Virtual Event

Freeland Barbour presents The White Rose of Gask at John O’Groats Book Festival


‘The White Rose of Gask’ as a Zoom discussion with Freeland Barbour and Gerda Stevenson along with four pre-recorded songs.


About Freeland Barbour:

THE life of a woman who secretly wrote some of Scotland’s most famous traditional songs will be revealed at this year’s book festival.

Most people will never have heard of Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne, but they will likely know her songs, which include ‘Charlie Is My Darling’, ‘A Hundred Pipers’, ‘Will Ye No’ Come Back Again’ and ‘The Laird of Cockpen’.

Alive from 1766 to 1845, she kept her writing a secret, even apparently not letting her husband, William Nairne, know.

Freeland Barbour, a descendant of Lady Nairne and one of Scotland’s leading accordionists, has written a book about her life to bring her name the recognition it deserves.

The Perthshire man, who lives in Edinburgh, will talk about the book – The White Rose of Gask – while Gerda Stevenson, a guest author at the John O’Groats Book Festival in 2019, performs some of the more than 80 songs Lady Nairne wrote.

They will also do a performance together on The Music and the Land – a two-volume collection of Mr Barbour’s compositions featuring poetry and photographs which tell the story of his life in music.

After Lady Nairne’s death, the publication in 1846 of her collected songs and poems, called The Lays of Strathearn, named her and revealed her secret.

Mr Barbour said: “Her songs are so well known. About ten to 12 of her songs were big hits, up with anything Robert Burns ever did.”

Lady Nairne’s family were staunch Jacobites for generations, her grandfather having fought in the 1715 uprising, and her father and grandfather in 1745 at Culloden.

After escaping the battle and living abroad for seven years they returned to the family home at Gask in Perthshire.

Mr Barbour said: “Her father and grandfather were rebels, so they had to lie low. It was possible that they could have been handed in to authorities if they had made any nuisance of themselves.”

Christianity was also a strong influence in Lady Nairne’s life.

Mr Barbour said: “She was clearly writing Jacobite songs while at Gask. There is no record of her father knowing about it, although it was said she was writing them to please him.

“She was very influenced by Burns and the way he took less well-known folk songs and modernised them. She wanted to purify them.

“She didn’t write any music. She was not a composer, neither was Burns. They used what was there.”

Lady Nairne’s songs were included in national collections gathered at the time and became well known.

Mr Barbour said: “A lot of people thought Burns had written them. Carolina never let on. It was the fashion to keep quiet, but she took it to extremes.”

Lady Nairne gave away nearly everything she had to alleviate poverty.

Mr Barbour said: “This woman is an important figure in Scottish song writing. I would like to shine a spotlight on a remarkable lady who has left a legacy of songs.”

In 2019 he published a new edition of The Lays of Strathearn.

Mr Barbour is a former member of folk group Silly Wizard and a founder member of the ceilidh dance bands the Wallochmor Ceilidh Band and the Occasionals.

He has also owned and managed one of the UK’s leading recording studios, Castlesound in East Lothian.

  • Share:
Saturday 24 Apr 2021
Online, Online. United Kingdom