Appalachia Folk Dancing Music

Killy Kranky

Killiekrankie square dance song

Killy Kranky is a song the girls and I learned at this year’s Mountain Folk Festival in Berea, KY. We had never heard the song before, but the girls immediately fell in love with the quirky lyrics and have pretty much drove me crazy making Killy Kranky jokes ever since.

Killy Kranky

Killy Kranky is my song sing and dance it all day long.
From my elbow to my wrist. Now we do the double twist.

Broke my arm, broke my arm
Swinging pretty Nancy
Broke my leg, broke my leg
Dancing Killy Kranky!

Killy Kranky is my song sing and dance it all day long.
From my wrist down to my knee we’ll do the grapevine twist.

Broke my arm, broke my arm
Swinging pretty Nancy
Broke my leg, broke my leg
Dancing Killy Kranky!

Killy Kranky is my song, sing and dance it all day long.
From my knee down to my toe. How much farther can you go?

Broke my arm, broke my arm
Swinging pretty Nancy
Broke my leg, broke my leg
Dancing Killy Kranky!

—————–

In the book edited by Jean Ritchie, Folk Songs of the Southern Appalahcians as Sung by Jeanine Ritchie, this description of the song is given:

Uncle Jason calls this one a play ditty, because according to his description of it, it was both a game and a song, and not much of either one. The players sang the song while they “wound the grapevine,” using different variations, all of which Uncle Jason avowed was just a good excuse to get their arms around one another. He thought that the words, “Killy Kranky” were just nonsense syllables, and so did I until my husband and I found the town of Killy Kranky (by accident when we lost the main road) in Scotland!

Like Richie and Uncle Jason I assumed Killy Kranky was a made up name-too but after we got home from Berea I decided to do some googling around just in case. Like Ritchie, I discovered Killy Kranky, actually spelled Killiecrankie is indeed a place in Scotland.

Pass of Killiecrankie, Scotland
Pass of Killiecrankie, Scotland

The website Killiecrankie Undiscovered Scotland: The Ultimate Online Guide has this to say about the area:

The Pass of Killiecrankie lies about midway between Pitlochry and Blair Atholl. A little under a mile and a half long, it is a narrow, steep sided glen cut by the River Garry through the surrounding high ground, and forms the most constricted part of what has throughout history been the main route between the Highlands and the Lowlands.

It is probably best to say up front that the paths that descend from the visitor centre into the lower reaches of the pass are steep in places, are mainly of compacted earth, and many sections have steps. This is a place you are most likely to enjoy in sensible shoes.

Throughout history, the Pass of Killiecrankie was travelled by most overland visitors to the Highlands. It is interesting to consider that our own response to it, as a place of beauty, is a relatively recent development. Thomas Pennant, in writing about his tour of Scotland in 1769 said of Killiecrankie: “The pass is extremely narrow between high mountains, with the Garry running beneath in a deep dark foam, and a rocky channel, overhung by trees, forming a scene of horrible grandeur.”

In 1844, Queen Victoria took a very different view when writing in her journal: “We came to the Pass of Killiecrankie, which is quite magnificent: the road winds along it, and you look down a great height, all wooded on both sides, the Garry rolling below it. I cannot describe how beautiful it is. Albert was in perfect ecstasies.”

The pass was probably not a welcome sight to another group of visitors who travelled through it on 27 July 1689: 4,000 government troops on their way to defeat at the hands of the Jacobites in the Battle of Killiecrankie.

You can jump over to the website by clicking here and read more about the battle of Killiecrankie.

—————–

After reading all of that-if I was making a guess-I’d say the song originated because of the rough terrain of Killiecrankie.

The warning to wear sensible shoes and the quote from Thomas Pennant make the lines: Broke my arm, broke my arm Broke my leg, broke my leg seem believable.

Maybe the song started out as a battle cry for the Jacobites or maybe it was a song sung by travelers who had to traverse the rugged terrain of Killiecrankie. Who knows how it started?

Knowing a version of the song-even one that has been maligned and morphed into a dance tune-is still alive and well in Appalachia is beyond cool to me in fact I think it’s downright AWESOME.

Drop back by in a day or so to see the dance and to hear more of our Killy Kranky story.

Tipper

p.s. Go here to hear a version of Killy Kranky that is similar to the one we learned in Berea.

