Ready for 2020? Here’s one of the most classic drinking songs to start with: Whiskey in the Jar.
“Whiskey in the Jar” is an Irish traditional song set in the southern mountains of Ireland, often with specific mention of counties Cork and Kerry. The song, about a rapparee (highwayman) who is betrayed by his wife or lover, is one of the most widely performed traditional Irish songs and has been recorded by numerous artists since the 1950s.
Composed circa 17th century, the song first gained wide exposure when the Irish folk band The Dubliners performed it internationally as a signature song, and recorded it on three albums in the 1960s. In the U.S., the song was popularised by The Highwaymen, who recorded it on their 1962 album Encore. Thin Lizzy hit the Irish and British pop charts with the song in 1973. In 1990, The Dubliners re-recorded the song with The Pogues with a faster rocky version. Metallica in 1998 played a version very similar to that of Thin Lizzy’s.
The song’s exact origins are unknown. A number of its lines and the general plot resemble those of a contemporary broadside ballad “Patrick Fleming” about Irish highwayman Patrick Fleming, who was executed in 1650.
In the book The Folk Songs of North America, folk music historian Alan Lomax suggests that the song originated in the 17th century, and (based on plot similarities) that John Gay’s 1728 The Beggar’s Opera was inspired by Gay hearing an Irish ballad-monger singing “Whiskey in the Jar”.
The song collector Colm Ó Lochlainn, in his book Irish Street Ballads, described how his mother learnt “Whiskey in the Jar” in Limerick in 1870 from a man called Buckley who came from Cork. When Ó Lochlainn included the song in Irish Street Ballads, he wrote down the lyrics from memory as he had learnt them from his mother. He called the song “There’s Whiskey in the Jar”, and the lyrics are virtually identical to the version that was used by Irish bands in the 1960s such as the Dubliners. The O Lochlainn version refers to the “far fam’d Kerry mountain” rather than the Cork and Kerry mountains, as appears in some versions.
The song has also been recorded by solo singers, rock bands, and folk groups such as Roger Whittaker, Bryan Adams, The Grateful Dead, The Irish Rovers, Seven Nations, Off Kilter, King Creosote, Brobdingnagian Bards, Charlie Zahm, and Christy Moore.
Mush-a ring dumb-a do dumb-a da
Wack fall the daddy-o, wack fall the daddy-o
There’s whiskey in the jar ….