Fear A’ Bhàta waltz

Also known as Fear A Bhata, Fear A’Bhata, Fear Ah Bhata, Fhear A Bhata, Fhear Ni Bhata, Fhir A’ Bhata, Fir Na Fhata, O(h) My Boatman.

There are 22 recordings of this tune.

Fear A’ Bhàta has been added to 19 tune sets.

Fear A’ Bhàta has been added to 155 tunebooks.

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Fifty-six comments

this is actually Fear a’ Bhàta
written by Sìne NicFhionnlaigh (Jean Finlayson) from Lewis in the 1800’s

Fir na Fhata

As per a request. I found this transcription at Wild Dismay Tunes, found here:


Here’s what they have to say-

“We learned this and several others from a K-Tel sort of record that I think was called ‘The Music of Scotland’. The medley was by far the best music on the recording. Played third in a medley based on the above recording: ‘Skye Boat Song (G)’, ‘Mist-Covered Mountain’, ‘Castlebay’, ‘Fir na Fhata’ and ‘Skye Boat Song (D)’. This is a gaelic song (‘The Boatman’ in English); Silly Wizard calls it ‘Fhear ni Bhata’.”

This one’s a little strange in that it’s a single part of 24 bars with a single repeat. Not sure how many of those there are?

It’s probably one of the best known gaelic songs here in the islands. Lovely melody too.

Fear a’ Bhàta is the actual title though Fir na Fhata doesn’t actually mean anything.

Stranger yet….

Part of this melody actually turned up a few years back in a popular rock song on FM radio by a band called Staind. Not sure often that happens?

Fear a’ Bhata

I’m guessing that the two spellings are from differences in Irish and Scots gaelic? ‘Fear a’ Bhata‘ seems a slightly more phonetic spelling, showing slight anglicization, where ’Fir na Fhata’ seems more Irish in character? Don’t think I’ve ever had opportunity to hear the song, though I do like the melody!

But it’s not an Irish song mrkelahan, it’s from Lewis in Scotland

Can I assume, then, that you wouldn’t condone of transcribing from the original key?

Actually, my last name would be Callahan if not for these differences in regional spelling and pronunciation. Johnson, Johansen, same meaning, but you wouldn’t be able to find me in the phonebook that way!

Joking aside, any background on Sine Nic Fhionnlaigh (Jean Finlayson) of Lewis?

Irish connection…

One slight connection with Ireland. I seem to remember “Horslips” using this as an introduction to a song, “The Blind Can’t Lead The Blind” [?].

Thanks for the reference, Kenny.

Bogman, to further confuse the issue, I went straight from submission to comment and somehow you still beat me to comment. So, somehow some of my comments are actually ahead of yours (yours weren’t posted yet as I was writing), even though yours are showing as being submitted before mine! So how do you ‘row, row your boat’ if ‘your’ ahead of ‘row’? (Now if this isn’t sufficiently loopy, I don’t know what is!)

If you started typing before bogman posted but he clicked submit before you then his post would appear first.

This is a lovely melody and as bogman says a very popular one, particularly in the Islands. It is Fear a‘ Bhàta meaning The boatman - ’Fear‘ meaning ’man‘ and ’Bhàta’ meaning boat. It might sound less Irish to you but that would be all well and good as it is not Irish. Unfortunately it would appear as if the folk at www.blackflute.com transcribed the name wrong.

Capercaillie did a nice version of this song a few years ago.


Fhir a’ bhàta na ho ro èile
Fhir a’ bhàta na ho ro èile
Fhir a’ bhàta na ho ro eile
Mo shoraidh slàn leat ‘s gach àit’ an tèid thu.

’S tric mi sealltainn on chnoc as àirde,
Dh‘fheuch am faic mi fear a’ bhàta,
An tig thu ‘n an-diugh, no ’n tig thu màireach,
‘S mur’ tig thu idir gur truagh a tha mi.

Tha mo chridhe-sa briste, brùite
‘S tric na deòir a’ ruith om shùilean.
An tig thu ‘n nochd, no ’m bi mo dhùil riut,
No ‘n dùin mi ’n doras le osna thùrsaich?

’S tric mi foighneachd de luchd nam bàta
Am fac‘ iad thu no am bheil thu sàbhailt’?
‘S ann a tha gach fear dhiubh ’g ràitinn
Gur gòrach mise, ma thug mi gràdh dhuit.



Lots of info on the song and its origins as well as a sound file for it on these links.