*Source for Killiecrankie photo: Old UK Photos.

 

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15 Comments

  • Reply
    Hank Skewis
    July 7, 2019 at 2:20 pm

    The photo made me think of the New River Gorge in W VA. Fun post. Thank you!

  • Reply
    Maggie Roberts
    May 9, 2017 at 10:03 pm

    Have you read that Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon? They are really fascinating books about Scotland in the 18th century, and how/why they migrated to N.C.

  • Reply
    RB Redmond
    May 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm

    I wonder where it got its name. I find that interesting. There’s a very small town in nearby NC called “Lizard Lick”. I won’t even hazard a guess as to how that town got its name. LOL
    They sell T-shirts and sweat shirts with the name of the town on it, cause tourists get a big kick of wearing them home and telling of finding the town with the strange name.
    God bless.
    RB
    <><

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm

    Those two in the first picture must be Killy and Kranky in person. I hope you got an autograph.

  • Reply
    Granny Sue
    May 14, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    I love this, Tipper! It’s now on my gotta-learn-it list. I am always looking for songs from our region that will work with school children because I include singing in every program–kids love to sing, and so do I 🙂
    BTW, congratulations on the degree! I didn’t know you were in school. I know how hard you must have worked, and I bet your family is so proud of you. As are all of your online friends!

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    May 14, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Tipper,
    Typing faster than my mind can think..(broken noggin!)
    The sentence should have read, I would love, love to go to Scotland and Ireland…one of my dreams…Maybe I went there in my dreams…
    Thanks

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    May 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

    I had not heard of “Killiecrankie” in Scotland or the “Killy Kranky” song! The picture of the place in Scotland looks very much like our mountains! No wonder our ancestors were glad to settle in NC and some then move on to N GA and elsewhere! It must have seemed like the hills of home to them!

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    May 14, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Tipper–I enjoyed the information on Scotland. Mine has been the great privilege to have spent a lot of time there, thanks to a post-doctoral fellowship and the University of Edinburgh and a later research grant. It’s an absolutely lovely place in the summer.
    In the winter, on the other hand, suffice it to say you don’t need to be there long in the dead of winter to understand why the Scots have always been heavy drinkers and noted for their propensity to wander. It’s so far north it never really gets to be full daylight in winter.
    Whatever the explanation, Scots have always been great ones to travel fair from their home heath. Think Dr. Livingstone, James A. Grant, Verney Cameron, and other Scottish explorers of Africa as an example.
    There’s more than a grain of truth in the old Scots quatrain:
    Had Cain been Scot,
    God would have changed his doom.
    Not made him to wander,
    But kept him at home.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Ken
    May 14, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Tipper,
    The picture of Killiecrankie pass
    in Scotland (as Ed says) does remind
    me of our beautiful Nantahala.
    The song didn’t do much for me, as
    I’m more addicted to the Blind Pig
    Gang’s sound…Ken

  • Reply
    B. ruth
    May 14, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Tipper,
    For some reason, I can’t load, in a frame, the song. So I will wait on your dance version.
    I think I might be from Killy Krankie…do they have a verse for a broken noggin?
    I wonder if Don or Jim in their travels to Scotland ever went or hiked Killy Kranky?
    I love, love to go to Scotland and to Ireland. That has been one of my dreams…
    Guess I’ll just go to the highlands of North Carolina and Little Switzerland!
    Great Post Tipper, looking forward to the music and dance!

  • Reply
    dolores
    May 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

    I have never been to Scotland, but that picture reminds of what beauty awaits a visitor to that country. Your story today was quite fascinating and I await the girls’ version when they get it together. Very interesting!

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    May 14, 2013 at 9:10 am

    I have never heard that tune but KillieKrankie is in Perthshire Scotland and that is where my grandfather McArthur’s family came from. You have given me yet another topic to research. Thanks!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 14, 2013 at 8:07 am

    The picture makes me think of what the Nantahala Gorge looked like before it became clogged with kayaks, canoes, rafts, floats and screaming imbeciles in blaze orange arraignment.

  • Reply
    Charles Fletcher
    May 14, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Enjoyed the song. Sounds a lot like
    OLD MAN TUCKER.
    Charles Fletcher

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 14, 2013 at 7:22 am

    This is amazing all the way from Scotland! Cute song too

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