Singing and Drinking – Here’s Good Luck! Good Luck to the Barley Mow!

Let’s be honest here shall we?  Drinking and entertainment just go hand in hand.  Whether that entertainment is music, movies (the sooner my local theater takes my suggestion and puts in a bar, the better off they’ll be), sports, etc, there aren’t many times where the experience can not be made better with a beer in your hand.  But trust those Irish to put a different spin on things.  See, they didn’t gravitate to some form of entertainment and then figure out how to incorporate beer into the equation.  No quite the opposite really, they started with the drinking, and then found a form of entertainment that fit well with it.

While that statement can be said with a little tongue inserted into cheek, the basic premise is true.  In Ireland’s history the focal point of everything was the public house,or pub.  Here men would gather after a busy day and discuss everything from politics to farming to the weather.  Wisps of pipe smoke would circle up to the ceiling while behind the bar, the landlord would fill glass after glass with frothy beer.  But something was missing.  Something that the men could collectively participate in that would bring them together.  Sadly, the flat screen TV and the NFL Network were hundreds of years from being a reality (and not of interest to anyone who lives in Ireland anyway), so they came up with the next best thing – the traditional Irish drinking song.

Now let’s take a moment to reflect on the simplistic brilliance of this.  We’re drinking, and to keep us entertained while we drink, we’re going to sing songs about – drinking!!  It’s like peanut butter and jelly (ok, it’s not).  And although the Irish Drinking Song has not taken the musical world by storm like Adele, there are plenty of examples out there.  Songs like Beer, Beer, Beer; Mountain Dew; Jug Of This; Drink It Up Men; All For Me Grog; The Jug Of Punch;. The Juice Of The Barley; Whiskey You’re the Devil; Johnny Jump Up; Wild Rover; Nancy Whiskey; Seven Drunken Nights; and The Olde Dung Cow all pertain to drinking either beer, whiskey, cider or the hazards associated with consuming them.

One popular drinking song, Whiskey in the Jar (although to be fair the song doesn’t pertain to drinking Whiskey), has even broken into popular music.  The first time being in the early 70s when it was being performed by the Irish rock Band Thin Lizzy.  In 2000, a cover version of the tune won the Grammy award for Best Hard Rock Performance for the band Metallica

One of my favorites however is the traditional song “The Barley Mow”.  Unlike the rest of the songs in the genre, it’s not simply a song about drinking.  No, it’s a song that causes you to drink while you sing it. The song is cumulative in structure, that is to say each verse is built by adding a new line to the previous verses, think “The 12 Days of Christmas” or “Old McDonald”.  At the end of each verse the line rings out, “Here’s good luck!”  To which the audience shouts “Good luck!” and takes a sip from their drink.  By the time the last verse of the song rolls around, your glass should be near empty because you’re required (yes required damn it, we have strict laws about these things!) to finish whatever is left in your glass.  The subjects of each verse are varied and contain everything from old alcohol measurements to people who work for the pub.  They are as follows (in order they’re used, but grouped for easy explanation):

  • the barley mow – Mowed or stacked barley, used in beer production.
  • Nipirkin and a round bowl – Nipirkin was 1/8 of a gill.  A round (sometimes song “brown”) bowl is just that.
  • gill pot, half a gill, quarter gill – A gill is an outdated unit of alcohol measurement that equals 1/4 of a pint.
  • gallon, half gallon, quart pot, pint pot – These should need no explaining.
  • barrel, half barrel – Again, these should be obvious.
  • the daughter, the landlady, the landlord – The landlord is the owner of the pub. The landlady is his wife.  Daughter should be self explanatory.  She would be a barmaid in the old public house system.
  • drayer – The person who transported the beer on a horse cart.
  • slavey – The person who worked the odd jobs of the bar.
  • bookie – The accountant.
  • brewer – The guy who makes the beer.
  • company – The brewery.  Although some people like to interpret this as the people gathered in singing the song.

The song requires a touch of that “Irish eloquence” you get from kissing the Blarney stone.  And I’m not going to lie (I’m going to lie), having a few beers before hand to get you started doesn’t hurt (it hurts, you just care less).  So I’ll leave you to practice this song (oh good, homework on a weekend!) so that you’re ready by Saint Patrick’s day.  And I can think of no better person to leave you with than Irish performer Seamus Kennedy, the man who I first saw perform “The Barley Mow”.  Here’s Seamus!……..

Click on picture for video of Seamus Kennedy doing "The Barley Mow"
%d bloggers like this: