A Scottish Halloween, and 'Three Gallus Brithers' - a Scots Ballad for Halloween

scottish style - no pumpkin in sight!
scottish style - no pumpkin in sight!

Scotland, Halloween and Ballads

We Scots get very possessive over Halloween. We just think we do it properly, because of our longer experience. When I was a wean (child!) the essential ingredients of Halloween were:

  1. A bonfire and a few fireworks in the garden. But we didn't 'burn the guy'. That's an English Guy Fawkes day tradition, nothing to do with Halloween,
  2. Going out 'guising' - dressing up in costume and going round the houses 'doing a turn', which could be singing, reciting a poem, or a mini-play, for peanuts, an apple or maybe a sixpence.
  3. The turnip lantern - we didn't grow pumpkins in Scotland. Our turnips, or neeps, are of the swede variety. Big, purple skinned and orange fleshed, the kind traditionally served with haggis. The smell of burning turnip lantern is Halloween incarnate.
  4. Dooking for apples - two versions of this. Apples floating in a tin bath. You try to grab them with your teeth,or with a fork held between the teeth.
  5. Treacle scones - the best and messiest game. Scones spread with black treacle and swinging on strings around head height. Blindfolded, with hands behind the back, you have to try to eat them off the strings.
  6. The Halloween dumpling - like a Christmas pudding, but with charms, usually old silver threepenny pieces wrapped in greaseproof paper.

And ballads?

There's a fine old Scottish (and Irish) tradition of ballads and story-telling. And at Halloween the old ghost stories feature large. I've brought one of my own for you. A latter-day tale of strange happenings around the witching hour, or, coincidentally, closing time. If the Scots dialect proves troublesome, I've followed up with an English unscanned translation. Safe home, now!

Three Gallus Brithers

Three gallus brithers hit the toon
Big Wullie, Shoo an Sauny Broon
rarin tae coup the bevvy doon
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Sauny wiz mairrit years langsyne
(Jessie McGuire fae Ochtertyne)
When he wiz canned he liked her fine
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Wullie wiz guid at the boaxin yince
till he got fat oan tatties an mince.
Sundays he'll gie his physog a wee rinse
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Shoo wiz a genius (ask his maw)
micht o been mair than naethin at aa
but the lassies aye caad his heid fae the baa
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Doon tae the harbour, therr's the plan
a hauf dizen bars in a hauf mile span -
three gallus brithers agreed tae a man
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Stert wi the Anchor, tip a jaur,
twa in the Ship, and the Harbour Bar,
stoatin an happy as pigs in glaur
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Efter the Harbour, the Steamboat Inn
whaur the whusky flows when the fleet comes in
an they caa ye a poof if ye esk fur gin
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Efter the Steamboat, shoot the craw.
Jessie'd be waitin, an Shuggie's maw.
But Wullie jist gawpt at the harbour waa
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

"See thoan wee door, it wisna therr"
says Wullie, "Ah've spent ma life in Ayr
an it's new. Gaunny keek inside furra dare?"
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

So they opened the door in the harbour waa -
Guid only kens whit they thocht they saw
but they grinned tae their lugs an said "This is braw!"
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Wullie jouks in the ring wi his fists in the air
an the punters aa gien it "Wullie the berr!"
but the bogle sune plants him flat oan the flerr
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Sauny walks doon the aisle wi his Jessie again
but the meenister says "Geeza brek, Jessie hen
ye've hud me an ma faithur an twal' ither men"
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

An a carlin gies wee Shuggie a kiss
"Ye're a helluva fella fur takin the piss"
she says, "See in the moarn, ye'll be mindin aa this?"
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

Noo the waa's still therr but thur's nae wee door
jist the harbour lichts affa Newton shore
an three gallus brithers, bold as before
an the nicht wiz Halloween.

