“My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean” is a traditional Scottish folk song dating back to the mid-1800s, if not the 1700s. While the origin of the song is a bit murky, the original Bonnie is speculated to have been Charles Edward Stuart, aka Bonnie Prince Charlie. As leader of the Jacobite rising of 1745, his army was defeated by the British at the Battle of Culloden the following year. Stuart subsequently fled across the ocean from Scotland to France and over time became romanticized as a figure of heroic failure.
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Of course, thanks to the ambiguous nature of the lyric, Bonnie could refer either to a man or woman, and the premise of the song could be interpreted as a love song as easily as historically rooted.
By the 1870s, “My Bonnie” had become popular with college and other singing groups on both sides of the Atlantic. Since then, it has regularly appeared in folk song collections and compilations. Its wide and long familiarity has also made it fertile ground for parody and updated versions, such as Tony Sheridan’s rock ’n’ roll arrangement with The Beatles.
As usual with these Campfire arrangements, I keep it simple, sticking to a handful of basic open chords: C, F, D7, A7, and G. But to keep things interesting I use a few twists—for instance, sometimes playing the C chord with a G in the bass, the D7 with an F# in the bass, and G6 (G B D E) rather than G (G B D).
For the strumming pattern, I use a classic waltz pattern—a bass note on beat 1, followed by strums on 2 and 3, all in downstrokes. Sometimes I throw in an upstroke strum on the “and” of beat 2 and/or 3. This helps keeps the proceedings lively.
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.