The Road To The Isles march

By John McLellan

Also known as The 71st’s Farewell To Dover, The Bens Of Jura, The Burning Sands Of Egypt, The Highland Brigade’s March To Heilbronn.

There are 18 recordings of this tune.

This tune has been recorded together with

The Road To The Isles appears in 1 other tune collection.

The Road To The Isles has been added to 4 tune sets.

The Road To The Isles has been added to 98 tunebooks.

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Six settings

X: 1
T: The Road To The Isles
R: march
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
|:DG|B4d>BA>B|G>AG>F E2G2|E>CE<G D>GB<d|A6 D>G|
B4d>BA>B|G>AG>F E2c2|B<dB>G D>FA<F|G6:|
|:B>c|d>DD/D/D B>DD/D/D|G>AG>F E2G2|E>CE<G D>GB<d|A6 B>c|
d>DD/D/D B>DD/D/D|G>AG>F E2c2|B<dB>G D>FA<F|G6:|
X: 2
T: The Road To The Isles
R: march
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
X: 3
T: The Road To The Isles
R: march
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Gmaj
X: 4
T: The Road To The Isles
R: march
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
Ad|f3g afef|dedc B2dc|BABc defa|e6 Ad|
f3g afef|dedc B2g2|fafd Acec|d6:|
fg|aAAA BAAA|dedc B2dc|BABc defa|e6fg|
aAAA BAAA|dedc B2g2|fafd Acec|d6:|
X: 5
T: The Road To The Isles
R: march
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
A>d|f4 a>fd>f|d2A2 A2d>c|B<GB>c d>ef<a|e4 e2A>d|
f4 a>fd>f|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2:|
|:f>g|a>A A/A/A f>A A/A/A|d>ed>c B2d>c|B<GB>c d>ef<a|
[1e4 e2f>g|a>A A/A/A f>A A/A/A|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2:|
[2e4 e2A>d|f4 a>fd>f|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2||
X: 6
T: The Road To The Isles
R: march
M: 4/4
L: 1/8
K: Dmaj
A>d|f4 a>fd>f|d>ed>c B2d>c|B<GB>c d>ef<a|e4 e2A>d|
f4 a>fd>f|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2:|
|:f>g|a>A A/A/A f>A A/A/A|d>ed>c B2d>c|B<GB>c d>ef<a|
[1e4 e2f>g|a>A A/A/A f>A A/A/A|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2:|
[2e4 e2A>d|f4 a>fd>f|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2||
A>d|f>Aa>f d>AB>c|d>ed>c B2d>c|B<GB>c d>ef<a|
[1e4 e2A>d|f>Aa>f d>AB>c|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2:|
[2e4 e2f>g|a>A A/A/A f>A A/A/A|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2||
f>g|a>Af>e d>AB>c|d>ed>c B<AB>c|d>cd>e f>df<a|
[1e4 e2f>g|a>Af>e d>AB>c|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2:|
[2e4 e2A>d|f>Aa>f d>AB>c|d>ed>c B2g2|f<af>d A>ce>c|d4 d2||

Twenty-eight comments


This is not a barndance. It is, of course, the air to a popular Scots song. If it were to be assigned a ‘tune type’, it would probably fit most comfortably into the ‘4/4 march’ category, for which this tune database does not cater. It is probably not in the repertoire of the average Irish session, but I think it deserves to be. Whilst its Caledonian snappiness is delightful, it might be rendered more (Irish) session-friendly by smoothing out the rhythm a little. In fact, taking out the Scotch snaps and playing it with a gentle swing rather than the dotted rhythm would pretty much make it a barndance.

Here it is with the ‘kinks ironed out’ and a few notes added in for good measure:

M: 4/4
L: 1/8
R: barndance
K: Gmaj

I am well aware that submitting song melodies on a site devoted to *dance* music is an offence punishable by some form of musical torture, but I think this is a good tune and I am prepared to come within an inch of death for its cause.

Re barndance

I wonder if you have the chance to check this tune out on Tom Doherty’s ‘Take the Bull by the Horns’ CD. I have a copy and he gives it his own special treatment on the single row melodeon making it sound very Irish (and very danceable) to my ear.

And it is called a barndance on his sleeve notes.


You’re OK with this one, MG, at least if what you’ve posted is anything near the barndance version which Mary Custy recorded which I’v e always liked. I think the original was a song by by the tartan Andy Stewart and the title may have been “The Tangle Of The Isles. Don’t know if whether or not he wrote either the words or melody - Rab c might know.
Hamish Imlach used to sing a parody of it, the last line of which was “You’ve never danced the tango wi’ the piles” !

Posted by .

S’alright Goat Mountain Lad - - -

Yes, it is danced to, and was a feature at house dances all across Eire, and even some of the big ceilis. The most common couple dances I know that was danced to it was a take on ‘The Heel and Toe’ & ‘The Schottische’. It could also be dances with couples around the hall as a “John Paul Jones” type mixer…

So - no apologies required… No worry at being strung up either, or a posse on your scent, which as a male goat would not be hard to trace even without dogs… Mind you, some self-appointed purists might grumble a bit as they can do…

Whew!, I guess I need to wake up before facing singulars and plurals…

Yes, but I didn’t know any of that. I demand to be subjected to 48 hours of Daniel O’Donnell at the wrong speed! It’s the only way I can keep a clear conscience.

