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The Burns Encyclopedia
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Pagan, Isobel or Tibbie (1741-1821)

Born in New Cumnock, she received no regular education, and throughout most of her long life supported herself by begging, selling whisky without a licence, and by singing. She possibly supplied Burns with the idea for one of his finest songs, 'Ca' the yowes'. Writing to Thomson in September 1794, Burns said: 'I am flattered at your adopting, 'Ca the yowes to the knowes', as it was owing to me that ever it saw the light. About seven years ago, I was well acquainted with a worthy little fellow of a clergyman, a Mr Clunzie, who sang it charmingly; and at my request, Mr Clarke took it down from his singing. When I gave it to Johnson, I added some Stanzas to the song, and mended others, but still it will not do for you.'

There Burns was wrong, or half-way wrong. The version given to Johnson and published in the Museum in 1790, is the version which has become popular. The second version, given to Thomson and published in Scottish Airs, 1805 was divorced by Thomson from its lovely modal tune, and put to another air, 'The maid that tends the goats'.

'Mr Clunzie' was the Reverend John Clunie (1759-1819), licensed to the Edinburgh Presbytery in 1784 and until 1790 schoolmaster and precentor at Markinch in Fife, in which year he was ordained to Ewes, Dumfriesshire. In 1791 he was presented by Robert Dundas of Arniston to Borthwick, Midlothian. He had some reputation as a minor song-writer, and Kinsley thinks he, and not Pagan, the probable origin of 'Ca' the Yowes'.

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Robert Burns Store

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Complete Burns Songs

linn recordings of burns Linn Records have completed their landmark recording of all 368 Burns songs, available as individual CDs or a 12 volume presentation box set. We have full details. Click here...


Burns Music & Recordings
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Burns Chess Sets

Burns Chess SetsUnique collectors' pieces based on Burns' life and works. (The ideal gift for your Burns Supper guests!) Click here...

Scotweb Store

ScotwebThe finest Scottish shopping site in the world, with the world's largest choice of kilts and tartans, exclusive jewelry, Highland Dress, Bagpipes and piping supplies, cashmere, and much more. Buying from these sites helps pay for the upkeep of Burns Country! Click here...