Dateline: 05/14/00

Famous Scots

- Robert Tannahill (1774-1810)

Robert Tannahill The sixth of nine children, Robert Tannahill was born on 3 June 1774 at Castle Street, Paisley. His father was a silk weaver and the family moved to a thatched cottage at 11 Queen Street in Paisley (where the Paisley Tannahill Club still meet). Tannahill received a basic education but he read widely and showed an early interest in and a talent for poetry. When he was twelve years old he was apprenticed to his father as a weaver. He continued his self education, learning to play the flute and going to theatre performances in Glasgow.

In the years following his fathers death in 1802 he began to publish his poetry, in some cases as words to existing tunes, particularly Irish music. Frail and shy, his poetry was often inspired by the countryside around Paisley. Despite having a deformity in his right leg, he would go for long walks in the Gleniffer Braes above the town. Poems such as "The Braes of Gleniffer" and "The Flower O' Levern Side" were about local haunts. He also wrote about soldiers and war as the loss of life during the Napoleonic Wars had an affect on him.

Tannahill founded a Burns Club in Paisley in 1803 at the Sun Tavern in High Street and James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, was a guest there. Like Robert Burns before him, Tannahill showed an understanding of humanity, love and friendship. He published a collection of his works in 1807 and they were well received. However, when another group of poems was rejected by an Edinburgh publisher he burned many of his writings. He was often prone to bouts of depression and he drowned himself in a canal in Paisley on 17 May 1810.

In 1883 a series of concerts were held on Gleniffer Braes and the money raised paid for a statue to Paisley's most famous poet (see above). It was erected close to Paisley Abbey.

Here is a poem by Robert Tannahill. The meaning of words which may be unfamiliar to you are listed at the end.

Bonnie Wood O' Craigielea

Thou bonnie wood o' Craigielea!
Thou bonnie wood o' Craigielea!
Near thee I pass'd life's early day,
And won my Mary's heart in thee.

The brume, the brier, the birken bush,
Blume bonnie o'er thy flowery lee,
An a the sweets that ane can wish
Frae Nature's han, are strewed on thee.

Far ben thy dark green plantin's shade,
The cushat croodles am'rously,
The mavis, doon thy bughted glade,
Gars echo ring frae ev'ry tree.

Awa, ye thochtless, murd'rin gang
Wha tear the nestlins ere they flee!
They'll sing you yet a cantie sang,
Then, oh! in pity let them be!

Whan Winter blaws, in sleety showers,
Frae aff 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 mind
That I, in youth, hae spent in thee.

Unusual Words:
cushat croodles=woodpigeon nestles
lichtly skiffs=lightly skim

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