In English, not scanned

  1. Three gallus brothers hit the town, Big Willie, Hugh and Sandy Brown, eager to pour the drink down (and the night was Halloween)
  2. Willie was once a good boxer, till he got fat on mince and potatoes. He'll still wash his face on a Sunday.
  3. Sandy was married, years ago, to Jessie Maguire from Ochtertyne. He used to like her well enough when he was drunk.
  4. Hugh was a genius. (Ask his mum). He might have amounted to something, but was too fond of the girls.
  5. Down to the harbour, that's the plan. Six bars all within a half mile stretch. Three gallus brothers in full agreement.
  6. Have a pint in the Anchor, two in the Ship and two more in the Harbour Bar. Staggering and happy as pigs in muck.
  7. Then to the Steamboat, where the whisky flows when the trawlermen come ashore. But don't be asking for fancy drinks in here!!
  8. After the Steamboat, call it a day. Jessie's waiting, and Hugh's mum. But Willie's staring at the harbour wall...
  9. "See that door? It wasn't there" said Willie. "I've lived all my life in Ayr and it's new. Let's look inside, for a dare" (and remember - this is Halloween!)
  10. So they open the door in the harbour wall. God alone knows what they thought they saw, but they grinned to their ears and said "This is great!"
  11. Willie's back in the (boxing) ring with his fists in the air. The crowd are shouting "Willie the bear!" But the ghost soon knocks him to the floor.
  12. Sandy walks down the aisle with Jessie, but the minister says "Come on Jessie - you've already been with me, my father and twelve other men!"
  13. And a 'lady' attaches herself to Hugh. "You're a hell of a lad for messing about. But you think you'll remember this tomorrow?"
  14. Now, the wall's still there, but there's no small door, just the harbour lights off Newton shore, and three gallus brothers, bold as before - and the night was Halloween.

Postscript - You'll maybe have noticed that the one word I've not rendered in English is 'gallus'. It just doesn't translate.

Thanks for reading!

ayr harbour, at sunset
ayr harbour, at sunset

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Comments 41 comments

Tatjana-Mihaela profile image

Tatjana-Mihaela 7 years ago from Zadar, CROATIA

Thanks for sharing, Paraglider. We Croats have no tradition of celebrating Halloween, altough several years ago we accepted it as a part of globalisation.But actually we do not know what we should do on that day, he, he, so people put candles in the pumpkins and start with partying. It is only fun for children.

Our tradition is celebrating "All Saints", so people are around these days usually on the graveyards.

No 2, children do here in February, on the end of carneval celebration.

It is nice to know a bit of your tradition.

Thanks again.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Tatjana - yes, globalisation has a lot to answer for! Even in Scotland the American 'trick or treat' has more or less pushed out guising, which is a pity. Thanks for the read :)

loveofnight profile image

loveofnight 7 years ago from Baltimore, Maryland

although english is my language i have to admit that something is lost when things are translated from their native tongue.i so enjoy the original translation.....thx 4 share

amillar profile image

amillar 7 years ago from Scotland, UK

Ah thoucht ah wis readin' an Oor Wullie book fur a minute.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

loveofnight - poems never really translate. You end up, at best, with a new poem! Thanks for the read.

amilar - there are worse things you could be reading!

robie2 profile image

robie2 7 years ago from Central New Jersey

Thank you ,Paraglider, for giving me the feel of a real, authentic Scottish Halloween. I enjoyed it all the more because I have just been researching Halloween customs myself and I read about the bonfires and turnip jack o lanterns which are not part of our American celebration so I was very curious about them.

You talked about the carved out turnips when you commented on my Halloween hub and I am so glad you included a picture of one here. I can see why pumpkins don't seem like the real thing to you:-) This all makes me want to go to Scotland or Ireland for Halloween one of these days. That treacle scone thing sounds interesting-- can grown ups do it or is it just for kids? I want to try:-)

And last, but not least, thank you for the ghost story. I tried not to, but I have to admit I had to go for the translation and then got lost comparing the two versions so in the end I just read your translation through and it set the right convivial but scary tone

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Robie - I'll tell you a funny story: It was your halloween hub that triggered this one. But I looked at the date and saw it was already 27th, so I rushed it out. Wasn't till after publishing I realised I was a whole month early!

The treacle scones are very messy - it gets in your hair and everywhere else. But in families yes, sometimes the parents have to have a go too!

Carving a neep is pretty hard work. The flesh is very hard and there's no void, like in a pumpkin. But it's worth it.

Vizey profile image

Vizey 7 years ago

well I was not aware of ingredients of Halloween. Thanks for sharing.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

My pleasure - thanks for reading :)

gejindermaakan0 profile image

gejindermaakan0 7 years ago

Thanks for sharing this nice one

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Most welcome :)

Quilligrapher profile image

Quilligrapher 7 years ago from New York

Many thanks for sharing the traditions of of All Hallows' eve in Scotland. Is there a hub brewing about Halloween in the Middle East?


Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Halloween, like Christmas, usually comes and goes largely unnoticed here. But I see anything noteworthy, I'll certainly record it!

Pachuca213 7 years ago

Very neat hub...thanks for sharing!~

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Pachuca :)

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Did they also sing 'We are na fou, we're nae that fou/But just a drappie in our e'e'? You compare well, Paraglider to one who I count among the greatest poets :)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Shalini -

Willie brewed a peck o maut...

That one gets trotted out every Burns Night. Good song. My usual contribution to that celebration is Holy Willie's Prayer, one of the best pieces of satire every written, I think.

Shalini Kagal profile image

Shalini Kagal 7 years ago from India

Now you make me feel like I've wandered into the Religion forum :D

Make  Money profile image

Make Money 7 years ago from Ontario

Nice Hub Paraglider. Happy Halloween. I hope nobody hears the Banshee scream. :-)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks Mike. I'll be in Qatar over Halloween, so it will probably come and go unnoticed!

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 7 years ago from US

thanks paraglider, now I know the traditions of your halloween, its different anywhere, we celebrate nov 1 and 2, all saints day and all souls day respectively...here in the US, they have trick or treat, all candies everywhere!

and scary costumes too, commercialization of halloween!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Prettydarkhorse - about this time last year I was at a birthday party (some of your people) here in Qatar, and the house was already decorated for Christmas - now that's celebrating!

apricot profile image

apricot 7 years ago from Italy

Ah! Scones spread with black treacle! I never knew Halloween was significant in Scotland though!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Apricot - yes, it's big in Scotland, or at least it was. The traditions are fading though, or becoming more mid-Atlantic. Pity!

SweetiePie profile image

SweetiePie 6 years ago from Southern California, USA

Thanks for the informative hub about Scottish Halloween!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thanks SweetiePie. It's a shame when these old traditional ways fade away.

itakins profile image

itakins 6 years ago from Irl

So similar to Halloween in Ireland,turnips and all.Now alas globalisation has affected us also!Thanks largely to Billy Connolly .I had no difficulty reading and understanding the poem(once you read it with a Scottish accent...it makes sense).I enjoyed this hub.

mysterylady 89 profile image

mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

I had not realized you celebrated Halloween in Scotland -- fascinating! I loved the story of the gallus brothers!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 6 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

iatkins - thanks for that. Irish and Scots traditions are very similar, thanks to various migrations in bygone centuries of course. Pumpkins don't come close to a proper neep!

mysterylady - In Scotland, we like to think we invented Halloween. But I suppose everywhere thinks that!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Time to blow the dust off this one again!

prettynutjob30 profile image

prettynutjob30 5 years ago from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet.

I really enjoyed reading your hub,very interesting.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Thank you for telling me :)

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Because it's Hallow-e'en again, I thought I'd give this one an airing.

Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK

I think guising is just so much better than the Americanised 'trick or treating' As the latter can create fear especially with older people living alone. You also get the few teenagers that just put their hoods up and say 'trick uh treat' without even a pumkin to show for it. I remember mum telling some teenagers off, for this.

"Where's your costume?

What are you not even going to do a song?

Away you go!"

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Hi Talisker - yes guising was good fun but not many parents would let their children knock on strangers' doors nowadays. Of course, they weren't really strangers, or at least they would have known who we were. It was a neighbourhood game.

Sounds like your mum had a keen sense of discipline ;)

Talisker profile image

Talisker 5 years ago from UK

The community in which I work are very keen on Halloween. The adults accompany their (dressed up) little ones as they go round the neighbourhood Trick or treating. Some of the adults dress up too. It's good fun to watch as they pass by or come into our shop covered in blood or bandages.

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 5 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

That's nice. Community is important. In fact, it's everything :)

Craig 3 years ago

Thanks for posting... versed 2 and 3 in the 'translation' are the wrong way round..

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 3 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

So they are - well spotted! I hadn't noticed that. I'll fix it later :)

Monica Hague 2 years ago

I grew up on Bloodybones on Hallows eve and otherwise necessity required- from my Great Grannies Patterson & Kennedy- still @ in Scotland today? Kept us set in bed at nite and no qualms going to Maas!

Paraglider profile image

Paraglider 2 years ago from Kyle, Scotland Author

Patterson and Kennedy - good Ayrshire names both! I'm not still in Scotland. Living in the Middle East for work, but home is now in England, West Midjands.

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