Bards Irish Fiddle Tunebook Supplement/Whiskey in the Jar

"Whiskey in the Jar" is a famous Irish traditional song, set in the southern mountains of Ireland, with specific mention of counties Cork and Kerry, as well as Fenit, a village in county Kerry. It is about a highwayman, or perhaps a footpad, who is betrayed by his wife or lover, and is one of the most widely performed traditional Irish songs. It has been recorded by numerous professional artists since the 1950s. 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. Building on their success, the Irish rock band Thin Lizzy hit the Irish and British pop charts with the song in the early 1970s. The American metal band Metallica brought it to a wider rock audience in 1998 by playing a version very similar to that of Thin Lizzy's with a heavier sound, and won a Grammy for the song in 2000 for Best Hard Rock Performance.


Whiskey in the Jar is sung with many variants on locations and names — In typical song book fashion, the Grateful Dead version begins:

As I was goin' over the Cill Dara Mountains,
I met Colonel Pepper and his money he was counting.
I drew forth my pistols and I rattled my saber,
Sayin': "Stand and deliver, for I am a bold deceiver!".
Musha rin um du rum da, Whack for the daddy-o,
Whack for the daddy-o, There's whiskey in the jar-o.[1]

However, The Dubliners version, which is often sung in Irish traditional music sessions around the world, begins:

As I was goin' over the far famed Kerry mountains,
I met with Captain Farrell, and his money he was counting.

I first produced me pistol and I then produced me rapier,

Saying: "Stand and deliver, for I am your bold deceiver!".
Musha rin um du ruma da, Whack for my daddy-o,
Whack for my daddy-o, There's whiskey in the jar.[2]

The Thin Lizzy version begins:

As I was goin' over the Cork and Kerry mountains.

I saw Captain Farrell and his money he was counting.
I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier.
I said: "Stand or deliver or the devil he may take ya".
Musha ring dum-a do dum-a da, Whack for my daddy-o,
Whack for my daddy-o, There's whiskey in the jar-o.


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" (also called "Patrick Flemmen he was a Valiant Soldier") about an Irish highwayman executed in 1650.[3][4]

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". In regard to the history of the song, Lomax states, "The folk of seventeenth century Britain liked and admired their local highwaymen; and in Ireland (or Scotland) where the gentlemen of the roads robbed English landlords, they were regarded as national patriots. Such feelings inspired this rollicking ballad."[5]

At some point, the song came to the United States and was a favorite in Colonial America because of its irreverent attitude toward British officials. The American versions are sometimes set in America and deal with American characters. One such version, from Massachusetts, is about Alan McCollister, an Irish-American soldier who is sentenced to death by hanging for robbing British officials.[5]

The song appeared in a form close to its modern version in a precursor called "The Sporting Hero, or, Whiskey in the Bar" in a mid-1850s broadsheet.[6]

The song collector Colm Ó Lochlainn, in his book Irish Street Ballads,[7] described how his mother learnt Whiskey in the Jar in Limerick in 1870 from a man called Buckley who came from Cork. When O Lochlainn included the song in Irish Street Ballads, he wrote down the lyrics from memory as he had learnt them from his mother. He calls 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 also appears under the title There's Whiskey in the Jar in the Joyce [8] collection, but that only includes the melody line without any lyrics.


"Whiskey in the Jar" is the tale of a highwayman or footpad who, after robbing a military or government official, is betrayed by a woman; whether she is his wife or sweetheart is not made clear. Various versions of the song take place in Kerry, Kilmoganny, Cork, Sligo Town, and other locales throughout Ireland. It is also sometimes placed in the American South, in various places among the Ozarks or Appalachians, possibly due to Irish settlement in these places. Names in the song change, and the official can be a Captain or a Colonel, called Farrell or Pepper among other names. The protagonist's wife or lover is sometimes called Molly, Jenny, or Ginny among various other names.

The victim, Captain Farrell could well have been another highwayman, as many Irish highwaymen 18th century affected a military rank or title.


