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The Story Behind the Songs

Ireland’s Political and Social History
Personal Songs of Life, Love, Loss
Songs of Drink and Adventure

#2 Limerick Rake
An Irish Casanova shows the famous Irish humour on his quest to become the Father of Ireland. Unrepentant, satisfied, and proud, the women of Ireland are grateful for the company of this rake.

#13 Whiskey in the Jar
Likely a 17th century tale celebrating an Irish Robin Hood who stole from the rich (or corrupt) to give to himself, the highwayman is betrayed by his “sportin’ Ginnie” and winds up in jail, dreaming of escape with the help of his brother in the Army. Some think this story the genesis of “The Beggar’s Opera.” Again, the humour of the Irish point of view and love of life and adventure are evident here.

#4 Molly Malone
Dublin’s famous fishmonger is sung about in pubs by Irish rugby players and tourists alike. It is a favourite for sing-alongs as we raise a glass of Guinness. A statue on Grafton Street, referred to locally as “Tart with the Cart”, commemorates Molly, who died young of a fever.

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Back Story | Lyrics | Audio

The Story Behind the Songs

Ireland’s Political and Social History
Personal Songs of Life, Love, Loss

Songs of Drink and Adventure

#3 Raglan Road
The words to this song were written by Irish poet Patrick Kavanagh. He fancied a lady named Hilda Moriarty; there was a big age gap between them and young Hilda proved elusive. Hilda instead married charismatic politician Donogh O’Malley, who died at an early age. Hilda ran for his seat and lost to his nephew, Dessie O’Malley, who helped establish the Progressive Democrats. Kavanagh is revered as a poet on the level of Yeats, and fans include Russell Crowe and Van Morrison. His statue sits by the Grand Canal in Dublin, and also at Disney World in Florida.

#10 Black Velvet Band
The writer is enticed by a dark-haired beauty who is a pickpocket, and she ensnares him in her crime, for which he goes to jail “in Van Dieman’s land” for 7 years.

#1 Star of the County Down
Another Irishman pursues a beauty who captured his roving heart. Intricately composed, each stanza is a double quatrain.

#8 Spancil Hill
The Irish Diaspora tells many tales of yearning to return to Ireland while in far-off lands. The Fair at Spancil Hill is still held on the 24th of June.

#6 Fiddler’s Green
Irish fishermen want to go to idyllic Fiddler’s Green when they die. This song celebrates the sea-going culture of our island nation.

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Back Story | Lyrics | Audio

The Story Behind the Songs

Ireland’s Political and Social History
Personal Songs of Life, Love, Loss

Songs of Drink and Adventure

#5 Dirty Old Town
This 20th century song written by Ewan McColl uses vivid poetic imagery to describe a town abandoned by industry, an ashcan portrayal of life unfulfilled and dreams wasted, replaced only by anger and despair. It could be in Ireland, or Scotland, or England.

#7 Grace
Grace is the story of Joseph Plunkett, poetic hero of the 1916 Easter uprising, executed in Kilmainham Jail, after marrying his love Grace Gifford, in the prison chapel. Plunkett was a sickly man of some wealth who chose the cause of Irish freedom over his life of privilege.

This is one of the most tragic, poignant songs sung in any language.

#9 Only Our Rivers
This poetic song, written by Mickey MacConnell in 1965, extolls the yearning for freedom and self-determination all Irish feel but have yet to fully achieve.

#11 Foggy Dew
One of Ireland’s most famous songs commemorating the Easter uprising in 1916, its imagery portrays the pride of that event in Irish history, which was the beginning of today’s nation of Ireland.

#12 Fields of Athenry
Ireland’s famine affected the lives of millions of families. Men had to choose between their families and “the Crown” to put food on the table, and when they were caught stealing food, the prison ship to Australia lay in wait in the bay, leaving family behind to their fate.