No - No - No! - - - AAAAAAAAAA!!!

That will turn your brain to mush. It is akin to shortwave radiation…

Actually, I think medium wave radiation will mushify a bran…er… brain. See?! It’s happening! AHHHHHH… **gurgle**

I shouldn’t worry - my brain has always been somewhat mushy in consistency anyway. I think it was my mother’s fondness for saltpetre during pregnancy.

The Road To The Isles

Here are Leo Maguire’s words to the tune.

Leo McGuire’s Song

Ah wis headin’ wi ma cromack up frae Gretna Green tae Skye
But ma journey has an element of farce.
‘Cos the calendar has stated - it’s the middle o’ July,
Yet here ah am wi’ snaw up tae ma arse, Oh - yo!

(chorus) Wi’ ma pipes below ma oxter an’ ma sporran neatly pressed
Ma pockets full o’ porridge for the road.
Wi’ some Crawford’s Tartan Shortbread an’ some tattie scones as weel
An’ ah’m jist aboot tae paint masel’ wi’ woad. Oh - yo!

I am headin’ for sweet Afton, that’s the place that ah am daft on,
Where the smell o’ tattie bogle fills the air.
If ye poke amang the heather wi’ a feather ye will see
Where the untamed hornie-golluck has his lair. Oh - yo!

Ah remember Annie Laurie, sure, ah had her in a quarry
On the road frae Tobermory tae the sea.
Ah remember Mountain Daisy, an’ that lassie wisnae lazy,
‘Cos ah remember Daisy mountin’ me. Oh - Yo!

Ah remember gettin’ pally wi’ a peely-wally ‘tally,
In a chalet doon at Butlin’s camp at Ayr.
An’ ah gied her a bambino as she lay an’ read “The Beano”
Then she said, well how did she know ah wis there? Oh - yo!

Ah wis jist a wee bit randy as she lay an’ read “The Dandy”
Then she went an’ put a pot upon the hob.
An’ she made me tagliatelli, which she balanced on her belly
So’s ah could eat while ah wis on the job. Oh - yo!

By the time the job wis over, she wis halfway through “The Rover”
An’ had started on that week’s “People’s Friend”
An’ she made me veal escalope an’ we had another wallop
Before ma strong desire came to an end.

Oh the Scottish Summers have a certain lack of charm,
Due mainly to the sudden rainy squalls.
But the Scottish lassies can aye keep her laddie warm
By their tender ministration to his knees. Oh - yo!

Nice one Jocklet…

Thanks for taking out the dotted rhythm in the comments section, Goat. But can I suggest you do it the other way around?

There he is again, railing against that dreaded dumpty dumpty… Talk about brain damage from wave radiation, only in this case it is ‘swung waves’. Don’t click on the sound file Jack, don’t, it will just scramble your brain cells worse than a swung cat in the low ceiling environment of a fo’cs’le - poor kitty… No, don’t do it…

Jack - I thought it better to post the tune as I have heard it, rather than my off-the-cuff arrangement of it, which I would not wish to be immortalised in sheet music..

Keneth Horn

Heard it on ‘Round the Horn’ … antique radio show … as: “with a sporran full of porridge and a feather up yer kilt, ye’ll never smell the tangle o’er the Isles”

Jack - There’s another good reason for leaving the dots in the submitted version and putting the undotted version in ther comments: the comments section doesn’t allow opposing dotted groupings in abcs, since everything falling between the ‘less than’ and greater than’ signs is interpreted as HTML code, whcih is automatically deleted from the text.

Yea, I can see your point Goat. I guess I’m really talking about the hornpipes that people submit where the claimed source has no resemblance to what appears in dots. In this case it’s a Scottish tune that actually does resemble that.

Felix Kearney’s “The Ould Road From Omagh To Dromore”

My Great-Grandfather, Felix Kearney wrote this song(The Ould Road From Omagh To Dromore) using the air of the song, “The Road to the Isles”, which is an original Scottish Gaelic Song.

The Ould Road From Omagh To Dromore.

I am going back to Ireland, to the County of Tyrone,
To the spot from which misfortune made me roam.
In this city of thousands I am lonely and alone,
So hurrah, boys, for Ireland and for home.
I don’t mind the journey, though the road be rough and long
If tomorrow i shall see the Irish shore,
And the day beyond tomorrow I’ll be marching with a song
On the ould road from Omagh to Dromore.

Don’t i know every turning of the road I love so well,
Every landmark in my mind is graven still,
whith my face turned to Granan and my back to Bessie Bell,
I’ll be halfay home at Allen’s Mill.
Though im weary of the journey and theres blisters on my feet,
Ach, its soon I’ll be forgetting these old sores.
When i feel the hearty greetings from the friends that I will meet
On the ould road from Omagh to Dromore.

