The Wild Rover is a popular English-language folk song. It is the most widely performed Irish song, although its exact origins are unknown and still contested. Historically, the song has been referred to in Irish folklore and, since the late sixteenth century, it has been noted in written records—although it is likely that some northern Atlantic fishing crews knew the song before these historical accounts were made.
The song is a staple for artists performing live music in Irish pubs. For many people, The Wild Rover is the stereotypical Irish drinking song. In the twentieth century the location of the song became a major concern due to its popularity, spurring continued debate amongst several European nations.
The song tells the story of a young man who has been away from his hometown for many years. Returning to his former alehouse the landlady refuses him credit, until he presents the gold which he has gained while he has been away. He sings of how his days of roving are over and he intends to return to his home and settle down.
Scottish Historians declare that this song was written as a temperance song. Fans of Celtic Football Club in Scotland sing The Wild Rover at away matches. The chorus is well known throughout most Irish, Irish-American and British cultures, even among people who have no knowledge of the rest of the song. As with Celtic Football Club, the chorus is sung by football fans throughout England, usually with the words adapted to suit the team in question.
In the song sheets below, there is a section of the chorus indicated for 3 or 4 strikes on a table, OR, since holding our ukulele’s limits us for this, stomping our boots instead. The song is unique in that you go strait into the chorus without pausing after the last word of each verse.
The Wild Rover C This version provided by BUG – the Bytown Uke Group located in Ottawa.
A well-known children’s song, known as a “skipping song”, collected in various parts of England in the 1800’s and appearing in collections again just after the turn of the century.
In Ireland the chorus usually refers to Belfast city and is known colloquially as The Bell of Belfast City. English versions refer to it as “Golden City” or “London City”. The song also accompanies a children’s game.
In 1988 Van Morrison and The Chieftains collaborated on an album called “Irish Heartbeat” inlcuding this song, which reached 18 on the Uk Albums chart.
The Rankin Family released this song as Tell My Ma on their second album “Fare Thee Well Love” in 1990. Other famous artists who recorded this song are The Wiggles, Sinead O’Connor, The Young Dubliners, The Irish Tenors, The Rumjacks and Celtic Thunder.
Tell Me Ma G This is in the Key of G by Richard G’s Ukulele Songbook, at scorpex.net/uke.
Tell Me Ma C This one is available at the Bytown (BUG) Uke Group’s website in both word and PDF documents. I find this version is a better key for me to sing.
8. WASN’T THAT A PARTY – 1980, written by Tom Paxton
In the 1980’s The Irish Rovers briefly renamed themselves The Rovers and had enormous success with this single. The subject matter is neither Irish nor nostalgic, but it had large cross-over success in the Country Rock genre.
The Irish Rovers had formed in 1963 and named themselves after the traditional Irish
folk song, The Irish Rover. The signature sound of the band is the accordion, pipes and guitar. All but one of the band members were from Ireland, the last hailing from Scotland. Before the family emigrated to Canada, founding band members had performed in Ireland as “The Millar Kids”.
Meeting other musicians of Irish descent and immigration in Toronto, the band quickly formed in the early 60’s and were received well playing in various folk song festivals, clubs and hootenanys. At one point they became regulars at Calgary’s Depression Coffee House, a well-known folk club that had contributed to the start of Joni Mitchel’s career.
In 1966 they headed for California and recorded their first album. While recording their second album in 1968, Canadian folk singer/songwriter Glen Campbell suggested Shel Silverstien’s 1962 folk song The Unicorn Song. Glen Campbell actually played guitar on their original recording. Also in 1968, the Irish Rovers were named Band of the Year at the JUNO Awards.
By the 1980’s after performing literally for decades hosting their own television shows, the band’s sound had evolved away from traditional Irish and well into the Country Rock genre, which accounts for the large success of Wasn’t That a Party. It was written by Tom Paxton, who was already an award-winning fixture of this genre. In 1968 Paxton had licensed his song, My Dog’s Bigger Than Your Dog to the makers of Ken-L Rations Dog Food for use in a television commercial.