Thanks for the links, NCFA. Despite my last name, I was 30yo before I even knew gaelic existed, so I do appreciate the bi-lingual approach at that site. A beautiful story and performance. As this is Scots traditional, would they also call it sean nos singing?

It would be more accurate if you changed the title to the Scots Gaelic, “mrkelahan”. Just a suggestion.

“The exchange of tunes is what keeps traditional Irish music alive. This website is one way of passing on jigs, reels and other dance tunes.”

I was already taking a step away from the ‘straight and narrow’ in including a Scots song / waltz, so the thought was that as this is primarily a ‘website for the exchange of traditional Irish music’ it might be better to title it in Irish Gaelic and note in the comments that it is indeed an import.

Bearing this in mind, I can also see how the current presentation could be misleading, with the ‘also known as’ showing the Scots Gaelic one might get the wrong impression that it originated as Irish. Since anyone who took any time to look wouldn’t get this mistaken impression, I thought it appropriate to submit as it is now.

I’m not trying to blow you off, though I’m afraid that I’m coming off as a bit insincere, but I thought it was the best way to approach a not-so-novel situation (import often goes both ways) given the big picture and initial intent of this website. If I missed a precedent somewhere, I apologize, but I’m not sure that anything can be done at this point outside of the admin in the first place!

Up to you…

As the person who posted the tune, you have the option of changing the title - go to “Details” and “edit…”

It is all well and good that this is a site for Irish music and whilst I am certainly in favour of Scottish tunes being included here (I have posted many myself), just changing the title to make it sound or look more Irish (I have no idea if Fir Na Fhata is correct Irish or not) does not make the tune any more Irish - it just makes the title wrong!

Well according to http://www.irishdictionary.ie/dictionary

Fhata does not exist in Irish

The Irish for boat would be ‘bád’ or ‘coite’ according to that site. I don’t know how accurate that dictionary is but I would suggest that the guys at blackflute.com have just written it down wrong.

It wasn’t written down wrong and no one tried to disguise it as Irish. They (Wild Dismay) were probably more comfortable spelling in Irish, as opposed to the original Scots, but it’s still the bloody Boatman!

Without getting into what constitutes a good translation (I studied Latin for several years) I will not change the title on account of the false accusations and condescending manner with which the opposing side of this issue has been conducted.

If you want it changed, start a ‘Discussion’ thread and be certain that there is a qualification that this thread is read entirely for background.

I won’t have what, if any reputation that I have be tarnished by half-seeing despots!

What? Who is a despot?

I was just pointing out that fhata does not appear to be a real word in either Scottish Gaidhlig or Irish Gaelic. Perhaps an Irish speaker could confirm this for definate. But it appears to be made up, fictional, a nom-de-plume, fabricated, invented, painted, unreal, a series of random letters put together for the purpose of nothing.

If an Irish speaker corrects me on this then I will be prepared to admit my error but I don’t think they will because it is a nonsense word - pure and simple.

I did not mean any criticism of the members of Wild Dismay, why would I? I don’t know them. I was just pointing out that in this instance they appear to have made a lexicographical error in attributing an incorrect series of letters to the name of a tune rather than a correct series of letters.

Bearing in mind it is fairly clear how the tune should be spelt with references to established bands from the country the song is from, who speak the language spelling it the above suggested way, along with the Gaelic language and culture resource that I pointed to that also spells it this way I would humbly suggest that you adjust the main title to the correct spelling and add the Wild Dismay spelling to the alternative titles so that fans of Wild Dismay are able to find the tune.

I don’t like being called names…….

…….particularly when I am right!

Excuse me…

Is that last sentence aimed at me, “mrkelahan” ?

NCFA, you stated “just changing the title to make it sound or look more Irish (I have no idea if Fir Na Fhata is correct Irish or not) does not make the tune any more Irish - it just makes the title wrong!”

If that isn’t an accusation, I don’t know what is.

Please bear this in mind before stating “I don’t like being called names….particularly when I am right!”

Your sense of rightness and civil manners seems to be egocentric at best. Next time keep better track of your words and they won’t be as likely to come back and haunt you.

Why is it an accusation? It is just a statement of fact. I am not being egocentric. I am just getting exasperated. I am sorry if we appear to be bullying or have perhaps painted you into a corner so that you feel you can not back down without losing face.

I do appreciate you adding the tune. It is a very popular song that you could easily hear in a session in Scotland and is surely a welcome addition to the website. It is just that, on a point of fact, Fir Na Fhata is not the real name. ‘Fir Na Fhata’ is not correct Scottish Gaidhlig. It is not even correct Irish. It is just wrong. That was not a value judgement on either you or the members of Wild Dismay. It was just a statement of fact.

