About the Dreg Song Project

In the nineteenth century, Scotsmen fished for oysters in the Firth of Forth by dragging dredges over the oyster 'scalps'. To maintain a steady speed they sang as they rowed. Overfishing brought the industry to a close near the turn of the twentieth century and with it, the use of the dreg songs. In the 1930s James Madison Carpenter gathered some of these songs on wax cylinders and typewritten pages. For years the songs were hidden away - lost. Now, with the work of the James Madison Carpenter Project these songs have come back to life first at Mystic Seaport Museum and, this summer, in their home waters of the Firth! Three Scottish Coast Rowing Clubs: RowportyNewhaven Coastal Rowing and Boatie Blest  brought the songs home to the Firth at 7:30 pm on 20 June, 2012 near the Dalriada Bar. It was a memorable and historic evening!

One Week To Go!

Just one week from today the Dreg Songs Project will restore to the Firth of Forth the nearly-lost songs of the local oyster fishery. From 7:30 PM, just off Portobello Promenade near the Dalriada Bar three Scottish Coastal Rowing Clubs will offer their interpretations of these unique traditions both in their boats (weather permitting) and in the pub. This will be the first singing of these songs on their home waters in a century!

To add to this festive occasion, the Museums Department from the City Art Centre will be bringing traditional fishwives costumes from Newhaven and a display of photographs related to fishing in the Firth of Forth. In addition, a special ‘Dreg Songs Ale’ has been brewed by Inveralmond Brewery and will be available on the night. Of course, a celebration of oyster fishing songs requires oysters and Michael Pollington of Pollington’s Fine Food and Drink has arranged with a local fishmonger to have fine Scottish oysters for your pleasure.

This will be a truly historic occasion. Recognizing this, both the Edinburgh Napier University and Celtic and Scottish Studies at the University of Edinburgh will be sending students to document the evening, interview participants and create an archival record of this once-in-a-lifetime event.

On behalf of the James Madison Carpenter Project based at the Elphinstone Institute at the University of Aberdeen, I’d like to thank everyone who has put so much effort into bringing this event to life. In addition to all the particpants, thanks are due to the National Endowment for the Humanitites (USA), the American Folklore Society and The British Academy for supporting the research that enables these communities to celebrate their traditions in this unique way.

See you on the beach!

Oyster fishing off Prestonpans, 1862