Waulking song

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Engraving of Scotswomen singing while waulking cloth, c. 1770 Waulking 18th century engraving.jpg
Engraving of Scotswomen singing while waulking cloth, c. 1770

Waulking songs (Scots Gaelic: Òrain Luaidh) are Scottish folk songs, traditionally sung in the Gaelic language by women while fulling (waulking) cloth. This practice involved a group of women rhythmically beating newly woven tweed against a table or similar surface to soften it. Simple, beat-driven songs were used to accompany the work.

Fulling textile finishing process for woollen or worsted cloth that uses controlled shrinkage to produce a thicker, more compact fabric

Fulling, also known as tucking or walking, was a step in woollen clothmaking which involves the cleansing of cloth to eliminate oils, dirt, and other impurities, and to make it thicker. The worker who does the job is a fuller, tucker, or walker, all of which have become common surnames. The Welsh word for a fulling mill is pandy, which appears in many place-names, for example Tonypandy.

Occupational segregation is the distribution of workers across and within occupations, based upon demographic characteristics, most often gender. Occupational segregation levels differ on a basis of perfect segregation and integration. Perfect segregation occurs where any given occupation employs only one group. Perfect integration, on the other hand, occurs where each group holds the same proportion of positions in an occupation as it holds in the labor force.

A waulking session often begins with slow-paced songs, with the tempo increasing as the cloth becomes softer. As the singers work the cloth, they gradually shift it to the left so as to work it thoroughly. A tradition holds that moving the cloth anticlockwise is unlucky.


Widdershins is a term meaning to go counter-clockwise, to go anti-clockwise, or to go lefthandwise, or to walk around an object by always keeping it on the left. Literally, it means to take a course opposite the apparent motion of the sun viewed from the Northern Hemisphere. The earliest recorded use of the word, as cited by the Oxford English Dictionary, is in a 1513 translation of the Aeneid, where it is found in the phrase "Abaisit I wolx, and widdersyns start my hair." In this sense, the "to start widdershins" means "to stand on end".

Typically one person sings the verse, while the others join in the chorus. As with many folk music forms, the lyrics of waulking songs are not always strictly adhered to. Singers might add or leave out verses depending on the particular length and size of tweed being waulked. Verses from one song might appear in another, and at times the lead singer might improvise to include events or people known locally. The chorus to many waulking songs consists of meaningless vocables, serving a function similar to 'tra la la' or 'hey hey hey' in other song forms. Some waulking songs have a strict verse-and-chorus structure. In other songs, the vocables are sung at the end of each line of a verse. In a song like 'S Fliuch an Oidhche ('Wet is the Night'), also known as Coisich a Rùin ('Come on, My Love'), the last two lines of one verse become the first two lines of the following one. A tradition holds that it is bad luck to repeat a song during a waulking session, which may explain in part both the many verses of some songs and the large number of songs.

Non-lexical vocables, which may be mixed with meaningful text, are a form of nonsense syllable used in a wide variety of music. A common English example would be "la la la", "na na na" or "da da da".

While fulling is a common practice across the world, it is only in Scotland that music became so strongly associated with it as to become an important cultural feature of the country. Waulking is rare in Scotland today, mostly confined to the Outer Hebrides, where it is carried out as a celebration of heritage. The last true waulking (for the purpose of making cloth) is believed to have occurred during the 1950s.[ citation needed ]

Culture of Scotland

The culture of Scotland refers to the patterns of human activity and symbolism associated with Scotland and the Scottish people. Some elements of Scottish culture, such as its separate national church, are protected in law, as agreed in the Treaty of Union and other instruments. The Scottish flag is blue with a white saltire, and represents the cross of Saint Andrew.

Outer Hebrides archipelago and council area off the west coast of mainland Scotland

The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, Innse Gall or the Long Isle or the Long Island, is an island chain off the west coast of mainland Scotland. The islands are geographically coextensive with Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, one of the 32 unitary council areas of Scotland. They form part of the archipelago of the Hebrides, separated from the Scottish mainland and from the Inner Hebrides by the waters of the Minch, the Little Minch, and the Sea of the Hebrides. Scottish Gaelic is the predominant spoken language, although in a few areas English speakers form a majority.

During the Highland clearances, traditional methods of waulking spread with the Scottish diaspora. In Nova Scotia, and in particular on Cape Breton Island, waulking is known as milling. Although in Scotland women waulked cloth, in Nova Scotia both men and women took part in milling frolics. The practice continues as a cultural celebration today.

The Scottish diaspora consists of Scottish people who emigrated from Scotland and their descendants. The diaspora is concentrated in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, England, New Zealand, Ireland and to a lesser extent Argentina, Chile and Brazil.

Nova Scotia Province of Canada

Nova Scotia is one of Canada's three Maritime Provinces, and one of the four provinces that form Atlantic Canada. Its provincial capital is Halifax. Nova Scotia is the second-smallest of Canada's ten provinces, with an area of 55,284 square kilometres (21,300 sq mi), including Cape Breton and another 3,800 coastal islands. As of 2016, the population was 923,598. Nova Scotia is Canada's second-most-densely populated province, after Prince Edward Island, with 17.4 inhabitants per square kilometre (45/sq mi).

Cape Breton Island Island in Nova Scotia

Cape Breton Island is an island on the Atlantic coast of North America and part of the province of Nova Scotia, Canada.

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