‘Castles in the Air’

House Music at Your House

The term ‘Castles in the Air’ appears in many works of poetry, long form literature and song, from the late 18th century to today.

Perhaps the most famous song version in contemporary popular culture is American singer/songwriter Don McLean’s version from 1970. It is also the title of a British fantasy-dystopia novel for young adults by Diana Wynne-Jones published in 1990. On a more local note, the Sydney band ‘The Hoodoo Gurus’ had a hit with a song called ‘Castles in the Air’ in 1998. None of these contemporary pop songs has the same tune as our 19th century tune from Rouse Hill Estate, but the idea remains the same.

This version of the song with words by James Ballantine and music by Robert Adams was very popular in Australia from the mid-1850s to the 1890s. The Rouse Hill Estate version is an early printing by the Sydney music publisher and retailer J.R Clarke. The National Library of Australia holds many copies of this song, with local publishers in Sydney and Melbourne as well as imported copies from Britain.

Watch the performance

Listen to Luke Byrne introduce and perform ‘Castles in the Air’ and then have a go yourself! We have added other versions to inspire you further.

You can find links to the music and lyrics below and perform and share your own interpretation.

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Meet the performers

Luke Byrne

Luke is a Sydney-based composer, musical director and pianist. Recent commissions include Capricorn and Desert Sea for Sydney Philharmonia, Storm Bird, Buruwan Elegy and Birinyi for Gondwana Indigenous Children's Choir with the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Where Sails Once Flew for Adelaide Chamber Singers. Luke arranged the national anthems for the 2015 Netball World Cup and in 2012 was composer-in-residence for Sydney Children's Choir.

Learn more about Luke.


‘Castles in the Air’

The bonnie, bonnie bairn wha sits poking in the ase,
Glow'ring in the fire wi' his wee round face;
Laughing at the fuffin' lowe, what sees he there?
Ha! the young dreamer's bigging castles in the air.
His wee chubby face and his touzie curly pow,
Are laughing and nodding... to the dancing lowe,
He'll brown his rosy cheeks, and singe his sunny hair,
Glow'ring at the imps wi' their castles in the air.

He sees muckle castles tow'ring to the moon,
He sees little sodgers pu'ing them a' doun!
Worlds whombling up and doun, bleezing wi' a flare,
See how he loups! as they glimmer in the air.

For a' sae sage he looks, what can the laddie ken!
He's thinking upon naething, like mony mighty men;
A wee thing mak's us think, a sma' thing mak's us stare,
There are mair folk than him bigging castles in the air.

Sic a night in winter weel mak' him cauld;
His chin upon his buffy hand will soon mak' him auld,
His brow is brent sae braid, O pray that daddy Care,
Would let the wean alane, wi' his castles in the air.

He'll glow'r at the fire! and he'll keek at the light!
But mony sparkling stars are swallow'd up by night;
Aulder e'en than his are glamour'd by a glare,
Hearts are broken, heads are turn'd wi' castles in the air.

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