Bothy Ballads: For Friendship and for Harmony

Live from the Fife Traditional Singing Festival May 2005.

One of the greatest of the serious bothy ballads (GD 408, Ord p271). This famous song tells of the change over from the scythe to the back delivery reaper which took place in a big way in the middle 1800s. The farm of Rettie is a little inland from the coast near Banff in north-east Scotland. Joe picked up this song from the late Charlie Murray of Craigeassie near Forfar who had learned it in turn from the singing of Jimmy McBeath.

1: I hae seen the Hairst o Rettie,
Aye, an twa three on the throne, [i.e. farms of that ilk
I've heard for sax or seven weeks
The hairsters girn an groan;
But wi a covie Willie Rae
A monthie an a day,
Sends aa the jolly hairsters
Singin blythly doun the brae.

2: A monthie and a day ma lads,
The likes wis niver seen,
It beats tae sticks the fastest strips
O Vicker's best machine;
A Victory she brings up the rear,
A Speedwell clears the way,
An twenty acre daily yields
Wi doun tae Willie Rae.

3: He drives them roun an roun the fields
At sic an awfa rate,
Yet steers them cannie oot an in
At mony's a kittle gate;
And drives them safely ower the clods
An mony's a hidden hole,
And he'll comes by nae mishanter [i.e. mishap
If you leave him wi the pole. [i.e. in charge

4: He sharps their teeth tae gar them bite,
He taps them on the jaws,
And gin he finds them dully like,
He brawly kens the cause;
A boltie here, a pinnie there,
A little oot o tune,
He shortly stops their wild career
An brings the slushet doun. [i.e. into gear

5: He whittles aff at corners,
An maks crookit bitties stracht,
He likes tae see that man and beast
Are equal in a draucht;
An aa the shavies lyin stracht [i.e. sheaves straight
An nane o them agley, [i.e. none out of line
And he'll count wi ony dominie [i.e. any teacher
Fae the Deveron tae the Spey.

6: He's no made up wi mony words
Nor kent tae puff an lee,
But jist as keen a little chap
As ever you did see;
If you're in search o hairvest wark
Upon a market day,
Tak my advice, be there on time
An look for Willie Rae.

7: And noo we've gotten't in aboot
An aa oor things be ticht,
We settle roun the festive board
And spend a joyfu nicht;
Wi Scottish songs and mutton broth
Tae drive oor cares away,
We'll drink success tae Rettie,
An a health tae Willie Rae.

8: So come aa ye jolly Rettie boys,
A ringin cheer, hurrah!
A band o better workin chaps
A gaffer never saw;
Sae eager aye tae play your part
And ready for the fray,
'Twas you that made the boatie row,
That was steered by Willie Rae.
c p 2006 Autumn Harvest