Highland Laddie

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"Highland Laddie", also known as "Hielan' Laddie", is the name of a Scottish popular folk tune "If Thou'lt Play Me Fair Play",[1] but as with many old melodies various sets of words can be sung to it, of which Robert Burns's poem "Highland Laddie" is probably the best known. "If Thou'lt Play Me Fair Play" has been reworked several times since Burns set down his words, Donkey Riding being one variant.

Highland Regiments raised in the 18th and early 19th centuries employed many unique symbols to differentiate themselves from other regiments and enlisted distinctive music to announce their arrival, but as a result of the Cardwell Reforms of 1881, all British Army Highland Regiments were required to use "Highland Laddie" as their regimental march. Over time, many of these regiments had managed to return to their pre-Cardwell marches when, in March 2006, the establishment of the Royal Regiment of Scotland saw the disappearance of all Scotland's historic infantry regiments and their distinctions, including music, and the adoption of a new regimental march, "Scotland the Brave".


"Highland Laddie" continues to be the regimental march of a number of Commonwealth regiments with Scottish affiliations. Some of these regiments include:

United Kingdom



New Zealand

Republic of India

Sri Lanka

Highland dance[edit]

Highland Laddie is also the name of a dance in Scottish Highland dancing, of the "national dance" subtype. This version of the dance was first published by D.G. MacLennan in 1952, who referred to it as a Hebridean dance, collected by MacLennan in 1925 from Archie MacPherson on the island of South Uist. MacLennan himself suggested "a more effective finishing" of the dance, with entrechat at the end.[2] Most national dances are usually danced in an Aboyne dress, but the Highland Laddie is one of two national dances that are typically danced in the standard kilt-based outfit, the other being "Wilt Thou Go to the Barracks, Johnny?".

Scottish step dances[edit]

Highland (or Hielan') Laddie is the name of several Scottish soft-shoe step dances, different from the National dance mentioned above. Two different dances of this name have been taught in Scottish (Ladies) Step dance classes within the frame of the RSCDS Summer Schools in St Andrews, Scotland.[3] Yet another version, collected by Jack McConachie and published in 1972[4] is now commonly referred to as "Hebridean Laddie".[5] There are reasons to believe that dances taught by Jack McConachie as Hebridean, namely Flowers of Edinburgh and Bonnie Dundee, originally used to be danced to the music of Hielan' Laddie as well.[6]


As a tune with martial affiliations Highland Laddie is still widely played by the regimental bands and/or pipes and drums of the Scottish regiments. As a traditional Scottish tune, Highland Laddie is also commonly played on the bagpipes for Scottish dances. Typically categorised as a "Quick March," Highland Laddie is normally written in 2/4 time. The "standard" setting contains two parts (8 bars per part). As with any of the older melodies, variations have been composed and some published with the most distinctive settings appearing in Pipe Major William Ross' 1885 book containing eight parts to 'Highland Laddie'.

Canadian settings[edit]

"Highland Laddie" appears as the most frequently used regimental march in the Canadian Forces and demonstrates a variety of settings depending upon which music book and/or instructor was used in any particular area. Some regiments play two parts and some a four-part version as their regimental march. Not all the parts are in the same order and some are not played at all.


Numerous lyrics for the tune exist.[7][8]

Jacobite Rebellion[edit]

Where ha' ye been a' the day?
Bonnie laddie, Hielan' laddie
Saw ye him that' far awa'
Bonnie laddie, Hielan' laddie

On his head a bonnet blue
Bonnie laddie, Hielan' laddie
Tartan plaid and Hielan' trews
Bonnie laddie, Hielan' laddie

When he drew his gude braid-sword
Then he gave his royal word.
Frae the field he ne'er wad flee
Wi' his friends wad live or dee.

Geordie sits in Charlie's chair
But I think he'll no bide there.
Charlie yet shall mount the throne
Weel ye ken it is his own.

