Fhear a Bhata  ... or is it, "Fear a Bhata?" The Boatman

I really like this Scots tune/song. Very powerful message and sounds good on the Low-D, diatonic harmonica.

I've arranged the tune to have two parts (female, followed by a male voice) as a B-minor and then followed as an E-minor. For harmonica fans, this means starting in the 6th position and then go back to the 2nd position. I made some "artistic license" to arrange the E-minor part to play well with the low-D diatonic (Richtor-scale) harmonica.

If you squint your eyes and hold your head to one side, you'll be able to count the typical 24 bars in each expression, making it a strathsprey, though it is written in 3/4 time, as a slow aire (around 100 beats per minute). LOTS of feeling and expression.

Fear a' Bhàta is a Scots Gaelic song from the late 19th century and written by Sìne NicFhionnlaigh of Tong who was courting a young fisherman from Uig, Dòmhnall MacRath. The good news is that she married the young man not long after she wrote the song.


'S tric mi sealltainn o'n chnòc a's àirde
I'm often searching on the highest hilltop

Dh'fheuch am faic mi fear a bhàta
Trying to find the boatman 

An tig thu'n diùigh no'n tig thu màireach
Will you come tonight or tomorrow? 

'S mur tig thu idir gur truagh a tà' me
If you don't come at all, I'll be distraught

Trek me shayltain o ‘nock are-dayh h-rek am fak me fear a (v)ata
‘N ti(ch)k -u doo non ti(ch)k o mar-rah
‘ Mur ti(ch)k u ide - gur tru-etah me

Sèist: Chorus (after each verse):
Fear a bhata 'sna horo eile
Oh boatman 'sna horo eile

Fear a bhata 'sna horo eile
Oh boatman 'sna horo eile 

Fear a bhata 'sna horo eile
Oh boatman 'sna horo eile

Mo shòraidh slàn leat 's gach àit an teid thu
My best wishes go with you wherever you may go

['Er a (v)ata, na horo eh-(y)a
'Er a (v)ata, na horo eh-(y)a
'Er a (v)ata, na horo eh-(y)a
Ma hor-e slawn lets .. ga-ah-tan (tche)d-u]

Tha mo chridhe-sa briste brùite
My heart is broken, bruised 

'S tric na deóir a ruith o'm shùilean
Often tears are running down my cheeks 

An tig thu nochd no'm bi mo dhùil riut
Will you come tonight or will I wait up for you

No'n dùin mi'n dorus le osna thùrsaich
But close the door, sighing heavily(?)

Ha mo kree-sa breesta bru-tah
‘ Tri(ch)k na d-orah ro-m who-leen
An ti(ch)g oo nock nom-be-mo-uil ru
Non dun men dor-us lay os-na whoor-se

Gheall mo leannan dhomh gùn dhe'n t-sìoda
My love promised me a dress of silk

Gheall e siod agus breacan rìomhach
He promised me that and a gray tartan

Fainn òir anns an fàiginn iomhaigh
A gold ring where I'd see my reflection

Ach 's eagal leam gun dean e di-chuimhn'
But I'm afraid he has forgotten

Bidh mi tuille gu tùrsach deùrach
I will be forever tearful and dejected 

Mar eala bhàn 's an déigh a reùbadh
Like a wild swan wounded and broken

Guileag bàis aic' air lochan feùrach
Wailing its song of death on some weedy pond

Is cach uile an déigh a tréigsinn
Left by the others, alone and abandoned.

For the most part, I can figure out the translation, based upon my very limited indoctrination into the Gaelic language, but what does " 'sna horo eile" mean?

We old Texans are curious.  Thanks.

Shaun, that KelticDead guy.

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Hello Patrick,

It doesn't mean anything at all, as far as I've been told.  It's essentially a Scots filler. 

Hope that clears things up!



Thanks Colleen.

I'm kinda partial to Scots music. Fhear a Bhata (or is it Fear a Bhata?) has a lot of powerful emotion in it especially when sung by a woman ... and it sounds good on a harmonica too.

= ^ )

Shaun, That KelticDead Guy


Here's Silly Wizards take on the song, this is the first i heard and learned to love.. : )



Very nice Lars. Thanks for sharing that. That's what I like about this kind of music. There are as many ways to play them as there are musicians who have the heart to play 'em. That's what keeps the music fresh and alive from one generation to the next.

It's all fun.  "Shaun," That KelticDead Guy.

Hi Patrick. Funny, you just live  a few blocks  from the North Texas School of Irish Music in Allen, TX.

Our Gaelic Youth Chorus is going to be singing that as well. We love it!  We will be singing it in the Uslter Gaelic Dialect (that is just what we sing all our Gaelic songs in)

If you are at the North Texas Irish Festival this weekend, drop on by. Would love to chat with you about it .

Celtic Harmonica. One of our Teachers, Paul Dryer, is a big fan of that. 


Live in the same community, and yet two boats in the night type of thing, eh? Good thing we could finally discover each other through this international connection, eh?

Someone just told me about Paul Dryer here recently. Been collecting Celtic tunes (and stories about them) for over 50 years now. Started off with six hole whistles like a lot of good Celtic boys, and got hooked up with the diatonic harmonicas in the early part of the 21st century. Fell in love with those.

Been writing arrangements for Celtic tunes for the SCMA CEILI for over 22 years now, and as you may have noticed, I have a website, http://kelticdead.webs.com .

If you folk need another "Celtic Harmonica" player, be happy to join up with you. Been wanting to do a recording of Fhear a Bhata for quite some time. You'll find one attempt I made of it on my YouTube site. http://www.youtube.com/kelticdead . I'm planning on doing another, better one. Maybe we can talk about that.

Thanks for letting me know. Not sure if I can make out to the Festival this year, but I'm going to try to be at the Trinity Saturday evening for a bit. (I'm the media guy for the Irish Rogues. - Visit http://irishrogues.webs.com ) If you need to take a break from all the open air intoxication, we can talk soberly about that over a pint at the Trinity.

I'll start doing my homework on the North Texas School of Irish Music , and definitely get back with you. Thanks.


Shaun, That KelticDead Guy

Yes, it is funny how this website works. Such a great resource!

Thanks for the you-tube link. That was really haunting. I also saw you did a rendition of Lough Erin Shore, one of my favorites.  The school did a CD recently with that as a song and Tradconect was nice enough to post it.


We decided we wanted to sing it and found the amazing lyrics written by Mairéad Ní Mhaonaigh' father. And she was so nice as to  to give us permission to record it. 

Anyway, running the booth till late each night at NTIF but will come to Trinity one week you are playing and we can chat for sure!

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