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LYRICS scroll down below song list for lyrics

Star of the County Down
Limerick Rake
Raglan Road
Molly Malone
Dirty Old Town
Fiddler’s Green
Grace
Spancil Hill
Only Our Rivers
Black Velvet Band
Foggy Dew
Fields of Athenry
Whiskey in the Jar

Whiskey in the Jar

As I was going over
The Cork and Kerry Mountains
Met with Captain Farrell,
And his money he was countin’.
I first produced me pistol,
I then produced me rapier,
Saying “Stand and deliver,
For you are a bold deceiver.”

Chorus (Gaelic)::
Musha ring dum a do dum a da,
Whack fol me daddy-o,
Whack fol me daddy-o,
There’s whiskey in the jar.

I counted out his money
And it made a pretty penny,
Put it in me pocket
And I took it home to Jenny.
She sighed, she swore,
That she never would deceive me,
Devil take the women,
For they never can be easy!

Chorus

I went into my chambers
All for to take a slumber,
Dreamt of gold and jewels,
And sure it was no wonder.
Jenny drew me charges,
Filled them up with water,
Sent for Captain Farrell
To be ready for the slaughter.

Chorus

Early in the mornin’,
Just before I rose to travel,
Up comes a band of footmen
And likewise Captain Farrell.
I first produced me pistol,
I then produced me rapier,
I couldn’t shoot the water,
So a prisoner I was taken.

Chorus

If any man can help me,
‘Tis my brother in the Army,
If I can find his station,
In Cork or in Killarney,
If he would go with me,
We’d go roamin’ in Kilkenny,
I’m sure he’d treat me better
Than me own sportin’ Jenny.

Chorus

Some take delight
In the carriages a rollin’,
Others take delight
In the moonlight a strollin’,
I takes delight in the juice of the barley,
Courtin’ pretty women
In the mornin’ bright and early.

Chorus, repeat chorus

—-Traditional

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Back Story | Lyrics | Audio

LYRICS scroll down below song list for lyrics

Star of the County Down
Limerick Rake
Raglan Road
Molly Malone
Dirty Old Town
Fiddler’s Green
Grace
Spancil Hill
Only Our Rivers
Black Velvet Band
Foggy Dew
Fields of Athenry
Whiskey in the Jar

Fields of Athenry

By a lonely prison wall,
I heard a young girl calling:
“Michael, they have taken you away,
For you stole Trevelyn’s corn
So the young might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.”

Chorus:: And low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched
The small freebird fly.
Oh, our love was on the wing,
We had dreams and songs to sing.
It’s so lonely ‘round the fields of Athenry.

From a lonely prison cell,
I heard a young man calling:
“Nothing matters, Mary, when you’re free.
Against the famine and the Crown,
I rebelled; they cut me down,
Now you must raise our child with dignity.”

Chorus

By a lonely harbour wall
She watched the last star falling
As the prison ship
Sailed out against the sky.
Oh, she’ll live in hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay.
It’s so lonely ‘round the fields of Athenry.

Chorus—-Pete St. John

 

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Back Story | Lyrics | Audio

LYRICS scroll down below song list for lyrics

Star of the County Down
Limerick Rake
Raglan Road
Molly Malone
Dirty Old Town
Fiddler’s Green
Grace
Spancil Hill
Only Our Rivers
Black Velvet Band
Foggy Dew
Fields of Athenry
Whiskey in the Jar

Foggy Dew

As down the glen one Easter morn,
To a city fair rode I,
There armed lines of marching men
In squadrons passed me by.
While the world did gaze in deep amaze
At those fearless men but few,
While the Angelus bell
O’er the Liffey’s swell
Rang out through the foggy dew,
Right proudly high o’er Dublin town,
They flung out the flag of war.
‘Twas better to die ‘neath the Irish sky
Than at Sulva or Sud el Bar.
And from the plains of Royal Meath,
Strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia’s Huns
With their great big guns
Sailed in through the foggy dew.
‘Twas England bade our wild geese go
That smaller nations might be free.
But those who died that Eastertide
In the springtime of the year,
Oh, had they died by Pearse’s side
Or had fought with Valera true,
Oh, their names we’d keep
Where the Fenians sleep
‘Neath the shroud of the foggy dew.