When i reach Clannabogan, with its shadows long and cool,
i will sit me down and rest an hour there;
And that little voice of reason whispers: “Boy you were a fool,
that ever left a country half so fair.”
Then forgetting all my troubles and the citys noise and throng
And the light of other days that are before,
Though my feet are growing weary, in my heart i’ll lilt a song
On the ould road from Omagh to Dromore.

There’s a wee whitewashed cottage a mile outside Dromore
In the corner there is still a vacant chair.
And for years I’ve been dreaming of the welcome there for me
From a little grey haired lady waiting there.
So I’m going home to mother and no more i mean to roam,
And i’ll tell her that my roaming days are o’er.
And i know she’ll give her blessings to the road that brought me home-
’Twas the ould road from Omagh to Dromore.

Road to the Isles

You’ve read the parodies/spoofs above, so for good measure, here are the original lyrics:

A far croonin’ is pullin’ me away
As take I wi’ my cromak to the road.
The far Coolins are puttin’ love on me,
As step I wi’ the sunlight for my load.

Sure, by Tummel and Loch Rannoch
And Lochaber I will go,
By heather tracks wi’ heaven in their wiles;
If it’s thinkin’ in your inner heart
Braggart’s in my step,
You’ve never smelt the tangle o’ the Isles.
Oh, the far Coolins are puttin’ love on me,
As step I wi’ my cromak to the Isles.

It’s by ‘Sheil water the track is to the west,
By Aillort and by Morar to the sea,
The cool cresses I am thinkin’ o’ for pluck,
And bracken for a wink on Mother’s knee.

It’s the blue Islands are pullin’ me away,
Their laughter puts the leap upon the lame,
The blue Islands from the Skerries to the Lews,
Wi’ heather honey taste upon each name.

P.S. For the benefit of any who may not know, a “cromak” is a crooked stick. A related word occurs in the Cumberland (English Lake District) dialect: “crummock” - q.v. “Crummock Water” (a particular lake in that region that has a crooked shape).

It’s the far northland that’s a callin’ my away

I learned a version as a child in camp in the Adirondack Mountains of upper state New York. Always thought this was some sort of Swiss mountaineering song, adapted to the U.S. Here are the incomplete (and perhaps inaccurate) lyrics:

“It’s the far Northland that’s a-callin’ me away,
(I forget the words to this next line)
It’s the call on me from the forest to the north,
As step I with the sunlight for my load.

From Mount Regis to Mount Marcy to Clear Junction I will go,
To see the loon and hear his plaintive wail,
If you’re thinking in your inner heart, (I forget the rest of this line)
You’ve never been along the Northern Trail.

Originally just a tune!

Ragaman - you need have no fears about being subjected to “some form of musical torture” for submitting a “song” to thesession db - before words were added, it was indeed just a “tune”. I’ve recently discovered some interesting history about it:

The tune was written by Pipe Major John MacLellan, and he orginally entitled it: “The Bens Of Jura”.

During the South African War he changed the title to: “The Highland Brigade’s March To Heilbronn”, (MacLellan had by this time enlisted in the Brigade).

Thereafter, on being posted to Egypt, he renamed it again - this time to: “The Burning Sands Of Egypt”.

It only became a song later on (circa 1914) when Kenneth Macleod wrote “Road to the Isles”, setting it to that tune.

Thanks for such fascinating information everyone, and the words. I didnt know any of that, just the Andy Stewart song. I’m glad I dipped in here. It’s a good tune as well

Another set of words to this tune is the Corries one about somebody on a holiday in Scotland:

…we thought were in Berwick when we got to Lerwick
cos some bugger changed the signposts in Dundee.

Leo Maguire’s is the best to date. I don’t think there has ever been a set of Gaelic words to it, despite what a previous poster here said.

The Road To The Isles, X:4

Here’s a version in D as played by the Abbey Ceili Band on there CD Beal a Ghleanna in the Sliabh Luachra Set figure 6, second tune.

The Road To The Isles, X:5

This setting is what I hear (GH) pipers playing nowadays, which is pretty much what is given in the Scots Guards Standard Settings (Vol I). In particular the second bar is not what others might play (most would play it the same as bar 6).
There is also a four part version which I may post at some point. Not sure how many parts the original (The Burning Sands of Egypt by PM John MacLellan) had.

The Road To The Isles, X:6

The sixth setting is the (official?) four part version. I’m not sure I like all the different second time endings. I can see how it is supposed to work. I just don’t know if it does. I might be tempted to go back to the first part as a second time ending for the final part.

As Mix O’Lydian says above, the original title was “The Bens of Jura” (I got it wrong in my previous post) and the tune, perhaps then only a two part setting, was written by John McLellan when he was sixteen, in 1891 or so, and well before he was a pipe major.

Re: The Road To The Isles

It is also a well known couple dance and the snaps make the steps fit properly. You can play it in D, the move up to G and finally to A for variety.
Sylvia Miskoe, Concord NH USA