The Bawbee Birlin

by Michael Marra & Rod Paterson
Tune: Niel Gow’s Farewell to Whisky

O the time will come so the auld man said
When the servant slumbers in his mester's bed
If he's no ower busy workin overtime instead
A for the birlin o the bawbee o't.

The bawbee o't, the bawbee o't
The birlin o the bawbee o't
It's no for a penny or a shillin or a groat
But a for the birlin o the bawbee o't.

And the hoor will ding when a’ the young men cry
That the gowd in the tyke has taen a thin disguise
There was nae guarantee that what thur mester did was wise-like
A’ for the birlin o the bawbee o't.

And the day will dawn when a’ the auld men see
That the shape and the form o ony aipple tree
Has mair tae recommend itsel afore the spirits flee
And nane for the birlin o the bawbee o't.


Bawbee: general term for money. In 19th C a Scottish coin, worth a ha’penny.
Birlin: spinning, tossing a coin
(An old meaning of a ‘birling’ was a carousal, or a drinking- match where people clubbed together to buy drink.)
Gowd in the tyke: gold in the ticking – money hidden in the mattress
Groat: historically a small Scottish coin. Something of little value.
Hoor will ding: hour will strike, the time will come
Wise-like: sensible, reasonable

Brought to Sangschule by Gordeanna McCulloch. Though some of the words are difficult, Gordeanna explained the heart of the song as meaning that some day the young and wise will come to value beautiful things in life, such as an ordinary apple tree, above the "masters' ’’ concern with making money, which will ultimately slip away and not satisfy the spirit.

The song was dedicated by the writers to Mary Brooksbank, jute worker and socialist activist from Dundee.