The poem, written as a ballad, is about the tragic drowning of a young man and his beloved while trying to escape the wrath of the latter’s father.
Lord Ullin is the father of the girl. Being the lord of Ulva, he wields considerable power. His young beautiful daughter is madly in love with a chieftain in the same place. Lord Ullin can not reconcile to his daughter’s romantic relationship with the young chieftain. He puts a strong foot down on the idea of the two getting married. The daughter dreads the rage and fury of her father.
Seeing no way to formally marry the chieftain, whom she has already given her heart to, she elopes with him. This infuriates Lord Ullin so much that he sends three horsemen to haunt down the duo and smother the chieftain on the spot.
The duo, frantically trying to evade their pursuers plan to cross the stretch of sea known as Lochgyle. The sea separates Ulva and Gribun on Mull. Gribun can be the duo’s safe haven.
They approach a boatman to ferry them across. But, the weather has become hostile. Darkness is descending and a storm is beginning to blow. Understandably, the boatman is hesitant to venture into water. The chieftain, very eager to get away to the other side, offers a silver coin to the boatman and beseeches him to make the trip somehow or the other.
The boatman learns that the man and woman, deeply in love, are in the run. The boat journey stood between them and their death.
The boatman proudly spurns the lure of the silver. Pulling himself up, he declares that he would make the trip for the sake of the ‘boney’ damsel in distress.
In the mean while, the weather deteriorates further. It gets darker and the storm begins to blow stronger. Thunder rumbles and lightning flickers.
Just then the sound of the three galloping horsemen is heard. It drives the young man and the lady to extreme nervousness and fright. It becomes clear that the horsemen will soon find them out and behead the chieftain with the swish of their sword. The girl would then be left to confront the wrath of her monstrous father.
Seeing the plight of the two lovers, the boatman’s heart melts.He sets out with the duo in his boat on the perilous journey. The weather worsens further making the journey very fraught. The ruthless storm blows without any remorse swaying the boat dangerously.
Lord Ullin soon reaches the sea shore, but just a short while too late. He sees the boat capsizing and his daughter clinging to her lover with one hand and waving to her father for help with the other.
Lord Ullin realizes that this is the last glimpse of his dear daughter who would soon meet her watery grave. His heart is plunged in remorse. Revenge and anger are replaced by a torrent of forgiveness and affection. He is ready to accept the duo and allow them to marry.
But, it is too late. He would see his daughter no more. He realizes how his senseless fury and obduracy have extracted a deadly toll. There was no way he could atone for his folly.