The Twa Brothers (Two Brothers)

An absolutely gorgeous version of this old, old ballad recorded by the amazing Jean Redpath. It’s left up to the listener to decide whether it was indeed accident or not.  In another version (additional verses below), John asks his brother Willie to pass on to various family members words of comfort at his dying – all but his stepmother (John’s mother?), who wished Willie ill.  Many possibilities, and the possible origins, can be found on the Mainly Norfolk site. One of my favorite finds, however, is yet another recording from Mountain Home, Arkansas by Ollie Gilbert from 1969 in which he tune is different, but the story and lyrics largely remain the same. The Scottish song resource Tobar an Dualchais has a number of archival versions, including several by Sheila Stewart.


There were twa brothers at the school
And when they’d won awa’
It’s will ye play at the stane chucking
Or will ye play at ball
Or will ye gae up yon bonnie green hill
And there we’ll wrestle a fa’

Oh, I winnae play at the stane chucking
Nor will I play at the ba’
But I will gae up yon bonnie green hill
And there we’ll wrestle a fa’

They wrestled up, they wrestled down
Till John fell tae the ground
And a dirk fell oot o’ William’s pouch
Gi’ed John a deadly wound

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