—-Father P. O’Neill

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Back Story | Lyrics | Audio

LYRICS scroll down below song list for lyrics

Star of the County Down
Limerick Rake
Raglan Road
Molly Malone
Dirty Old Town
Fiddler’s Green
Grace
Spancil Hill
Only Our Rivers
Black Velvet Band
Foggy Dew
Fields of Athenry
Whiskey in the Jar

Black Velvet Band

As I was walking down Broadway
Not intending to stay very long,
When I met with a frolicsome damsel
As she came tripping along.
A watch she took out of her pocket
And slipped it right into my hand
On the very first day that I met her,
Bad luck to the black velvet band.

Chorus::
Her eyes they shone like diamonds.
You’d think she was queen of the land
With her hair thrown over her shoulder
Tied up with a black velvet band.

Before judge and jury next morning,
Both of us did appear.
A gentleman claimed the jewelry,
The case against us was clear.
Seven long year’s penal servitude
To be served in Van Dieman’s land
Far away from my friends and relations
To follow the black velvet band.

Chorus

—-Traditional

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Back Story | Lyrics | Audio

LYRICS scroll down below song list for lyrics

Star of the County Down
Limerick Rake
Raglan Road
Molly Malone
Dirty Old Town
Fiddler’s Green
Grace
Spancil Hill
Only Our Rivers
Black Velvet Band
Foggy Dew
Fields of Athenry
Whiskey in the Jar

Only Our Rivers

When apples do grow in November,
When blossoms do bloom on each tree,
When leaves are still green in December,
It’s then that our land will be free.
I wander her hills and her valleys,
And still through my sorrow I see
A land that has never known freedom;
Still only our rivers run free.

I drink to the death of her manhood,
Those men who would rather have died
Than to live in the cold chains of bondage
To bring back their rights were denied.
And where are you now
When we need you?
What burns where the flame used to be?
Are you gone like the snow of last winter?
Still only our rivers run free.

How sweet is life, but we’re ageing,
How mellow the wine, but it’s dry;
How fragrant the rose, but it’s dying;
How gentle the breeze but it sighs.
And where are you now
When we need you?
What joys are in eyes that can’t see?
When there’s sorrow
And sunshine and flowers,
Still only her rivers run free.

—-Michael McConnell

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Back Story | Lyrics | Audio

LYRICS scroll down below song list for lyrics

Star of the County Down
Limerick Rake
Raglan Road
Molly Malone
Dirty Old Town
Fiddler’s Green
Grace
Spancil Hill
Only Our Rivers
Black Velvet Band
Foggy Dew
Fields of Athenry
Whiskey in the Jar

Spancil Hill

Last night as I lay dreaming
Of pleasant days gone by,
Me mind been bent on rambling,
To Ireland I did fly.
I stepped on board a vision
And I followed with the wind
Next I came to anchor at
The cross in Spancil Hill.

I went to see me neighbours
To see what they might say;
The old ones were all dead and gone,
And the young ones turning grey.
I met with the tailor Quigley,
He’s as bold as ever still;
Sure, he used to make me britches
When I lived at Spancil Hill.

Been on the 23rd of June,
The day before the fair
When Ireland’s sons and daughters
And friends assembled there,
The young, the old, the brave and the bold
Came their duty to fulfill
At the parish church near Clooney,
Many miles from Spancil Hill.

I paid a flying visit to my first and only love.
She’s as white as any lily
And as gentle as a dove,
And she threw her arms around me,
Saying “Johnny, I love you still”.
Oh, she’s Ned, the farmer’s daughter,
The pride of Spancil Hill.

I dreamt I held and kissed her
As in the days of yore.
She said “Johnny, you’re only joking
As many the time before”.
Then the cock he crew in the morning,
He crewed both loud and shrill.
I awoke in California,
Many miles from Spancil Hill.
I awoke in California,
Many miles from Spancil Hill.

—-Michael Considine

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