Kenny - I think it was probably aimed at anyone who suggested the name was wrong, whether that was you, me or bogman.

Excuse me…

No ‘Kenny’, wasn’t aimed at you.

Frankly, I would have changed it a long time ago but I wasn’t appreciating some of the condescending attitudes that this issue seems to be bringing up.

I don’t know, with comments like “it appears to be made up, fictional, a nom-de-plume, fabricated, invented, painted, unreal, a series of random letters put together for the purpose of nothing”, I remember things like it’s unwise to assume too much, as you normally end up making an ‘ars’ of oneself.

I hate to point it out but I only said that AFTER you called me a despot!!

Up to that point I had just provided further info about the song including lyrics and so forth and some (I thought) friendly, helpful comments about the title and so forth. Anyway I have assumed nothing. I looked into it and provided links to back it up. Please get off your high horse.

Not on a high horse, though some of these comments are getting loopy (delayed without benefit of reading before commenting) again.

If you are not a Irish-speaker, how can you assert that it is “just wrong”? You can only say that it isn’t Scots gaelic.

I was simply being true to how I received the tune until both sides have said there peace. That was also why I suggest starting a Discussion. Assuming (we don’t know this yet) that this is correct Irish, the only reason to afford you this change is to meet your preference that it be reflected in the original Scots gaelic.

As I said earlier, if most tunes can be transcribed to something other than the original key for a variety of reasons, it would only stand to reason that the same can be done with respect to dialects.

If I can get a definitive statement on the Irish gaelic being an incorrect spelling or translation, or a general preference from the site and its members for ‘untranslated’ titles when appropriate, I’d be more than happy to change it for you.

On my behalf, I’m not sure you were taking into account the ‘loopiness’ of some of these comments and the fact that I was trying keep this from being a matter of you, I or just a few of us deciding.

Did I hear Mingulay?

Hey Mr 😉 Kelahan
take it easy; people are only trying to help. A lot of what is discussed here is common knowledge (gaelic spelling, song origins etc). Skepticism is a good approach to any information but you could apply it to your own contribution as well, esp. as you only did a simple copy/paste procedure. As kenny says, it is up to you to correct this mistake.
Of course, errors and transformations happen, as can be seen, for instance on Capercaillie’s website:
( http://www.capercaillie.co.uk/discography/lyrics/blood/ ) where an English translation appears besides the original words in gaelic, printed with none of the áccènts! You can also observe a shift from: ‘Fear A’ Bhata‘ in the title to ’Fhir a‘ bhata’, in the lyrics. This is not a mistake however but a grammatical ‘case’ shift. All the same, it is that song and no other we’re talking about here (bogman, at the top of this thread has the ‘right’ spelling). It makes practical sense to get the title down as correctly as possible to help with searches and so that the list of musicians who recorded ‘a tune by this name’ can be displayed. Thanks for contributing such a beautiful, haunting tune anyhow.
(Its first 8 bars are v close to that other ‘super’ Scottish air, the so-called ‘Mingulay’ Boat Song, penned in English this time about 80years ago)
A sample of Karen Matheson’s rendition of Fear a’ Bhàta can be heard on the same website at:

“It is up to you to correct this mistake.”

I’ll make the change, but bear witness that I’ll be contacting my civil liberties union (mistakes, unwanteds, where’s a thread on political correctness when I need one)!

PS- This wouldn’t have gone so slow if you had chosen other than to call it a mistake : )

Misunderstanding, again…

What I meant was “it’s up to you [ ”mrkelahan“ ] WHETHER OR NOT you change the name”. There was no instruction intended at all. I really wasn’t that bothered about it, but thank you for doing so, as I believe it’s more accurate, and more importantly, respectful to the person who composed the song to give it its‘ original title. I firmly believe that the people on this site would prefer any tune be labelled by the title bestowed upon it by its’ composer.

Thank you for the context, Kenny. Misunderstandings are still being perpetuated on both sides, though. You said that you meant “it’s up to you WHETHER OR NOT you change the name”, and I do hear reason in the last part of your comment, but it also appears that you were misrepresented by birlibirdie when saying “as Kenny said, it’s up to you to correct this MISTAKE.”

I’m glad to stand with you on this change, as you’ve assured me of precedent and maintained tone and reason. As for the rest, I believe there’s still a high cross called Clanmacnois for a reason!

