Thursday, 21 December 2017

The Weaver Poet: The Songs and Poems of Robert Tannahill

The Weaver Poet: The Songs and Poems of Robert Tannahill, introduced by Claire Casey
Published by Claire Casey in May 2016.

Where to buy this book:

Robert Tannahill was born into a weaving family, in Paisley. He followed his father in weaving, but would write poems and songs as he worked. He tragically killed himself, at the age of 36.

Claire Casey put together this book of Robert Tannahill's poetry and songs. She has kindly written the following for Literary Flits as an introduction to this forgotten poet's work:

It was once joked that the weavers of Paisley were also all poets.

The most famous of these weaver poets, was Robert Tannahill (1774-1810), who was a contemporary of Robert Burns. Tannahill’s name and work may not be as famous as that of Burns, but with Paisley having come so close to gaining City of Culture status for 2021, there is no better time than now to highlight him and his work.

Starting to write his poems in 1804, in the wake of Robert Burn’s death, it is believed that Tannahill had a small desk attached to the side of his weaver’s loom, which was kept stocked with pens, ink and paper. This was simply so that he could write his songs and poems, while he continued to work.

Despite a deformity to his right leg, which was slightly shorter than his left, Tannahill was a keen walker. One of his favourite haunts was the Gleniffer Braes, which mark the southern most limit of Paisley. Part of the Braes are now a country park, with one of it’s walks being named in Tannahill’s honour. These walks on the Gleniffer Braes became one of the main influences on his songs and poems.
After the success of his first collection, Tannahill believed that his second collection would be accepted for publication. Unfortunately, it was rejected, sending Tannahill into a spiral of depression, which led to tragedy.

One night, his friends discovered that Tannahill had left the cottage that he shared with his widowed mother. No-one had realised that he had done so, until his friends had stopped to check on him. A search party was quickly organised, and it didn’t take long for Tannahill’s jacket to be found, folded neatly on the banks of the Paisley Canal. His pocket watch had been carefully placed on top of his jacket.
His body was found not long after, in the culvert for the canal. At the age of 36, he had taken his own life. He was buried in the graveyard of the Castlehead Kirk, which is only a short distance from his family’s cottage, which, to this day, is still referred to as Tannahill’s cottage, which stands on Paisley’s Queen Street.

Tannahill was one of the founding members of the Paisley Burns Club, the oldest Burns club that is still in existence. The members of this Burns club continue to meet at Tannahill’s cottage.

In 2010, on the 200th anniversary of his death, an exhibition was held in memory of Tannahill. Portraits of the poet were displayed along side some of his personal effects.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Robert Tannahill / Poetry / Books from Scotland


  1. I'm always on the lookout for more poets to read, and that's why this one caught my eye. Thanks for introducing it to me!

    1. A tragically short life, but great that Tannahill's work is still preserved and enjoyed