Carolina Oliphant, Lady Nairne, a contemporary of Robert Burns, wrote over ninety songs, some of which enjoyed great popularity during her lifetime and still do up to the present day. They are some of Scotland’s most famous traditional songs, including ‘The Land o’ the Leal’, ‘Will Ye no Come back again’, ‘The Auld Hoose’, ‘The Rowan Tree’, ‘The Laird o’ Cockpen’, ‘Wi’ a Hundred Pipers’, and ‘Caller Herrin’’. Like much of the poetry of Burns her songs combine the values and traditions of folk music and song with influences from the art music and literature of her day. Despite their popularity, she shunned publicity and never acknowledged her authorship in her lifetime, even concealing it from her husband. After her death, the publication in 1846 of her collected songs as Lays of Strathearn revealed her secret.
Partly because of her lifelong reticence, details of her biography and personality remain little-known though her songs are famous, and this important Scottish literary figure has been neglected. Freeland Barbour, a descendant of Lady Nairne’s eldest sister, has written a long-overdue biography and reassessment of her life and work, much of it based on research into family papers to which he has access. And coinciding with this is a new edition of ‘The Lays of Strathearn’ containing all songs attributed to Lady Nairne.