Sea Shanty[edit]

Was you ever in Quebec?
Bonny laddie, Highland laddie,
Loading timber on the deck,
My bonny Highland laddie.

High-ho, and away she goes,
Bonny laddie, Highland laddie,
High-ho, and away she goes,
My bonny Highland laddie.

Was you ever in Callao
Where the girls are never slow?

Was you ever in Baltimore
Dancing on the sanded floor?

Was you ever in Mobile Bay,
Screwing cotton by the day?

Was you on the Brummalow,
Where Yankee boys are all the go?

Four-Part Variation[edit]

The Lawland Lads think they are fine
But oh they're vain and idle gaudy
How much unlike the graceful mein
And manly looks o' my Highland Laddie

If I were free at will to choose
To be the wealthiest Lawland Lady
I'd tak' young Donald without trews
Wi' bonnet blue and Highland plaidie


Oh my bonnie bonnie Highland Laddie
Oh my bonnie bonnie Highland Laddie
When I was sick and like to die
He rowed me in his Highland plaidie

O'er Bently Hill wi' him I'll run
And leave my Lawland kin and daddy
Frae winters chill and summers sun
He'll screen me in his Highland plaidie

A painted room, a silken bed
Maun please a Lawland Lord and Lady
But I could kiss and be as glad
Behind a bush in his Highland plaidie

Nae greater joy I'll e'er pretend
Than that his love prove true and steady
Like mine to him, which ne'er shall end
While heaven preserves my Highland Laddie

(Repeat Chorus)


Bonny Laddie, Highland Laddie Beethoven Op. 108 no.7 (for Piano, Violin and Cello) Four Verses[9]

Where got ye siller moon,
Bonnie laddie, highland laddie,
Glinting braw your belt aboon,
Bonnie laddie, highland laddie?

Belted plaid and bonnet blue,
Have ye been at Waterloo?

Weels me on your tartan trews,
Tell me, tell me a' the news!

Saw ye Boney by the way,
Blucher wi' his beard sae grey?

Or, the doure and deadly Duke,
Scatt'ring Frenchmen wi'his look?

Some say he the day may rue;
You can till gin this be true.

Would ye tell me gin ye ken,
Aught o' Donald and his men?

Tell me o' my kilted Clan,
Gin they fought, or gin they ran?


  1. ^ 1. Smith, Alexander, p. 264
  2. ^ MacLennan, D.G. (1952). Highland and Traditional Scottish Dances. Edinburgh. p. 30-31, 58-59.
  3. ^ Royal Scottish Country Dance Society (2013). The St Andrew's Collection of Step Dances. Vol. 1. pp. 38-41.
  4. ^ McConachie, Jack (1972). Hebridean Solo Dances. Caber feidh Publications. p. 12-18.
  5. ^ United Kingdom Alliance of Professional Teachers of Dancing (2012). The UKA Highland, National and Hebridean Book. Blackpool. p. 34-35.
  6. ^ Robertson, Colin (1982). Hard Shoe Step Dancing in Scotland and The Flowers of Edinburgh. The Scottish national Dance Company. p. 4.
  7. ^ "Highland Laddie - Highland Bagpipes traditional tunes' stories by Stephane BEGUINOT". cornemusique.free.fr. Retrieved 2018-02-25.
  8. ^ "Wood's edition of the songs of Scotland". National Library of Scotland. p. 195. Retrieved 2018-02-25.
  9. ^ http://www.lieder.net/lieder/get_text.html?TextId=23687 "Where got ye siller moon", The Lieder Net Archive

External links[edit]


  • Smith, Alexander, ed. Poems Songs and Letters being the Complete Works of Robert Burns, (The Globe Edition), London, MacMillan and Co., 1868.

Further reading[edit]

  • Ross, William, Ross's Collection Pipe Music, London, 1885.
  • Barnes, RM, The Uniforms and History of the Scottish Regiments, London, Sphere Books Limited, 1972.
  • Cannon, Roderick D., Highland Bagpipe and its Music, Edinburgh, 1997.

See also[edit]