"The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond", or simply "Loch Lomond" for short, is a well-known traditional Scottish song (Roud No. 9598) first published in 1841 in Vocal Melodies of Scotland. (Loch Lomond is the largest Scottish loch, located between the counties of Dunbartonshire and Stirlingshire.) In Scotland, the song is often the final piece of music played during an evening of revelry (a dance party or dinner, etc.).
But the broken heart it kens, nae second spring again
Tho' the waeful may cease frae their weeping.
The original composer is unknown, as is definitive information on any traditional lyrics.
There are many theories about the meaning of the song, most of which are connected to the Jacobite Uprising of 1745. One interpretation based on the lyrics is that the song is sung by the lover of a captured Jacobite rebel set to be executed in London following a show trial. The heads of the executed rebels were then set upon pikes and exhibited in all of the towns between London and Edinburgh in a procession along the "high road" (the most important road), while the relatives of the rebels walked back along the "low road" (the ordinary road travelled by peasants and commoners).
Another interpretation of the 'Low Road' is that it refers to the traditional underground route taken by the 'fairies' or 'little people' who were reputed to transport the soul of a dead Scot who died in a foreign land - in this case, England - back to his homeland to rest in peace.
Another similar interpretation also attributes it to a JacobiteHighlander captured after the 1745 rising. The Hanoverian British victors were known to play cruel games on the captured Jacobites, and would supposedly find a pair of either brothers or friends and tell them one could live and the other would be executed, and it was up to the pair to decide. Thus the interpretation here is that the song is sung by the brother or friend who chose or was chosen to die. He is therefore telling his friend that they will both go back to Scotland, but he will go on the 'low road', his body being paraded along the main road controlled by the Duke of Cumberland's forces, whereas his friend will have to head for the hilltops, taking longer to get back. Another supporting feature of this is that he states he will never meet his love again in the temporal world, on Loch Lomond. Some believe that this version is written entirely to a lover who lived near the loch.
A related interpretation holds that a professional soldier and a volunteer were captured by the English in one of the small wars between the countries in the couple of hundred years prior to 1746. Volunteers could accept parole, a release contingent on the volunteer's refusal to rejoin the fighting, but regulars could not and so could face execution. The volunteer would take the high road that linked London and Edinburgh while the soul of the executed regular would return along the "low road" and would get back to Scotland first.
About 1876, the Scottish poet and folklorist Andrew Lang wrote a poem based on the song titled "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond". The title sometimes has the date "1746" appended—the year of the defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie's rebellion and the hanging of some of his captured supporters. Lang's poem begins:
There's an ending o' the dance, and fair Morag's safe in France,
And the Clans they hae paid the lawing,
Morag—great one in Gaelic—referred to Bonnie Prince Charlie, who fled to France after his forces were defeated.Lawing means reckoning in Scots. The poem continues:
And the wuddy has her ain, and we twa are left alane,
Free o' Carlisle gaol in the dawing.
Wuddy means hangman´s rope, according to Lang's own notes on the poem; dawing is dawn. The poem continues with the song's well-known chorus, then explains why the narrator and his true love will never meet again:
For my love's heart brake in twa, when she kenned the Cause's fa',
And she sleeps where there's never nane shall waken
The poem's narrator vows to take violent revenge on the English:
While there's heather on the hill shall my vengeance ne'er be still,
While a bush hides the glint o' a gun, lad;
Wi' the men o' Sergeant Môr shall I work to pay the score,
Till I wither on the wuddy in the sun, lad!
"Sergeant Môr" is John Du Cameron, a supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie who continued fighting as an outlaw until he was hanged in 1753.
Jazz singer Maxine Sullivan had a hit with a swing adaptation of "Loch Lomond" in 1937.
At his 1938 Carnegie Hall concert, Benny Goodman swung this song with Martha Tilton singing. The audience demanded an encore so heartily that, none being ready, Goodman announced that Tilton would be back later with another song. At the 1978 anniversary concert Tilton had a guest appearance, singing the song in an (improvised) duet with Goodman.
The Australian hard rock group AC/DC, whose members have Scottish origins and roots, released an instrumental version of the song titled "Fling Thing" on the B-side of the "Jailbreak" single in 1976. They also performed it live as "Bonny", in which the band plays the music while the crowd sings the verse.
"Rhythm of My Heart" is a rock song written by Marc Jordan and John Capek for Rod Stewart's 1991 album Vagabond Heart. The melody is an adaptation of "Loch Lomond". The meter, stanzas and lyrics are also based on the poem, a nod to Stewart's own Scottish heritage.
The progressive rock band Marillion played the song with their former singer Fish in the 1980s, as part of a medley called "Margaret" which also featured another traditional song, "Marie's Wedding" (usually played as an encore at Scottish shows). A live version can be found on B'Sides Themselves, recorded at Edinburgh Playhouse in December 1983.
Scottish folk-rock band Runrig have made the song their unofficial anthem, closing their concerts with a rendition for over 25 years. They also had a top ten hit with a re-recorded version in 2007, released for BBC Children in Need, hitting number 9 in the whole of the UK and number 1 in Scotland.
Canadian punk band Real McKenzies recorded their own version of "Loch Lomond" on their 1995 debut album The Real McKenzies in their own Scottish-influenced Celtic punk styling.
The lead singer of American group The Fray has also been known to do the chorus at gigs in Edinburgh while supporting The Feeling, and most recently their gig in Glasgow in October 2007. The reason for this appears to be[original research?] that his grandfather is Scottish.
The Irish variant of the song is called "Red Is the Rose" and is sung with the same melody but different (although similarly themed) lyrics. It was popularized by Irish folk musician Tommy Makem. Even though many people mistakenly believe that Makem wrote "Red is the Rose", it is a traditional Irish folk song.