Ah Scotland, the land of the brave. And, like all good Celtic nations, the land of song. Like many folk tunes, many Scottish songs have crossed national borders to be enjoyed around the world.
If you don’t know the lyrics, you’re sure to have heard the tunes of most of them played by pipers all over the world at New Year’s Eve celebrations, birthday parties or international matches of rugby. Grab a glass of whiskey and join us for a song.
The best Scottish songs of all time
Flower of Scotland
You can’t do a roundup of Scottish songs without including Scotland’s unofficial national anthem. “Flower of Scotland” was adopted by Scots in 1974 when the country’s rugby winger Billy Steele persuaded his teammates to sing it while on tour in South Africa. The 1990 Five Nations match between Scotland and England helped cement its reputation, thanks to its lyrics celebrating Scotland’s victory over England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Perfect for a little Scottish rivalry -English.
We’ve included ‘Flower of Scotland’ in our roundup of best rugby songs to sing during the Six Nations.
Auld Lang Syne
‘Auld Lang Syne‘ is probably the most famous Scottish song of all time, its reach now extends far beyond Scottish shores. It has become an integral part of New Year’s Eve around the world, with revelers crossing their arms and singing it in unison to herald a new year. This tradition is believed to have started in 1929 when the house band at New York’s Roosevelt Hotel led a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” in a performance broadcast live on airwaves around the world. Its lyrics have been linked to Scottish national poet Robert Burns, although he admitted that most of the text was handed down to him by an old man.
This song brings to life a storyteller eager to find a lost love on the ‘bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond’, Scotland’s largest loch located just outside Glasgow. The text is written in colloquial Scots, referring to ‘bonnie braes’ (beautiful banks [of the loch]) and ‘wee birdies’ (small birds). The song is thought to date back to the Jacobite rising of 1745, with the text created from a poem written by Scottish poet Andrew Lang in the 19th century.
Scotland the Brave
Scots tend to disagree on what constitutes an “unofficial national anthem”, but “Scotland the Brave” is often up there with “Flower of Scotland” as a major contender. Often played by bagpipes, ‘Scotland the Brave’ is heard at parades, football matches and was previously used as the Scottish anthem at the Commonwealth Games – until it was replaced by ‘Flower of Scotland’ in 2010 Its moving tune was set to lyrics penned by Glasgow journalist Cliff Hanley in the 1950s, painting a picture of a glorious Scottish landscape, with ‘misty highlands’, ‘glittering rivers’ and ‘tropical skies’. “. As is the tradition with many nationalistic folk tunes, the final verse sees the narrator “longing and dreaming again of the heartland.”
The Song of the Skye Boat
This late 19th century Scottish song tells the story of Prince Charles Edward Stuart – referred to in the song as ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ – making the journey from Benbecula (a small island in the Outer Hebrides) to the Isle of Skye while ‘he escapes from the Jacobite rising of 1745. This song brought much publicity and attention to the Isle of Skye in the Inner Hebrides, with the chorus line ‘Over the Sea to Skye’ featuring in much of of the promotional language of the island’s tourist industry. It is usually sung in a slow, singsong 6/8 meter, representing the gentle back and forth of the boat on the water.
Discover the lyrics of Skye’s Boat Song