The Ghillie Gazette

The January/February 2019 newsletter of the Portland Oregon Branch of the R.S.C.D.S.

A Few Words About the Dance, The Ferry Louper

by Mel Whitson

Submitted by Melissa Whitson, using information from an article written by Barry Pipes for the Toronto Branch’s newsletter, Set & Link

One of the dances on the Portland Branch’s November 2018 dance was The Ferry Louper. The teachers dutifully checked for information on the meaning of the phrase, ferry louper. If memory serves, a couple of theories were shared. Subsequently, I came across this alternative explanation in the Toronto Branch’s newsletter.

"A ferry louper is a non-native Orcadian visiting the Mainland.

Now there’s a conundrum for you! What are Orcadians? They are the inhabitants of the Orkney Islands. And Mainland, not to be confused with the area anywhere in Scotland due south from John O’ Groats, is the largest island within the Orkney Archipelago. Ergo, a ferry louper is an off-islander, mainland Scot, or any non-native Orcadian crossing the Pentland Firth by ferry to visit the Orkneys. In other words, an outsider!

The word Orcadian is derived from an ancient name for these Islands given by a Roman geographer, Ptolemy, around the first century A.D. He called them the Orcades, due to their old Gaelic name which was Insi Orc (Islands of the Orc). A few centuries later, the Vikings arrived from Norway, misinterpreted Orc, a young pig, as Orkn, an Old Norse word for a seal, the pinniped variety. Adding ey, Norse for island, the Vikings made their new island home the Orkneys.

But where does louper come from? Is it a derogatory word for an outsider? Look it up in a Dictionary of Scots Dialect and you find synonyms like vagrant, vagabond, or fugitive from the Law. I am given to understand that louper is pronounced like “ouch!” not like “cool”. Come what may, it is said that the inhabitants of the Orkney Islands consider themselves Orcadians first and Scots second.

Whatever one might glean from the foregoing, that ubiquitous SCD deviser, Roy Goldring, did create a neat little jig called The Ferry Louper…"

There’s Something About Mairi…. Background on Mairi’s Wedding and its Devisor, James Cosh

by Mel Whitson

Submitted by Melissa Whitson based on information gleaned from several RSCDS Toronto Branch newsletters

Mairi’s Wedding is an exceptionally fun dance, making it a perennial favorite. Indeed, it is on Portland Branch’s January 2019 dance program and it has appeared eight times on the Portland Branch’s Ball programs. Was there ever an actual Mairi that inspired this dance? Well, perhaps not the dance, but an actual Mairi did inspire the song that is used as the main tune for the dance. A number of years ago, the Glasgow Daily Record published the following article under the byline of Stephen Houston:

"Millions of Scots have sung Mairi’s Wedding. And now, thanks to the Record, they can meet the bride herself. For one of our best-loved tunes was written for Mary McNiven. And the OAP is stepping gaily, even though she’ll be NINETY tomorrow. Scots schoolkids have been learning the song for generations, and it’s a firm favourite all over the world. At her cottage on Islay yesterday, Mary said: “I can’t believe it became so popular. But when it was first played to me I found it very catchy – and I still do.” The song was originally written in Gaelic – that’s why she was “Mairi” instead of “Mary” – for the Mod of 1935. Her pal Johnny Bannerman composed it and it was first played to her at the Old Highlanders Institute in Glasgow’s Elmbank Street. “I still have a clear recollection of the day,” said Mary. “Johnny just said the song was for me.” It was translated into English a year later, by Sir Hugh Robertson. Although Mary herself was real, the wedding wasn’t. For she didn’t get hitched to Skye-born sea captain John Campbell until six years later. John died 17 years ago. Mum of two, Mary, who won a Mod gold medal for singing in 1934, will enjoy a family birthday party in Glasgow this weekend. And it won’t be complete without the famous song. Her daughter Christine, a teacher from Hyndland, Glasgow, said: “Mum still sometimes sings it in Gaelic and people are always asking her to. I suspect she’ll sing it to celebrate her birthday.” "

(Note from Melissa: OAP likely stands for Old Age Pensioner; a MOD is a Gaelic song, arts and culture festival.)

Just in case you don’t know the words to the song (in English), they are:


  • Step we gaily on we go,
    Heel for heel and toe for toe,
    Arm in arm and row on row,
    All for Mairi’s Wedding


  • Over hillways up and down
    Myrtle green and bracken brown,
    Past the shielings, through the town,
    All for sake of Mairi.

    Red her cheeks as rowans are,
    Bright her eye as any star,
    Fairest o’ them al’ by far
    Is our darling Mairi.

    Plenty herring, plenty meal,
    Plenty peat to fill her creel,
    Plenty bonnie bairns as weel,
    That’s our toast for Mairi.

