The Story behind this ballad: In 1781 a Major Barry, then owner of Lednock (in Scotland) recorded the following tradition…

Mary Gray was the daughter of the Lord of Lednock, near Perth, and Bessy Bell was the daughter of the Lord of Kinvaid, a neighbouring place. Both were handsome, and the two were intimate friends. Bessy Bell being come on a visit to Mary Gray, they retired, in order to avoid an outbreak of the plague, to a bower (cottage) built by themselves in a romantic spot called Burnbraes, on the side of Branchie-burn, three-quarters of a mile from Lednock House. The ballad does not say how the 'pest cam,' but tradition finds a cause for their deaths by inventing a young man, in love with both, who visited them and brought the infection. They died in the bower, and were buried in the Dranoch-haugh ('Stronach haugh'), near the bank of the river Almond. The grave is still visited by pious pilgrims.

Major Barry mentions 1666 as the year, but the plague did not reach Scotland in that year. Probably the year in question was 1645, when the district was ravaged with the pestilence.

O Bessie Bell and Mary Gray - Scottish Children's Songs - Scotland - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World  - Intro Image

Notes

There's an English nursery rhyme about Bessy Bell and Mary Gray that came after this ballad.

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Thanks and Acknowledgements

Translated into modern English by Lisa Yannucci. The illustration comes from Original Ballads by Living Authors edited by Rev. Henry Thompson (1850).