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Scots Language Centre Centre for the Scots Leid

The Rovin Ploughboy

When the song was collected by Hamish Henderson from John MacDonald, who was a mole and rat-catcher by profession and lived in Pitgaveny, Elgin, Mr MacDonald sang an additional verse.

Come saddle tae me my auld grey mare
Come saddle tae me my pony O
An I'll tak the road and I’ll go far away
After ma rovin ploughboy O

Chorus

Ploughboy O, oh ploughboy, O
I'll follow the rovin ploughboy O


Last night I lay on a fine feather bed
Sheets and blankets sae cosy O
This night I maun lie in a cauld barn shed
Wrapped in the arms of my ploughboy O

A champion ploughman, my Geordie O
Cups and medals and prizes O
On bonny Deveronside there are none to compare
Wi my jolly rovin ploughboy O

So fare ye weel tae auld Huntly toon
Fare ye weel Drumdelgie O
For noo I’m on the road and I’m gaun far away
After ma rovin ploughboy O

Last chorus

Ploughboy O, oh ploughboy O
I'll follow my rovin ploughboy O

Mr MacDonald's additional verse:

What care I for the auld laird himself?
What care I for his siller O?
Gae saddle tae me my auld grey mare
I’m awa wi the rovin ploughboy O

This is quite a puzzling bothy ballad.

The girl seems to want two horses saddled at once, so she can ride both! So she is rich and she prefers to follow the young ploughboy lad rather than marry the old laird. But being a ploughboy is not a roving life; ploughboys agreed to work for a farmer for six or twelve months at a time and lived on the farm. There were some other jobs that involved travelling around, for example if you had specialised machinery you could work on hire for a farmer.

But the clue to the way two different ideas are mixed up in this song was spotted by the great Scots collector and creator of songs, Hamish Henderson.

He heard John MacDonald’s song and realised that the first two verses are reworked from the ballad ‘The Gypsy Laddies’, where the gypsies entice a wife away, and her husband wants to chase after her and must decide which of two horses to have saddled. Henderson asked MacDonald about the song and learned that he had added the last verse himself to give it 'a better ending'.

The famous north east singer Jeannie Robertson heard John MacDonald's recording and chose to use his tune for 'The Gypsy Laddies'. She had got the words for the ballad 'orally from her own folk'.

'The Rovin Ploughboy', performed by Christine Kydd.
From Dark Pearls (CD), CUL 115D, Culburnie Records.

  • The Rovin Ploughboy

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  • The Rovin Ploughboy

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