July 25, 2011
When most people think of the Irish folk song, the Wild Rover, they
immediately think of fun, laughter and above all, drinking.
However, this may not be the correct way to interpret the song. It may, in
fact, be a temperance song designed to warn against the damage that can be done
The Wild Rover is arguably the most widely performed Irish song ever and yet
its exact origins are unknown. In fact, it may not even be Irish and could have
originated in England or Scotland.
The song has been popular since at least the early 19th century and although
it seemed to fall out of favour in the first half of the 20th century, it made a
storming comeback in the folk revival in the 1960s.
Folk clubs and Irish music centres were springing up all over the English
speaking world in those days and soon every singer was adding it to his
The Wild Rover tells the story of a dissolute young man who drinks his way
through life spending all his money on whiskey and beer. To amuse himself, he
goes to an alehouse and asks for credit. The landlady refuses saying she can get
that kind of business any day.
However, he then takes bright sovereigns from his pocket making “the
landlady’s eyes open with delight”. In the final verse, however, he says he’ll
reform like the prodigal son of the bible. Are we to believe him?
For many people, the Wild Rover is the stereotypical Irish drinking song.
In this interpretation, the Wild Rover’s promise to reform in the final verse
isn’t taken seriously. To others though, it was written as temperance song with
its origins in Scotland or England. The lyrics in the final verse certainly give
some credence to this where the singer promises to give up dissolute lifestyle.
“I’ll go back to my parents confess what I’ve done,
And I’ll ask them to pardon their prodigal son.
And if they caress me as oft times before
Then I never will play the Wild Rover no more.”
The lyrics to the
Wild Rover are sufficiently general to allow it to be seen as a good time
drinking song or as a temperance song. Most people, however, continue to see it
as a harmless good time song to be enjoyed as part of general sing song on a
As such, its popularity shows no sign of waning.
The Wild Rover to be played on our broadcast using our online request system!
I've been a wild rover for many a year
And I spent all my money on whiskey and beer,
And now I'm returning with gold in great store
And I never will play the wild rover no more.
chorus: And it's no, nay, never,
No nay never no more,
Will I play the wild rover
No never no more.
I went to an ale-house I used to frequent
And I told the landlady my money was spent.
I asked her for credit, she answered me "nay
Such a custom as yours I could have any day."
I took from my pocket ten sovereigns bright
And the landlady's eyes opened wide with delight.
She said "I have whiskey and wines of the best
And the words that I spoke sure were only in jest."
I'll go back to my parents, confess what I've done
And I'll ask them to pardon their prodigal son.
And if they caress (forgive) me as oft times before
Sure I never will play the wild rover no more.