Thou Bonnie Wood o' Craigielea

The earliest extant printing of Craigielea, the song that the melody of Waltzing Matilda is based upon, is in the Glasgow University Library, and was printed in 1818. The proper spelling of Craigielea is 'Craigielee', but as the '-lea' spelling was the one used in Australia when Banjo Paterson and Christina MacPherson wrote the song, I will use that one for my comments.

In TANNAHILL'S POEMS AND SONGS with LIFE and NOTES by DAVID SEMPLE F.S.A (Paisley: Alex Gardner - 1874) (Glasgow Univ. Library SP.COLL Hepburn 310) is the following information about Craigielea.

This song first appeared in the Glasgow Nightingale of 1806, page 75, and is titled "Bonny Wood of Craigie-lee"... (the Glasgow Nightingale...was a collection of songs called the Nightingale or Songsters' Magazine - a choice collection of Scots, Irish and English songs - published at Glasgow by A & J Leslie, booksellers 58 Gallowgate, in 1806. The 18 mo. volume consisted of 224 pges and contained 198 songs. Tannahill contributed 27 (13% or 1/5th of the whole collection) of these, 6 had previously appeared in Maver's....)



Set to music by Mr James Barr*


Thou bonnie wood o Craigielee

Thou bonnie wood o Craigielee

Near thee I pass’d life's early day

An won my Mary's heart in thee


The brume, the briar, the birken bush

Blume bonnie o'er  thy flow ery lea;

An a the sweets that one can wish

Frae Nature's hand are strewed on thee



Far ben ‘thy dark green plantin's shade

The cushat*** crooddles am'rously

The mavis, doon thy buchted glade

Gars echo ring frae ev'ry tree


Awa, ye thochtless, murd'rin gang,

Wha tear the nestlin’s ere they flee

They'll sing you yet a canty sang

Then, oh!, in pity let them be!

A____A castle ruin in Scotland.

Image ___Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission.

When winter blaws in sleety showers

Frae off the Norlan hills sae hie

He lichtly skiffs thy bonnie bow'rs

As laith tae harm a flow'r in thee


Though fate should drag me south the line

Or o'er the wide Atlantic sea

The happy hours I'll ever min'

That I, in youth, hae spent in thee.

*Note by R.A.Smith in the "Harp of Renfrewshire" p.xxxvii - "The music to 'Thou Bonnie Wood of Craigielee' was composed by 'Blythe Jamie Barr frae Saint Barchan's toun.' It does the author great credit. It is a pleasing and natural melody, and has become most deservedly a great favourite over the West Kintra side. I think this little ballad possesses considerable merit - (esp) the last stanza...

**Note by Ramsay - "The scenery, here so finely described, lies to the north west of Paisley. Since Tannahill's time it's beauty has been impaired by gas works...

Estate of Ferguslie - no place called Craigielee until Tannahill invented that name, 1st appeared in print in the Nightingale, and in the first edition of his songs in 1807.

There was a mailing on the Ferguslie estate called Craigs, from the rocks abounding on it. That name the author softened into Craigilee. (Proper spelling - Craigielee; not 'lea')

At the Foot of King street, along the Blackston Road, on the Ferguslie estate, 5 minutes from Tannahill's residence; No.6 Queen Street, Paisley.

The wood has been cut down now.


Below is a modern transcription of the earliest surviving printing of the music of Craigielea, (University of Glasgow Special Collection N.d.18-19) (Click on the music to download a free copy)

from the Miniature Museum of Scotch Songs and Music, written by Scots poets... arranged the voice and pianoforte by the most eminent composers (Edinburgh, 1818)


At the same castle.

Image Copyright©1996 A. Partington All Rights Reserved Used by permission.

Robert Tannahill was born June 3rd 1774

Tannahill took up the profession of weaver. He could sing, and his favourite musical instrument was the German flute. While weaving he would write down poetical ideas. He had a delicate constitution, nevertheless he is known to have enjoyed dancing. Tannahill was a slender, mild looking man with features that inclined to the feminine. He was 5 feet 4 inches high, short looking, with a well proportioned head, fine light brown hair, soft mild grey eyes, long slightly aquiline nose, small mouth, thin lips, round chin. He preferred to walk along the middle of the road, and had a halt in his walk.

He was modest and becoming in dress - a small bonnet, a cravat, blue jacket with metal buttons, a buff waistcoat with small buttons, cashmere breeches buttoned at the knees, leather shoes tied with leather thongs and a white apron in front.

When on holiday he would wear - beaver hats, necktie, light blue coat, buff vest, ruffled dressed shirt, and cashmere breeches.

He bought books, stationary, postage, and spent money on travel. His 'ramblings' (travels) included the following (picturesquely named) places:

Fairy Woodside and Sweet Ferguslie

Meikleriggs Muir

Newton Woods

the Brass of Gleniffer

Stanley Castle

Cruickston Castle


Karbarchan, Lochwinnoch, Beith.

He was not healthy, but nevertheless it is said that he took care of himself. He was a smoker and had black teeth from smoking(!), as had most of his friends.

He wooed Jenny Tennant. She married someone else. This poem is supposed to have been written to her, among others:


Tannahill was suffering from constitutional disease and mental illness, exacerbated by unjust criticism. He was staying at Queen Street- his family was keeping an eye on him, but his mother fell asleep. They found his bed empty. They informed the police and his clothes were found on the South side of the culvert of Camdren Burn, an inverted stone syphon under the canal. His body was lifted from the canal.

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Accuse me not, inconstant fair,

Of being false to thee,

For I was true, would still been so,

Hadst thou been true to me.

But when I knew thy plighted lips

Once to a rival's prest,

Love-smothered independence rose

And spurned thee from my breast.

The fairest flow'r in Nature's field

Conceals the rankling thorn;

So thou, sweet flow'r! as false as fair,

This once kind heart hath torn.

Twas mine to prove the fellest pangs

That slighted love can feel

Tis thine to weep that one rash act,

Which bids this long fareweel.