Wednesday, January 14, 2009

English translation of the Scots lyrics for Freedom Come All Ye

Freedom come all ye is one of the most significant Scottish songs. It describes the post war collapse of empire and presents an internationalist image of a world of freedom and justice where Scotland will have its own place free from the stain of imperialism.

The original Scots lyrics are rather impenetrable even for Scottish people so I thought I would have a stab at an English translation.
I started with the English translation found in the Wikipedia article.

This does not scan with the melody, is not singable and loses any poetic sense.
It tries to translate "Broomielaw " which is a place name, which does not seem worth doing.
I also don't think its necessary to take all the Scots words out of the song to make it more accessible.

So here is my attempted translation:

Freedom Come All Ye
Original Scots Lyrics by Hamish Henderson, this version by Gordon Hudson

Rough's the wind in the clear day's dawning
Blows the clouds head-oer-heel across the bay
But there's more than a rough wind blowing
Through the Great Glen of the world today
It's a thought that would make our vermin
All those rogues who strut and swagger without care
Take the road and seek other lodgings
With their vile schemes to sport and play

No more will our fine lads be commanded
to march to war at a braggarts call
Nor wee weans from pitheads and clachans
Mourn the ships sailing down the Broomielaw
Broken families in lands we've vanquished
Will curse "Scotland the Brave", nae mair, nae mair
Black and white to one another married
Will make the slums of their masters bare

So come all ye at home with freedom
Never heed those prophets of doom
In your house all the bairns of Adam
Will find bread, drink and painted rooms
When Maclean meets with friends in Springburn
All the rose and cherry trees will turn to bloom
And the black lad from Nyanga
Will break the powers of his masters doon.


  1. Thanks for posting your translation of Freedom Come All ye. I agree it is an improvement on the Wikipedia entry.

    I have enjoyed the Freedom Come All Ye for almost 50 years, since I first heard it on a Folkways
    record entitled "Ding Dong Dollar ", a collection of anti-polaris and Republican songs issued in the early 1960s. I was able to get the drift of the song's meaning, although many of the Scots phrases eluded me. The whole album (which is now available on CD through Smithsonian Folkways) sparkles with wit, although specific bits of Scottish slang and references to 1960's people and events might
    be a bit obscure, particularly to Americans.

    1. Just a small correction. The Scots language is not slang. It is a real language, recognised internationally. Thanks

  2. Thank you. I am glad someone has found it useful. It as a song that I always associate with the anti apartheid movement in Scotland. The song seems to get a new audience with each generation.

    Here is a video of me playing the tune on penny whistle:

    Click Here

  3. I too love the song and offer this slightly freer translation which I hope holds wider meaning, scans and sings well for us poor English speakers.

    Rough the wind in the clear day’s dawning
    Blowing cloud billows heaving 'cross the bay
    But there’s more than the wind a-blowing
    Through the Great Valleys of the world today

    It’s a wind that would cause our masters
    Tyrants who think themselves so fine and gay
    Blown away to some distant island
    Where no more will they have their way

    Never more will our country’s finest
    March to war at some liar’s hollow cry
    Nor will children from town or country
    Mourn the men sailing off to fight and die

    Broken families in lands we conquered
    Will curse 'Scotland the Brave' no more, no more
    Black and white will be one together
    Strike the slums and their landlords sore

    So come all you who love your freedom
    Don’t believe those who preach their tales of doom
    In your house all the children dwelling
    Will find bread, drink and gen-rous room

    When MacLean comes home to greet us
    Rose and cherry will blossom in the morn
    And a black lad from old Nyanga
    Breaks the cruel power of the tyrants down

    1. Thank you for these translations. I knew the poet who wrote it, Hamish Henderson, a Gaelic, Scots and English speaker. In this version one could replace "Scotland the Brave" with "America the Free" and the anthem would be meeting a 2015 world accurate and acute was Hamish as poet that this anthem in free translation like this adapts to all the curses of imperialism that still haunt the world.

  4. Barley Bree would be barley broth,made with pearl barley,vegetables and stock made from meat or bones depending on the finances available.I can remember eating such broths made with beef marrow bones,flank lamb or mutton and carrots,swede,leeks and potatoes.