As I cam in by Fiddich-side
On a May morning
I spied Willie Mackintosh
An hour before the dawnin

“Turn again, turn again
Turn again I bid ye.
If ye burn Auchindoon,
Huntly he will heid ye”

“ Heid me or hang me,
That shall never fear me
I’ll burn Auchindoon
Tho’ the life leaves me”

As I cam in by Fiddich-side
On a May morning
Auchendoon was in a bleeze
An hour before the dawnin

“Crawin crawin,
For a’ your crouse crawin,
Ye’ve burnt your crop
And tint your wings
An hour before the dawnin.”

crowing like a cock, boasting
Crop: an internal seed-pouch in a bird’s neck
Crouse: arrogant, bold
Fear: frighten
Heid: behead
Tint: lost

Brought to Sangschule by Sylvia and Elaine of Stairheid Gossip.

The words of this ballad are found in Scotland Sings edited by Ewan MacColl, 1953 where his note says he got it partly from the singing of William Miller, Stirling (his father), collated with the version in Child’s Ballads.

MacColl also has it in Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland. In both versions MacColl has “crop” in the singular. Many singers now have “crops” instead of “crop” thinking of setting fire to fields as an act of attrition in war. But the whole verse likens Mackintosh to a cock crowing at dawn. Because of the fire he set, he has lost his wings and burnt his crop, or neck-feathers. In a rooster or hen, and in other birds, the crop is at the base of the neck, an internal pouch for holding and grinding seed.

MacColl’s note in Folk Songs and Ballads of Scotland gives a concise account of the background history : “Following the murder of the Earl of Murray, the MacIntoshes of the clan Chattan pillaged a castle and killed four men on an estate belonging to the Earl of Huntley. In retaliation, Huntley laid waste the lands of Clan Chattan. Returning home from this engagement he surprised the MacIntoshes spoiling his lands of Cabrach and, in the ensuing fight, killed sixty of them.”

Another story behind the ballad is recorded in Tales of the Scottish Clans (Chambers 1989) William, the sixth chief of Clan Mackintosh became involved in the renewal of an old family feud with the Marquis of Huntly, and burned down his castle of Auchindown. Mackintosh was taken prisoner by Huntly and condemned to death – by a Court that Huntly himself had selected. The injustice of this led the Provost of Aberdeen to threaten to report it to Parliament, and the sentence was not carried out.

But Huntly sent Mackintosh for safe-keeping to Lady Huntly at Strathbogie Castle, where he appealed to her for justice. According to Sir Walter Scott, she told him “Mackintosh, you have offended Huntly so deeply that he has sworn that he will never pardon you until he has brought your neck to the block.”

“This interview took place in the kitchen of Strathbogie and William loosened his collar, and laid his head on the wooden block on which cattle and sheep were broken up, saying, as he did so, ‘Even to that humiliation will I stoop, to secure the safety of my father’s house!’” Taking advantage of this situation, Lady Huntly signed to the cook who was standing nearby with a meat chopper in his hand, and he struck off the young man’s head.