Over the sea to... we're on a ferry sailing from dreary mainland Mallaig, Skye next stop. It's gray, cloudy and we are surrounded by excited twelve year old American boys who are not minding their captor. The sea is smooth and dark and two seals who saw us off, have slid away back to the shallows.
My mother was lulled to sleep with this sonorous but historically misleading folk tune by her mother and her grandmother; both Brit transplants to hot and humid 1920's Missouri. The two older women remained homesick forever. I sang it to my first born with awe that I was singing "that"song to my own baby. The song is a sweet one but it doesn't actually allude to the terrible cost of Prince Charlie's quest to be king, the Jacobite revolution, the Culloden massacree and, not inciden tally, the subsequent pre- US Revolution relocation of Tom's (my good humored partner) lowland forebears to North Carolina. Young Prince Charlie escaped, was hidden all over Skye by Flora McDonald and many others, and eventually made it to France.
Loud the winds howl, loud the waves roar, Thunderclouds rend the air; Baffled, our foes stand by the shore, Follow they will not dare.
Bart (that long ago infant first born) had this song played for his mama/son dance at his own wedding, impossible to really dance to, it ensured we would both be using our dryclean- only wedding best sleeves to wipe tears. I sang it one dark, long night two years later while rocking Bart's colicky newborn son Oskar. Oskar seemed to calm to the tune, listen and sigh; the song's connecting him to all the babies of all our pasts.
We are following in the wake of another son Xander and his future wife Kai who took the "Harry Potter" train from Glasgow to Mallaig and then this same ferry to Skye just after his 21st birthday when he was supposed to be studying in London.
Walking the pier their first evening in Portree, they passed a fishing boat and said howdy to its captain who was still on board. What's it like fishing here, they asked? Ha! Hard work! He threw them a challenge. If they showed for sailing at 5 am he would invite them to join him as crew for a day's prawning. When Xander opened his eyes early the next morning Kai threw him his shoes and a jacket and hauled him down to the pier. The two of them, wearing full foul weather gear worked an unforgettable fisherman's 12 hour day sailing out of Portree's dock with its pretty pastel color houses --hauled prawns for breakfast, hauled prawns for lunch--hauled prawns for tea.
Many's the lad fought on that day, Well the claymore could wield, When the night came, silently lay Dead in Culloden's field.
So it was not without a few silent tears (I don't pretend to be anything but a melancholic ýearner) that I watch the Maillaig shore disappear behind our Caledonian ferry as we churn off to Skye. And I think we are not alone because I can half-hear that singular tune low-humming from many chilly throats as I walk the slippery top deck.
Burned are their homes, exile and death Scatter the loyal men; Yet e'er the sword cool in the sheath Charlie will come again.
Long after his Scottish army was destroyed at Culloden, their families burned and driven out of clan fiefdoms, Charlie died a drunk in France, never returning to Scotland.
Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing, Onward! the sailors cry; Carry the lad that's born to be King Over the sea to Skye.