The Ballad of Corrievreckan

Behind the hills of Craignish
Look Westward to the sea
Where cruel Corrievreckan
Shrouds many an argosy
Within its rocky caverns
Full twenty fathoms deep
The silent grave of sailors
Resting in endless sleep.

The emerald hills of Jura
Watch o’er the foaming tide
Swirling and eddying ever
Around the ships that ride
Towards the fatal vortex,
Vigilant for its prey;
Little they heed the sea-god’s boast
‘Ye shall not pass this way.’

‘Ye’ll have to steer by Scarba
If ye want East or West,
Or through the Sound of Islay;
But hearken our behest:
Ye’re not to see a sail-way
By Corrievreckan’s Flow;
And if your craft deride us
We’ll draw them down below.’

‘Hark to the voices crying
To warn ye of your fate;
The sea-birds round ye flying
Scream ‘Turn, ere ’tis too late’:
Hark to the sound that surges
In ominous refrain,
The litanies and dirges
From souls beneath the main:’

‘There is death and woe
In this blood-stained Flow:
Let every stranger
Beware the danger
That lurks in the tide
And on either side.’

‘For your lives’ sake flee
This jeopardy:
By Christ his rood
And your souls’ good
Return ye hame
The way ye came.’

The shores of Corrievreckan
Are guarded sure and fast
By sentinels invisible
So long as time shall last.
They hold the fearful sea-pass
With lightning at command,
They speed death-dealing thunderbolts
On all who dare the land.

And, when the day has darkened
Into the sable night,
They flame a watch-fire signal
From either beacon height;
Bold sailors steer between them
All heedless of their doom,
And sink into the cauldron
Of Corrievreckan’s tomb.

‘Thus perish all invaders
From Erin or from Fyne;
Nor mariners nor traders
Have passed our mystic line
Since ancient law and custom
gave us that ocean mile
To watch and ward for ever
The door to Mid-Argyll.’



Corryvreckan [as written by Dr Charles Blatherwick in The Kilmahonaig Journal of 1871] kindly provided by John Jeff, a direct descendent.

‘Twas in the Spring of Ninety-two,
And on the First of May
When we brought up the Saucy Sue
All in to Crinan Bay.

Old Bill with me did always sail,
A messmate true was he.
From Tobermory he did hail,
And well he kenn’d the sea.

Our crew all told was only eight,
And we did well agree
That Bill should act as our First Mate
And I the Skipper be.

At Crinan, time did slowly pass,
For we did daily find
The sea all round as smooth as grass
And not one breath of wind.

We chafed and fumed at this delay,
The crew did swear and fight.
They whistled for a breeze all day
And then got drunk at night.

At last a send came off the west,
The sea it did rise too,
But then it was the Sabbath rest,
And all but Bill were fou.

And not a man among them all
Could help us under weigh;
Not one of them a rope could haul
So werry drunk were they.

Then Bill up spoke ‘Look ‘ere’, says he,
‘Of hands we’re werry short’.
Says he ‘We’d better bide a wee
In this ‘ere Crinan Port’.

‘Outside the sea is awful rough,
The sky grows black and blacker,’
Says he ‘We haven’t hands enough
To trim her sails or tack ‘er’.

Says I to Bill ‘Now blow me tight,
And dash my blessed wig
If I don’t sail this werry night
In this ‘ere werry Brig!’

‘The waves may be rampageous high,
The winds outrageous roar –
What matters that to you and I
Who’ve sen much was afore?’

Then Bill he shook his long pigtail
And baccy juice did squirt.
Says he ‘If this ‘ere night we sail
We meet a gruesome hurt.’

‘The tide is strong, the wind doth shift,
And by these signs I reckon
That if we sail we’re safe to drift
Slap into Corryvreckan!’

But thereupon my dander rose
Against this lubber hoary.
‘Go home’ says I, ‘and toast your toes
In lonesome Tobermory.’

‘Blow’d if I ain’t ashamed o’ you,
To funk a little weather –
You ought to know the Saucy Sue
Will ride through like a feather.’

Says Bill ‘I’ve ‘eard the old folks say
Bad luck it is to sail
All drunk upon the Sabbath day
In the teeth of such a gale.’

‘If to these words we don’t attend,
Or do these signs defy,
Then Providence will surely send
Bad luck to you and I.’

Then in a rage my hair I tore,
And cussed the drunken crew.
At Billy’s words I cussed and swore,
I cussed old Billy too.

Hey man! I cussed the whole consarn,
I cussed the wind and rain –
I cussed the ship from poop to starn,
And then I cussed again –

My pipe I lit, I looked all round,
Then unto Bill did shout
‘Until we weather Scarba Sound
This pipe shall not go out.’

Old Bill his pigtail still did shake,
And baccy still did chew,
But I saw how his legs did quake,
His face how pale it grew.

I puffed, and cried ‘Hoist up yon sail,
Don’t stand there like a signpost,
And when we catches this ‘ere gale
The Devil take the hindmost!’

These wicked words when Billy ‘eard,
He let the ship go free.
She shook her wings just like a bird,
And then flew out to sea.

Oh! then I felt so mad with joy,
As there I stood my deck on,
‘Hurrah!’, says I ‘Cheer up my boy,
And damn old Corryvreckan!’

The words had scarcely left my mouth
When straight above our heads
A mighty puff from out the south
Tore all our sails in shreds.

And then, with sails all torn and rent,
A great sea struck the Brig.
Our mainmast like a reed was bent,
Then snapped just like a twig.

Her falling spars our decks did grind,
The sea made clean breach o’er us,
And awful gale blew hard behind,
The whirlpool lash’d before us.

Old Billy never a word did say,
But silent viewed the wreck.
The drunken crew like logs did lay,
And rolled about the deck.

Old Nick must such a storm have brewed,
Yet through that fearful night
Old Billy still his baccy chewed,
My pipe was still alight.

Dread Corryvreckan now was near
And tho’ I madly strove
For Scarba Sound our ship to steer,
She still due westward drove.

Oh! then I knew we were undone-
Loud! Loud the whirlpool roared,
And then the crew were one by one
Wash’d helpless overboard.

Never was such a Devil’s reel
Danced by a ship before;
Mad music rattled on her keel
As round and round she tore.

And following in that fatal tide,
Just level with my head,
I saw shine out on every side
The bodies of the Dead.

Like living men that swim a race
I saw them fall and rise,
And then stare straight into my face
With their dead sightless eyes.

I looked around and scanned the sea
To find a blessed sail.
I looked at Bill and there was he
As dead as any nail.

And then, as down and down we slid,
And round and round we whirled,
The Dead man still did chew his quid
And still his pigtail twirled.

And round and round and in and out –
Which ever way I turned –
My pipe did never once go out,
It still for ever burned.

Nigh eighty years it has burned bright,
And by its light I beckon
Bad sailors on a stormy night
To die in Corryvreckan.

But once a year, in every May,
I leave the briny deep
And swim ashore to Crinan Bay,
My vigil for to keep.

So sailors all should warning take,
And on the Sabbath day
Never a drunken vow to make
Or wicked words to say.

C.B, Crinan
September 1871