Ninety years ago, in 1931, Puirt-a-beul – Mouth-tunes, or Songs for Dancing as Practised From A Remote Antiquity by the Highlanders of Scotland was reprinted with “few minor corrections” from its 1901 first printing. The song book was “collected and arranged” by Keith Norman MacDonald, a medical doctor in Scotland with an interest in Highland music. MacDonald is chiefly remembered for three works: The Gesto Collection of Highland Music (1895); The MacDonald Bards from Mediaeval Times (1900) and Puirt-a-Beul – Mouth-tunes: or Songs for Dancing as Practised from a Remote Antiquity by the Highlanders of Scotland (1901).
An advertisement for the puirt-à-beul collection states that the volume includes, “120 Tunes, and in many cases several sets of words are given all sung to the same tune.” Puirt-á-beul is the Scottish Gaelic for “tunes from a mouth.” Although often used for dancing without instruments, contemporary performance often includes instrumental accompaniment.
One example of puirt-à-beul music is the tune Ruidhle Mo Neighean Dhonn, or The Brown Haired Lass/Maid. The tune and lyrics from MacDonald’s book is provided and can be followed with this 1952 reel-to-reel recording from the digital sound recording archive Tobar an Dualchais/Kist o Riches, a site that includes oral recordings made in Scotland and further afield, from the 1930s onward.