The Haunting Truth Behind the Outlander Song Lyrics
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You can’t help but sing along with the haunting Outlander song lyrics, right? And…wait did those well-known, beloved Outlander song lyrics change again in the opening of Season Six? Yep, they sure did. Twice. And for good reason.
The truth behind the Outlander song is just as haunting as the melody. Here is what you need to know about the Outlander song lyrics as you prepare to watch Season Six on Starz (or binge-watch seasons one through five on Netflix or Hulu!)
The Season Six Outlander Song Lyrics are closer to the original song lyrics
Just as the popular Starz television series called Outlander is an adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book series by the same name, the Outlander theme song is an adaptation of a real folk song from the Scottish Highlands called the “Skye Boat Song”.
If you have watched any of the first five seasons of the television series, then you are familiar with the chorus that goes like this:
Sing me a song of a lass that is gone
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye
It makes sense to sing here about a “lass” since our main character in Outlander is a lass who stumbled through the stone circles of time, landing 200 years in the past and in a world where Bonnie Prince Charlie (Edward Stuart) was stoking support among the Scottish Highlanders to take part in his failed bid for the throne.
The original chorus of the “Skye Boat Song,” though, is about a “lad” – the bonnie prince himself – as he flees the Highlands in 1746, abandoning the Jacobites and the failed uprising. Here is that original chorus:
Speed bonnie boat like a bird on the wing
Onward the sailors cry.
Carry the lad that’s born to be king
Over the sea to Skye
In Season Six, the Outlander song lyrics are changed to sing about a “lad that is gone”. By the end of the intro, our lyrics return to singing about a “lass,” but that first line signals a significant shift in our storyline. As does the shift in lead vocals.
The Season Six Outlander Song is Sung by a Man
The other significant change is that the Season Six Outlander song is led by the male singer (Griogair Labhruidh) with the female voice that we’re used to (Raya Yarbrough) joining in a duet later in the song.
As an avid reader of all the Outlander books, including their spinoffs featuring – my very favorite character – Lord John Grey, I think this change in vocals is signaling a point of view change. We will start to see the world more through the perspective of Outlander’s male characters.
Jamie, Roger, and even Lord John Grey, become more powerful characters at this point in the book series, and author Diana Gabaldon spends whole chapters telling the story from the point of view of the guys.
Did You Catch the Gaelic Outlander Song Lyrics?
That beautiful Gaelic version of the Outlander song was by Griogair Labhruidh. It was haunting. Beautiful. Proud. If you missed it, view it here.
The Outlander song lyrics and tone shift often to signal changes in our storyline. I love this about the show.
But what about those original lyrics?
The Skye of the Outlander Song is an island in the Scottish Highlands
It’s not over the sea to sky, but o’er the sea to Skye. The Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands is where Bonnie Prince Charlie was first smuggled after the disastrous failed battle at Culloden.
A Highlander named Flora MacDonald rowed the fleeing Bonnie Prince Charlie to safety on the Isle of Skye. The fugitive prince disguised himself as a maid. It is this flight that inspired the original lyrics of the Outlander theme song.
While that flight would help the prince keep his life, the Jacobites who managed to survive the massacre at Culloden were ruthlessly rounded up and slaughtered.
That is why the song sounds so mournful.
Many’s the lad fought on that day
Well the claymore did wield
When the night came
Dead on Culloden Field
Watch as the real chorus is sung in a pub in the Highland town of Inverness:
The Original Outlander Song Carries Hope that the Prince Would Return
The singer above is Davy Holt who has a special gift for telling the history of the Highlands through song. It is Davy who taught me over a night of Scottish Whisky and storytelling about the Outlander song and how – in the original lyrics – one can find hope from the Highlanders that their prince will return to save them:
Burned are their homes, exile, and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again
But Bonnie Prince Charlie never returned and the Highlanders paid the dearest of prices. Men were rounded up and shot at Old High Church in Inverness where you can still see the musket ball marks on the tower wall.
Jacobites were hunted for years and the Highland lifestyle itself was ruthlessly suppressed: no kilts, no Gaelic, no culture.
So “The Skye Boat Song,” the original version of the Outlander theme song, mourns the loss of lives and the loss of a way of life in the Scottish Highlands that the Outlander’s Jamie Fraser called home.
It makes sense then that the song is haunting and beautiful and that it sticks with us even today as the Outlander theme song fills our living rooms.
The Outlander theme song is closely adapted from a re-write of the original lyrics that took place sometime around 1885. The mournful tune itself, though, remains the same throughout history and regardless of the rewritten and repurposed lyrics.
Now you will know the story behind the Outlander song when you sit down to watch the series (or, better yet, read the book)!
If you liked this tale, you might also like:
An in-depth story about my tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands, including the Whisky Experience with singer Davy Holt.
Follow Davy Holt @davyholt and don’t miss his singing and storytelling in Inverness when we all start traveling again after social distancing. In Inverness, you can also find a statue of Flora MacDonald and the Old High Church.
Also, while we talked about the TV series here…the books are so much better! The latest book “Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone” came out in November 2021, and it’s as good as the rest.
Check out the Outlander books in order on Bookshop here:
About the Author
Hi! I’m Jen!
I’m a freelance writer and travel blogger who quit my nine-to-five after my fiancé, Jeff, died of cancer at the age of 40. When he died, I realized that life is just too short to delay our dreams. Since my dream was to travel and write, I now travel and write full-time. Today I wear hiking boots instead of heels and collect experiences instead of things.