Another spelling…

Track 7.
“Alba” were a trio before the pipes were included. I first heard the tune played by them at Aberdeen Folk Club in 1975, as I recall, played by Tony Cuffe [RIP] on lyra. I’m not sure if that’s how the tune title is spelt on the LP, but will check.

Geesh, all that, and no one bothered to point out that this air seems to be in Am, not the Cmaj as posted….

Posted .

Not to mention that the Wild Dismay site is full of errors on tune names. E.g., Tom Bhetty’s waltz is given as “Tommy Bantey’s” and Cooley’s Reel as “Dooley’s.”

Clearly not trustworthy source.

Posted .

Yes Will, it is in Am not C but I felt like I might be mentioning the dirty fork.

Well, I think it’s hilarious that kelahan threw such a hissy fit over people pointing out the mistakes when all he did was cut and paste a tune from a state-side band’s web site that is rife with mistakes, musical and otherwise.

A. Show a bit of respect for the tradition and the effort many people have put into this tune data base--take the time to accurately present the tune before submitting it (or don’t submit it if you can’t vouch for the accuracy of your setting).


B. At least keep a sense of humor and perspective when members here (many far more immersed in the tradition) point out the errors.

Posted .

“Alba” recording..

“Alba” have it as “Fear Ah Bhata” on their LP sleeve. Mind you, none of them were Gaelic speakers, and they played the air, not the song. Just for interest’s sake.


Just for clarity’s sake, the key is Cmaj, the mode is Amin or A aolian, if you prefer. It now says Amin.

No, the key is A, the mode is aeolian.

The tune resolves to A (not C), and the flatted 3rd, 6th, and 7th make it aeolian.

Posted .

Why, then, would the sheet have no sharps or flats (signifying key of C)? Key of A would have 3 sharps, etc.

The key signature doesn’t actually specify key/mode--you have to suss that out from the sharps and flats indicated and the tonal center of the tune. (Realizing that Irish trad tunes weren’t and aren’t created with the conventions of standard music notation in mind.)

A key sig of no sharps and flats could be key of C, ionian mode, or key of A, aeolian mode, key of D, dorian mode, or Key of G, mixolydian mode. You have to suss out the tonal center to properly determine which it is.

You might find this key/mode chart helpful: http://www.slowplayers.org/SCTLS/modes.htm

Posted .

No, I guess it was semantics. I thought it would be properly stated ‘key of C, A aeolian mode’ as opposed to ‘key of A, aeolian mode’. Unduly confusing, but useless to argue with convention.

Well, “convention” in this music would be to just play the damn thing. 😉 Or call it A minor and get on with it.

Posted .

The important thing here is to recognize that the tonal center is A, not C. So the tune is in A aeolian, not C major. This matters greatly if accompanists are about.

Posted .


Just to clear up the whole gaelic issue, fear a‘bhàta in scots gaelic means boatman or literally ’boy of the boat‘. ’Fear‘ being man and bàta being boat. ’Fhata‘ is the lenited word ’fata‘ which means ’long‘ in Irish gaelic. ’Fhata’ wouldn’t show up in a dictionary because it is lenited. (Words become lenited for many reasons that I won’t go into.)
It might have been a mistake by someone who was trying to spell it phoenetically but fh is silent in gaelic so that doesn’t work either.

Tha mi ’n dochas gu bheil sin nas fheàrr a-nis!

Fear a Bhata, English versions

I love this song! Thanks to “No Cause for Alarm” for the youtube link of Capercaillie’s rendition, and thanks to Ramiro for the Slainte link.
I first found this song on Rebecca Pidgeon’s CD “Four Marys”. Her lyrics are slightly different from the Slainte ones, and she stops after the golden ring stanza.

Sine Fhionnlastan

This is the name given on the recent beautiful recording by Bec Rigby with the Melbourne Scottish Fiddle Club album “Gates of Gold” you can hear it on MySpace I think

Oh my!

How interesting to stumble into this heated discussion more than ten years after posting a tune to our (now defunct) band’s web site!

FWIW My only language is (a relatively weak understanding of) American English. I am pretty certain that I copied the spelling used in our notes and description from the jacket and liner notes of the LP from which we learned this tune originally.

This LP was one that I most likely acquired while browsing a junk shop sometime in the 1970’s. From my hazy recollections it would seem to have been something probably released in the late 1950’s or 1960’s. It was the rather common style of commercial renderings of traditional music.

Different version.

