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Have you heard it? The Parting Glass on BBC Radio 4

  28 Jul '21   |  Posted by: Birlinn


I’m a bit hit and miss with BBC Radio 4 these days. Some of the programmes are truly world class, others leave me cold and struggling to understand their place on the station. I miss the wealth of radio drama they produced until recently. The number of new plays now seems to shrink every month.

But sometimes you land on something so special, so powerful that you can forgive them, well, anything. This morning was one of these times. I stumbled across today’s edition of Soul Music produced by Maggie Ayre and was just blown away by the content, the contributors, the emotion that ran through a programme that lasted only half an hour. One of those speaking was Karine Polwart, tradition bearer, multi-award winning Scottish singer and songwriter, composer and essayist who has also written the words to two powerful books based on traditional tales for children published here at Birlinn. The first was A Wee Bird was Watching  and the second, The Queen of the Birds, will be published later this year, both beautifully illustrated by Kate Leiper.

Here today, on BBC Radio 4’s Soul Music, was Karine talking about the Scottish traditional song, The Parting Glass, a song that means so much to so many people across the world and ‘walks that line of beauty and sadness just perfectly’. You can listen to Karine talking about it on BBC Sounds. She is joined on the programme by Alaskan Fire Chief Benjamin Fleagle for whom this song honours his mentor and colleague at his Fire Department, who passed away over a decade ago. And by Alissa McCulloch who clung to this farewell song when terrified by her mental illness in hospital in Australia during the pandemic. And Pete MacDonald who recorded an a cappella version of the song with his sisters – each recording remotely and then sending their contribution on to the next sibling, finally bringing it together in one version as a tribute to those who lost their lives in Canada’s worst mass shooting. And by Irish singer Finbar Furey who talks about the appeal of this Scottish song throughout the Scots-Irish diaspora.

So fill to me the parting glass… Goodnight and joy be to you all


Karine was also commissioned by the BBC to record a version of The Parting Glass for a special edition of the Today Programme on the environment curated and guest edited by Margaret Atwood which went out first on BBC Radio 4 between Christmas and New year. Again, you can listen to it now on BBC Sounds. Karine closes the show.


We are very glad to have Karine on our list. I urge you to listen to the programme – you will be much moved.

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