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The Bonny Hills of Scotland

Roud #550

Known as “The Paisley officer,” “India’s burning sands,” “The new recruit,” and “Bonny Scottish Mary,” among other titles, this song tells the story of a woman disguising herself so that she can go away to war with her true love. It ends with her death on the battle field.

In Shamrock, Rose and Thistle, Hugh Shields notes that the song is common in Canada and the northeastern United States. He speculates on the song’s Ulster origins, noting that the fullest references to the text are found in northern regions of Ireland (1981:97).

Listen to Eta Nash sing “The bonny hills of Scotland,” view Aidan O'Hara's transcript, and download your own copy of the words.

The bonny hills of Scotland / Eta Nash

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The bonny hills of Scotland / Eta Nash

The bonny hills of Scotland, song (On the bonny hills of Scotland where bluebells they do grow … ) Known as “The Paisley officer,” “India’s burning sands,” “The new recruit,” and “Bonny Scottish Mary,” among other titles, this song tells the story of a woman disguising herself so that she can go away to war with her true love. It ends with her death on the battle field.  In Shamrock, Rose and Thistle, Hugh Shields notes that the song is common in Canada and the northeastern United States. He speculates on the song’s Ulster origins, noting that the fullest references to the text are found in northern regions of Ireland (1981:97). 

Eta Nash's version of “The bonny hills of Scotland”

On the bonny hills of Scotland where bluebells they do grow,
There dwelled a shepherd’s daughter down by the lowlands low;
She watched her flocks the whole day long, down on the banks of Clyde,
And though her coat was pure and old, ‘twas called the farmer’s pride.

A hunt came down from Paisley town, a-hunting came that way,
They hunted in the lowland glens where Mary’s cottage lay;
And many’s that evening glance that came upon that farm so fair,
And wondering how so fair a flower could bloom and flourish there.

Young Henry came to Mary’s house, his heart was filled with woe,
Saying, ‘Mary, my love, Mary, from you I must go;
My recrumpsion[1] has been called down, I must obey command,
To go and leave the lowland glens for India’s burning strand.’

‘I fear you’re hardly going, love,’ young Mary she did say,
‘I’ll dress in soldier’s clothing and to thee we will go.’
The soldiers they admired her as she stood up on parade,
And wondering how a soldier’s coat could win the fairest maid.

The morning of the battle, first came a shoot and shell;
Young Henry fought the brutal, while Mary’s conscience fell;
Young Henry fought the brut, while Mary did her best,
She was trying to staunch a bleeding wound when a bullet pierced her breast.

‘I fear you’re hardly wounded love,’ young Henry he did say,
‘Your life blood is like a flooding, love, it vanished like the clay;
The first time I saw you love, ‘twas you I did admire,’
And she closed her eyes, no more to rise on India’s burning shore.


[1] Editor’s note: Based on context, this word might be ‘regiment’ or ‘enlistment.’