From ‘Davidson’s Gems of Scottish Melody’, published in the 19th century. Not nearly as haunting a melody, IMO, but interesting, as I’ve never heard anyone play this version:

T:Fear a’ Bhàta
B2e2{B}d3/2c/2|B2d3/2c/2 A2|{GA}G4:|
B2d2{ef}g3/2f/2|e2d3/2B/2 G3/2D/2|
E2G2B3/2A/2|B2d3/2c/2 A2|{GA}G4:|]

The tune is set in B flat in the book.

Fear a Bhata

Fear becomes fhir for grammatical reasons. Fhir is pronounced ’ir roughly -the “f” becomes silent when followed by “h”. Again Bata (boat) becomes Bhata for grammatical reasons. Bhata is pronounced Vata as b becomes v when followed by h. So Fear a Bhata is roughly feer a vata but fhir a bhata is ir a vata. Fir is a version of “fear” roughly man or “one” as in one does or someone. Hence some versions will have Fhear as the lenited form of Fear.
All Celtic languages have similar changes. In Brethonic languages: Welsh, Cornish etc. these are called “mutations”. In Gaelic languages these are called “lenitions” (Irish also has mutations) . This often causes a lot of problems to non speakers when transcribing or looking for translations as most dictionaries only give the main, not mutated/lenited spellings. Scots Gaelic spellings have also changed a lot recently to make them easier for non-native speakers to learn and also to make writing Gaelic easier for children who have learnt to speak it first. So there is often differences when looking at recent spellings compared to previous of say 30+ years ago. Irish Gaelic has its own unified spelling system devised when Gaelic became the official language of the Irish Republic on it’s formation. Manx Gaelic is written phonetically using basically English letter sounds/English alphabet. Thus, although very similar in sound and linguistically the Gaelic languages are all spelled quite differently so look completely different. The Brithonic languages also, although sounding similar and being similar linguistically have their own spelling systems. Cornish, like Manx Gaelic mainly using an English based phonetic system and alphabet, whereas WElsh and Breton have their own systems.

Fear A’ Bhata

Listened to Rebecca Pidgeon’s version recently. Made it in D dorian so that it can be played easily on a 20 button C/G concertina.

Posted .

Re: Fear A’ Bhata

I have come across eight verses for this song (and, indeed, written a choral version of it using all of them, in C minor). Most of it has a harp backing, and I’ve also put in an instrumental verse with alto recorder. Anyway, the verses I’ve come across (at least a couple have already been posted) are these:-
[Sèist]: (optionally after each verse, but that would really make it long, so my version just has it twice - as a solo at the start and with all voices at the end):
Fhir a‘ bhàta, na hòro eile, [x3] Mo shoraidh slàn leat ’s gach àit’ an tèid thu.
1: ‘S tric mo shealltainn on chnoc as àirde dh’fheuch am faic mi fear a’ bhàta;
An tig thu ‘n-diugh no ’n tig thu ‘màireach? ’S mur tig thu idir gur truagh a tha mi.
2: Tha mo chridhe-sa briste, brùide ‘s tric na deòir a’ ruith o ’m shùilean;
An tig thu ‘nochd no ’m bi mo dhùil riut, no ‘n dùin mi ’n doras le osna thùrsaich?
3: ‘S tric mi faighneachd de luchd nam bàta am fac’ iad thu no ‘m bheil thu sàbhailt’;
Ach ‘s ann a tha gach aon dhiubh ’g ràitinn gur gorach mise ma thug mi gràdh dhut.
4: Gheall mo leannan dhomh gùn den t-sìoda, gheall e siud agus breacan rìomhach;
Fàinn‘ òir anns am faicinn ìomhaigh ach ’s eagal leum gun dèan e diochuimhn’.
<recorder interlude>
5: Ged a thuirt iad gun robh thu aotrom cha do lùghdaich siud mo ghaol ort;
Bidh tu m‘ aisling anns an oidhche, is anns a’ madainn bidh mi gad fhaighneachd.
6: Thug mi gaol ort ‘s chan fhaod mi àicheadh cha ghaol bliadhna ’s cha ghaol ràithe,
Ach gaol a thòisich nuair bha mi ‘m phàiste ’s nach searg a-chaoidh gus an claoidh am bàs mi.
7: Tha mo chàirdean gu tric ag innseadh gum feum mi d‘ aogas a leig air diochuimhn’;
Ach tha ‘n chomhairle dhomh cho diomhain ’s bith tilleadh mara ’s i toirt lionaidh.
8: Bidh mi tuille tùrsach, deurach, mar eala bhàn ’s i an dèidh a reubadh,
Guileag bàis aic’ air lochan feurach is càch gu lèir an dèidh a treigeadh.