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Mystery around Land o the Leal

This is a gorgeous song, we love performing it and it’s been made more popular recently as it featured on the recent movie, Outlaw King. What is really interesting about this song is that there was quite a bitter fight over deciding who wrote it! Carolina, lady Nairne (1766-1845) was never a fan of any kind of fame.



She collected songs, wrote poems and worked quietly on music without letting even her family know what she was doing. She said at one point that even her husband, Lord Nairne, had not been told about her music ‘lest he blab’. I love that! She sat for what must have been hours writing and yet so many people close to her had no idea. She did publish some songs but worked under the name Mrs Bogan of Bogan – check that out if you are ever looking in old music volumes, BB means Lady Nairne.



In the case of the Land of the Leal some people believed this was the work of Robert Burns. It became known as his song generally, but others did dispute this. In the 1890's long after her death, a man called Charles Roger asserted that The Land o the Leal had been penned by Lady Nairne. She had written it for her dear friend Mrs Campbell Colquhoun of Killermont on the death of that lady’s infant daughter. She set the tune to a slow version of the tune Hae Tutti Tatti which many of us know as the tune for Scots Wha Hae. This news incensed an admirer of Robert Burns called Alexander Crichton. He eventually got so worked up about the song that he wrote an entire book on it! I always refer to it as an ‘angry little book’. He gives all kinds of reasons why The Land of the Leal must be the work of Burns. He suggested that certain aspects were very like previous Burns songs. Things like the words which were used being very familiar to Burns in particular and that the subject of the death of a child was something Burns had experienced. Crichton starts off by saying his book is an exploration to reach the truth of the matter, but he betrays his real feelings by writing some pretty nasty things about Lady Nairne. He states that she was merely a ‘tinkerer’ of songs and casts doubt on her writing and musical abilities. In some ways it was Lady Nairne’s wish to remain anonymous which worked against her. Had she been less shy and more open about her publications then there would have been no debate.

It is hard to know why she wanted to keep quiet and many people ask me this when we talk about her and perform her songs in our presentations. My own thought is that this kind of writing was something she had done ever since she was a young woman. She lived in a time, the late 1700’s, when respectability meant young women did not engage in these kinds of activities. Being a good daughter, a good wife and mother, minding her situation and being part of a polite society when she lived in Edinburgh might all have ensured she kept her work anonymous.

The real impact of that modesty and reluctance to shine has been seen in the way that her work has been overlooked for many years. Often her songs have been sung but many believe they are singing or hearing a song by Hogg or Burns, not Lady Nairne. Hogg, Burns and Lady Nairne all collected songs. This means that at times they overlapped with slightly differing versions of similar songs being circulated. They all knew this and were never pretending to have a definitive version! Even today we all know slightly different words or completely different tunes for some classic traditional songs. In truth, this is part of the charm of learning old songs. Finding differing versions and then working to adapt a version to suit our own style and voice is a vital part of the process. It’s what Lady Nairne did and it's what PlaidSong do today. We hope you enjoy our version of the Land of the Leal.


Listen to the song here


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