  • A partial discography:
Seamus Ennis (Alan Lomax field recording in Ireland) World Library of Folk and Primitive Music, Vol. 2: Ireland 1951
Burl Ives - Songs Of Ireland 1958 "Kilgary Mountain"
The Brothers Four- In Person 1962 "Kilgary Mountain"
The Highwaymen - B side to their single "I'm On My Way" 1962 "Kilgary Mountain"
The Limeliters - Sing Out! 1962 "Kilgary Mountain"
The Seekers - The Seekers 1964
Peter, Paul & Mary - A Song Will Rise 1965 "Gilgarra Mountain"
The Dubliners
More of the Hard Stuff 1967
A Drop of The Dubliners 1969
Live at the Albert Hall 1969
The Dubliners Live 1974
Live In Carré 1983
30 Years A'Greying (with the Pogues) 1992
Irish Drinking Songs 1993
Milestones 1995
Alive-Alive-O 1997
Live At Vicar Street 2006
Thin Lizzy - Single 1972 bonus track on Vagabonds of the Western World (CD 1991 edition)
Darby O'Gill - Waitin' for a Ride 1996
Metallica - Garage Inc. 1998
Tommy Makem - The Song Tradition 1998 "Captain Farrell"
The Poxy Boggards - Lager Than Life 2002
Pulp - Different Class [Deluxe Edition] 2006
Belle & Sebastian - The Blues Are Still Blue EP 2006
Nicky Moore - Top Musicians Play Thin Lizzy 2008
Simple Minds - Searching for the Lost Boys 2009
Blaggards - Live in Texas 2010
Celtic Thunder - Heritage 2011
The Gorms - Where Was I Last Night? 2011
  • In 1964, the Smothers Brothers recorded a humorous parody entitled "Eskimo Dog" on their album "Tour de Farce: American History and Other Unrelated Subjects".
  • Contrary to what is commonly believed and repeated, The Clancy Brothers never recorded the song. The confusion stems from the album Irish Drinking Songs which is composed of separate tracks by The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers, with the former performing "Whiskey in the Jar". Liam Clancy did record it with his son and nephew on Clancy, O'Connell & Clancy in 1997, and Tommy Makem recorded it on The Song Tradition in 1998.
  • It was given a rock veneer by Thin Lizzy. The 1972 Irish release stayed at the top of the Irish charts for 17 weeks, and the British release stayed in the top 30 for 12 weeks, peaking at No. 6, in 1973.[9]
  • In addition, the tune has been known for many years in Hebrew with entirely different lyrics by Yosi Gamzu, under the title "It's a Sign That You're Young". (Siman she-atah tsa'ir)
  • The Decemberists adapted the story for their song "The Landlord's Daughter" on The Crane Wife. In their adaptation, the protagonist instead comes across the titular "landlord's daughter", and forcibly demands her love. Despite the rather different story, the lyrics of the two songs are clearly similar.
  • Roger Whittaker recorded it as Kilgary Mountain and was always the encore song for his US Concert Tours.
  • Houston, Texas-based Irish rock band Blaggards releases a version on their live album "Live in Texas" in 2010.
  • Dallas, Texas-based Celtic Rock band The Killdares released a version on a live album "Up Against the Lights" in 2010.

Around the worldEdit

  • The Israeli "Yarkon Bridge Trio" (Hebrew: "Shlishiyat Gesher Hayarkon", "שלישיית גשר הירקון") used the melody of "Whiskey in the jar" in their song "It's a sign that you are young" (Hebrew: "Siman She'ata Tza'ir", "סימן שאתה צעיר").
  • The Swedish pop band "Toms Tivoli" recorded a track called "Brännvin i mitt krus" on the album "Jag tror dom ljuger" in 1990. "Brännvin" is a word for distilled alcohol, and "krus" means "flagon" or "vessel".
  • The Metallica cover of the song is played whenever Pittsburgh Pirates Outfielder Garrett Jones steps up to bat at PNC Park.[citation needed]
  • Estonian band "Poisikõsõ" recorded a track called "Hans'a õuhkaga" on the album "Tii päält iist" in 2007.
  • The Icelandic folk band "Þrjú á palli" recorded it in 1971 as "Lífið er lotterí" with lyrics by Jónas Árnason.
  • The Russian songwriter-singer Aleksandr Karpov (a.k.a. Aleksandr O'Karpov or Shurman) translated the lyrics into Russian in 1997.[12] The Russian version is titled Bylo b viski u menya (Было б виски у меня - As long as I've got whiskey) or, alternatively, Viski vo flyage (Виски во фляге - Whiskey in the flask) and the meaning of the text is somewhat different from the original version.
  • Australian pop band "The Seekers"


  1. Folk Songs of England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales, ed. William Cole, arr. Norman Monath, Cornerstone Library, New York, 1961.
  2. The Singing Island: A Collection Of English And Scots Folksongs, Compiled By Ewan MacColl and Peggy Seeger, Mills Music, London, 1960.
  3. Patrick Flemming, Folklore Home Page, California State University, Fresno (retrieved 10 July 2008)
  4. Patrick Fleming, The Complete Newgate Calendar Vol. I, Law in Popular Culture collection, Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas at Austin (retrieved 10 July 2008)
  5. a b The Folk Songs of North America: In the English Language, Alan Lomax, Peggy Seeger, Mátyás Seiber, Don Banks, Doubleday, 1960 Google Books Retrieved 11 July 2008
  6. The sporting hero, Firth c.17(314), Bodleian Library Catalog of Ballads (retrieved 10 July 2008)
  7. Irish Street Ballads, Colm O Lochlainn, Pan 1978, pp220
  8. Joyce, Patrick Weston, Old Irish Folk Music and Songs: a Collection of 842 Irish Airs and Songs Hitherto Unpublished, Cooper Square Publishers, New York, 1965. Originally published in 1909.
  9. Phil Lynott: The Rocker, Mark Putterford, Omnibus Press, 2002, ISBN 0-7119-9104-9 Google Books (retrieved 11 July 2008)
  10. Tilbake,
  11. Track listing, Lars Lilholt Band official site (retrieved 11 July 2008)

External linksEdit