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Robert Tannahill


1774 - 1810

Robert Tannahill
©2016 Gazetteer for Scotland

Robert Tannahill

Poet, flautist and song-writer. Born in Paisley, the son of a silk-weaver, Tannahill received a good education for the time. At the age of 12, he became an apprentice to his father. He taught himself to play the flute and began to compose songs as he worked. Inspired by Robert Burns' work Tam o' Shanter, Tannahill walked to Alloway Kirk in 1794 and spent time visiting the localities connected with the poet.

An economic down-turn caused him to move to Bolton (England) in 1799, but he returned to Paisley in 1801 on hearing of the illness of his father. He set up one of the first Burns' Clubs in the town in 1805. Tannahill's first and only publication, Poems and Songs (1807), proved popular, selling out within weeks. His best known songs are perhaps "The Braes o' Balquhidder", "Braes o' Gleniffer", "O are ye sleepin, Maggie" and "Jessie the Flower o' Dunblane".

Tannahill enjoyed the theatre, attending regularly in Paisley and occasionally travelling to Glasgow. Gaining recognition throughout Scotland, he was visited by James Hogg (1770 - 1835), the 'Ettrick Shepherd', in 1810.

Prone to depression, when a second set of poems were rejected first by a Greenock publisher and then by Archibald Constable in Edinburgh, Tannahill drowned himself in the Glasgow, Paisley and Johnstone Canal. He is remembered by a statue in his home town and the Paisley Tannahill Club still meet in the house in Queen Street where he was brought up.


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