But back to the dance. It was devised by James Cosh. The famous sequence of four half reels of four with corners was not original to him, but first appeared in the dance The White Rose of Scotland, devised by Elma Taylor (and a strathspey!!). Most dancers habitually pass right shoulders with their partners when changing from one half reel of four to the next. However, the original instructions state that first couple passes by left shoulders, and Mr. Cosh confirmed this was his intent. According to John Mitchell, who wrote an article about this for the Toronto Branch’s newsletter Set & Link, this is logical for a wedding dance as the heart is on the left side of the body.

Angus Henry subsequently devised the dance Mairi’s Divorce. It is identical to Mairi’s Wedding except that it specifies that first couple are to pass right shoulders in the center before entering the next half reel of four. As Mr. Mitchell noted in his article, this is logical as it means the dancers’ hearts are as far apart as possible. So I guess this means that we usually are dancing Mairi’s Divorce – ha!

Now, what about Mr. Cosh? His daughter, Janette McTaggart, supplied some biographical information to the Set & Link. He was born in 1912 in Glasgow and trained as a master baker, ultimately owning bakery shops in various parts of Glasgow. In 1938 he married Rose Walker and they had four children. Mr. Cosh was a great whistler and would say that he loved the four S’s: Strauss, Sousa, Sullivan and Scottish. He began dancing under the direction of Miss Milligan and he helped to found and then run the Glenshee Club for many years. Requests from club members for new dances got him started devising. The ideas and titles came from his personal experiences, either relating to friends, occasions or special places in Scotland. He first published six dances in 1969 and eventually published 45 dances across several books, including the dances The Irish Rover, The White Heather Jig, The Swilcan (published in RSCDS Book 23), The Garry Strathspey, The Kilt Is My Delight, and of course, Mairi’s Wedding. All of his dance book sale proceeds were donated to charities. He died in 1995.

Teacher's Corner

by Linda Mae Dennis

Be Prepared

I attended a dance recently that was billed as a dance where the dances would be easy, and would be walked through. What ended up happening was that we spent an inordinate amount of time standing around while various couples walked through the dance multiple times. Personally, I found this quite frustrating. When I go to a dance, I want to, well, dance. The learning should be done in the classroom.

When I was a beginning dancer, we were always admonished to review the dances before going to a dance, to know which dances we knew, and not to get into a set for dances that you did not know. Somehow, it seems we have lost this impetus.

Here are some steps to take to be sure that you are not that person who is ill-prepared and holding up the works.

  1. Attend classes regularly – this will keep you reviewing figures so that when the briefer says “right hands across” you won’t hesitate or launch into “rights and lefts”, which we all know is a completely different thing.
  2. Get a copy of the program – usually the dances that will be danced are on the flyer. Sometimes there are cribs a short description of the dance), either on the back of the flyer, or in addition to it. Try to keep track of the dances you have learned in class. If there’s a dance on the program that you think you can do, but your teacher hasn’t taught it, ask them to. Teachers in general are very accommodating and happy to help you.
  3. Watch videos – there are several websites that post dance descriptions as well as videos. Try the Scottish Country Dance Database, The Scottish Country Dance Dictionary, or the Danciemaetion 2.0 websites.
  4. If someone asks you to dance a dance that you really don’t know, tell them that you are going to sit this one out, but would like to dance the next dance with them. It’s perfectly acceptable to just enjoy the music sometimes.

Showing up for a dance without any prior preparation and expecting to either learn the dance on the spot, or having the other dancers in the set (who might be equally unprepared) get you through it – wing it, if you will – is either arrogant or inconsiderate. I don’t want to be that person, and I’m sure no one else wants to either.

Please do prepare for dances that you attend. It will give you confidence and satisfaction to have done so, and will increase the enjoyment of all.

Robert Burns

by Martin MacKenzie

From the Tartan Times, the newsletter publication of the Boston branch of the RSCDS, January/February 2000 edition, slightly edited.

Songwriter, poet, in fact Scotland's national and most popular poet who wrote about daily life, love, birth, death, and drink. He believed strongly in the equality of the human race:

  • A prince can mak a belted knight,
    A marquis, duke, and a' that;
    But an honest man's aboon his might,
    Guid faith he mauna fa' that,
    It's coming yet, for a' that,
    That man to man the world o' er,
    Shall brothers be for a' that.

He cultivated the 'ploughman poet image', but he was also a widely read man and was well able to write to high literary levels in the standard English. His use of the Lallans dialect for the bulk of his work was by deliberate choice. Lallans was well on the way towards dying out as the spoken language of the ordinary Lowlands people and was deas as a literary form except when counsciously revived by such as Robert Fergusson and Burns himself.

He rescued from oblivion old Lallans songs which had never been printed and were handed down by word of mouth. For example, in "Auld Lang Syne" he filled out scraps of a genuine old song by putting in his own words. As he was a great poet he was able to rescue a vernacular and give it lasting place in literature.

