For Halloween this year I have to post one of my favorite “ghost ballads.” You have to listen to the whole song to find the ghost, but it’s worth it. I first heard it off of Connie Dover back in the mid ’90s. Here’s it’s sung by Mary McPartlan.
The Holland Handkerchief
A wealthy squire he lived in our town
And he was a man of high renown
He had one daughter, a beauty bright
And the name he called her was his Heart’s Delight
Many young man far to court her came
But none of them could her favour gain
Till there came one of the low degree
And above them all why she’d fancy he
But when her father he came to know
That his lovely daughter loved this young man so
Over fifty miles he sent her away
All to deprive her of her wedding day
This [Child] ballad describes the burning and sacking in 1640 of the castle of the Earl of Airlie, a supporter of Charles Edward, by the Duke of Argyll. Airlie, aware that he would be forced to renounce the King, left Scotland, leaving his house in the keeping of his oldest son, Lord Ogilvie. Argyll, ordered to proceed against the castle, raised several thousand men for the purpose. When Ogilvie heard of his coming with such a huge force, the castle was abandoned. Lady Ogilvie’s defiance is an invention of the ballad muse, for it has been fairly well established that none of the family was there at the time the castle was sacked.
Here’s a version by a young band making a tremendous mark in the world of traditional music, Full Set, with singer Teresa Horgan.
The Bonnie House of Airlie
It fell on a day, on a bonny summer’s day
When the sun shone bright and clearly,
That there fell oot a great dispute
Between Argyll and Airlie.
Argyll he has mustered a thousand o’ his men,
And he’s marched them in right early;
He’s marched them up by the back o’ Dunkeld,
Tae plunder the bonnie hoose of Airlie.
Lady Ogilvie she looked frae her window sae high,
And oh but she grat sairly,
To see Argyll and a’ his men
Come plunder the bonny hoose of Airlie.
This is one of the Child Ballads (#39), originating in the Scottish Borders. It’s definitely one of the “big” songs.
The story revolves around the rescue of Tam Lin by his true love from the Queen of the Fairies. While this ballad is specific to Scotland, the motif of capturing a person by holding him through all forms of transformation is found throughout Europe in folktales. – Wikipedia