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The Parting Glass

May 7, 2012 - IrishMusicForever.com -

Irish music is littered with songs of farewell but few have endured and become so popular across the world as the Parting Glass.

Hundreds of years of emigration meant that Irish people got used to being separated from their families and their loved ones. Their response to separations that they could not avoid was to remain as positive as possible and this quality is exemplified perfectly in the Parting Glass.

It creates the same feeling as Shakespeare’s “parting is such sweet sorrow”. It may make you cry, but in a way that is moving and life-affirming.

The opening verse makes it clear that this is a person who is comfortable with himself.

He seems to have had a happy go lucky approach to life. It doesn’t sound like he ever had very much money but what he had he spent in “good company”.

It doesn’t sound like he’s the kind of person who ever did much wrong but, in any case, whatever harm he may have done, it was only to himself.

As for mistakes, he may have made several but he can’t remember them. It’s like an Irish forerunner to Edith Piaf’s great song, Je ne regret rien – No Regrets.

Any mistakes he may have made, through want of wit or whatever, no longer matter. He can’t even remember them. All that matters is the here and now, the impending departure and the need to be at peace with friends.

This is a popular man who is welcome wherever he goes. All the friends he has ever had are sorry when he leaves them; his many sweethearts always wished he could stay at least another day to stay.

But something is happening that is beyond his control. His comrades may stay but he must leave. He will do so with the kind of warmth and quiet dignity that we suspect has accompanied him all his life. The Parting Glass comes with a toast which is used as a refrain at the end of each verse: “I gently rise and I softly call, Goodnight and joy be with you all.”

The Parting Glass has been Ireland’s favourite farewell song for at least 200 years and was often used by the Irish folk group, the Clancy Brothers, as the final song at their concerts.

Its popularity is based on its positive approach to life that enables the singer to stay positive even when he must leave the people he loves the most. Its life-affirming qualities mean that the Parting Glass is likely to remain one of Irish music’s standard songs for many years to come.


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The Parting Glass

Of all the money e'er I had,
I spent it in good company.
And all the harm I've ever done,
Alas! it was to none but me.
And all I've done for want of wit
To mem'ry now I can't recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be with you all.

Chorus: Some Versions Omit
So fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate'er befalls
Then gently rise and softly call
"Good night and joy be to you all"

Oh, all the comrades e'er I had,
They're sorry for my going away,
And all the sweethearts e'er I had,
They'd wish me one more day to stay,
But since it falls unto my lot,
That I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call,
Good night and joy be with you all.

If I had money enough to spend,
And leisure time to sit awhile,
There is a fair maid in this town,
That sorely has my heart beguiled.
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips,
I own she has my heart in thrall,
Then fill to me the parting glass,
Good night and joy be with you all.



The song was printed as a broadside in the 1770s, and first appeared in book form in "Scots Songs" by Herd. An early version of the song is sometimes attributed to Sir Alex Boswell. The Irish version is usually considered more suitable for modern listeners. It is also the song that the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem would often sing to finish off their concerts.

The song is doubtless older than its 1770 appearance in broadside, as it was recorded in the Skene Manuscript, a collection of Scottish airs written at various dates between 1615 and 1635. It was known at least as early as 1605, when a portion of the first stanza was written in a farewell letter, as a poem now known as "Armstrong's Goodnight", by one of the Border Reivers executed that year for the murder in 1600 of Sir John Carmichael, Warden of the Scottish West March.

"Armstrong's Goodnight"

This night is my departing night,
For here no longer must I stay;
There's neither friend no foe of mine
But wishes me away.

What I have done through lack of wit,
I never, never can recall;
I hope you're all my friends as yet;
Good night. And joy be with you all.



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