As dancers, we speak of dances associated with Burns like Corn Rigs, The Lea Rig, or Ha! Ha! The Wooin' O' t to mention the most popular of these. What is actually meant is that the dance has the same title as both the poem and the song and its associated tune. Thus, this creates a kind of triumvirate of song - tune - dance which helps create a feeling of completeness.

We know that Burns enjoyed dancing as he often introduced dancing into his poetry. Two examples of this are The De'ils Awa' Wi' The Exciseman and Tam O' Shanter.

The two poems below given in part are the words to the songs for the second and third dances above. By attending a local Burns supper or dance, see whether you can spot a "Burns" dance!

  • The Lea Rig

    When o'er the hill the eastern star
    Tells bughtin-time is near, my jo;
    And owsen frae the furrowed field
    Return sae dowf and weary O;
    Down by the burn, where scented birks
    Wi' dew are hanging clear, my jo,
    I'll meet thee on the lea-rig,
    My sin kind dearie O.

    At midnight hour, in mirkest glen,
    I'd rove and ne're be irie O,
    If thro' that glen I gaed to thee,
    My sin kind dearie O.

    Duncan Gray

    Duncan Gray cam here to woo,
    Ha, ha, the wooing o't
    On blythe yule night when we were
    Ha, ha, the wooing o't
    Maggie coost her head fu' high,
    Look'd asklent and unco skeigh,
    Gart poor Duncan stand abiegh;
    Ha, ha, the wooing o't.

    Duncan fleech'd and Duncan pray'd
    Ha, ha, the wooing o't,
    Meg was deaf as Ailsa Craig,
    Ha, ha, the wooing o't.

Drift Happens

by John Shaw

We are all familiar with the phenomenon. There we are in a dance class, or sometimes on the dance floor, and after awhile we realize that the set has "drifted" towards one side of the hall or the other. In my experience, it is usually towards the men's side of the hall, but I have seen instances of the set drifting towards the ladies' side. It is mysterious that after correction, it reoccurs consistently throughout the evening, and we laughingly suggest that gravity is imperceptibly greater on that side of the hall, or that the old hall has settled a little more on that side leaving the floor at a very slight tilt. When the drift is towards the ladies' side, it is suggested that perhaps the men should have eschewed (and not chewed) the onions in their salads.

Recently, while observing a class from the sidelines, I watched "set drift" in action, and discovered a very consistent and very human cause of this happening. And this is a relief, really, as correcting the tilt of an old dance floor can be very expensive, and perturbations in the gravity field would rock our world. Literally.

first position

The vast majority of our dances are 3 couple dances danced in 4 couple sets. So, while 3 of the couples are dancing, what does the 4th couple do? The official line is: they stand in first position, marking the bounds of the set, and await their turn, as in the image to the right.

A Pain in the Neck What they really do is watch the other couples dance! For the waiting couple at the top, this means turning their heads to look down the set to watch the fun, while a couple waiting at the bottom will turn their heads to look up the set. And for many people, turning the head like this for 32 bars is uncomfortable, giving one a "kink" in the neck. To relieve the strain on the neck and really enjoy the fun, some dancers step back on the foot nearer the action, leaving the other foot in 1st position, as is modeled in this photo at the left.

ahem, you there at the top!

The actual drift occurs when the dancers who stepped back to admire the fun then recover their stance to prepare to dance: they draw their forward foot back to join the other in first position, at a spot which is anywhere from 6 inches to a foot behind their original line. et voilà!

Please note that I have observed this drifting technique used by beginners and very experienced dances, even by teachers (and their spouses). It is very popular, and probably practiced in a set near you. So, what can we do about drift induced by rubbernecking? Here's my list of suggestions:

  • Embrace it -- it's part of the fun!
    Glue your ghillies to the floor when you are standing out, and get neck therapy.
    Remember, when you step back on a foot to view the fun... return THAT foot to its original place!

Upcoming Events

Here's a list of events coming up in the next ninety days. This calendar is kept up to date at

June 2019

Portland Class
Burlingame Water Tower, Portland, Ore.
6/3 at 7:30pm


If you want to vote in the Annual General Meeting (AGM), your membership must be renewed before the Meeting, which is the second Monday in May.

If your are not a current member, you can register here.

Royal Scottish Country Dance Society, Portland Ore. Branch:
Membership Form 2019-2020

Membership Type:

Note for families: Join at the family rate only if there are two adults; a single adult should join at the single rate.

A “secondary” membership is for people who already have their RSCDS membership through another branch and want to become members of our branch. The “Ghillie Gazette Only” option is for people who have not yet decided to join the branch but would like to receive the newsletter.

Please make check payable to “RSCDS Portland OR Branch” and mail or give to Sally Palmer, 1425 SE Yukon St., Portland, OR 97202-5315 . We cannot process your membership request until we receive your check.

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