During his career Paxton travelled in circles with the likes of Woody Guthrie, John Denver and Pete Seeger. John Denver recorded one of Paxton’s songs, Whose Garden Was This in 1970. Paxton was highly regarded as an important writer of songs with both environmental and social topics, highlighting such issues as the plight of anti-aparthied activists; the effects of energy production and consumption on the environment; and the as-yet-not-socially-acceptable topic of mental health – depression in particular, after a friend took his own life. However, it’s been suggested that Wasn’t That a Party is a light-hearted reference to “conditions that arise” after stage performances. *Can be found on “At the Pub: A Celtic Celebration”.
This song by accomplished author Shel Silverstein was made very popular by The Irish Rovers in 1968. Silverstein was fascinated by folklore, myths, fables and legends. The lyrics to the song were printed as a poem in Silverstein’s book Where the Sidewalk Ends. What seems to be a timeless Irish folk song was written by a Jewish children’s book author from Chicago.
When the Irish Rover’s picked it up for recording, their – – “very, very authentic Irish sound and ethnic background” complemented the subject of the piece. It remains one of the best-known songs of the Irish Rovers’ long career, who were named Band of the Year at the JUNO Awards in 1968. It was a #2 hit for them in North America and #5 in Ireland.
It can still be heard regularly in Irish Pubs.
In the original version of the song, The Irish Rovers speak half of the lyrics, as well as part of the 4th Chorus. The final line of the 5th verse is spoken freely without the music: “And that’s why you’ll never see a Unicorn to this very day”. Many people today also claim there are gestures that accompany the song.
A ballad set to an ancient Irish melody. The words were written by English songwriter Frederic Weatherly in Bath, Somerset, in 1910, and eventually set to the Irish tune of “Londonderry Air” when his Irish-born sister-in-law, living in the U.S., sent him a copy of the song in 1913.
Jane Ross of Limavady (Londonderry, Northern Ireland) is credited with collecting the melody of “Londonderry Air” in the mid-19th century from a musician she encountered.
By the time it was recorded in 1915, Weatherly’s Oh Danny Boy was one of the most popular songs in the new century. Through the years it has become an unofficial signature song of Irish Canadians due to our own close ties to Great Britain.
Over the years this song has had more Top Ten rankings than any other Irish song, beginning with Judy Garland in 1940; Glen Miller, 1940; Bing Crosby, 1945; 1956 Ruby Murray – The Voice of Ireland in Ireland, UK. In the 60’s: Andy Williams, Connie Francis, Patti LaBelle, Johnny Cash and Ray Price. 1972 Roy Orbison and Canadian Glen Campbell; 1976 Elvis Presley; 1990 Carly Simon; 1992 Canadian John McDermott.
Written by Bronxeville, New York composer Mort Dixon, whose first hit was That Old Gang of Mine in 1923, followed by Bye Bye Blackbird in 1926.
Music composed by Harry M. Woods (a Tin Pan Alley Songwriter of the depression years), of Boston, Mass. Woods also wrote these hit songs: When the Red, Red Robin and Side By Side, among others.
The original hit recordings of the song were made in 1927, but the song was revived in 1948 by several artists, most notably Art Mooney, whose recording topped the charts for 18 weeks. (First result to come up on Youtube)
Ukulele-playing television personality Arthur Godfrey also had a hit recording of this song during the same year, topping the North American charts at #14. It is likely that no other single person has been directly responsible for the sale of as many ukuleles as Arthur Godfrey, an enormously popular television star of the 1950’s and 60’s.
This song was created after WWI and during the Roaring Twenties. Musically it’s called a Chorus Song. Lyrically it’s an Appreciation Song. Times were tough during the first Word War, but we survived and are having fun in the 1920’s! As the U.S. entered the second World War in 1941, it was a very popular big band song on the Eastern coast, and became an Irish-American WWII tribute song which was played repeatedly in home-coming parades.
I’m Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover This version is from Dr. Uke and we like to play it twice over. There is another version that has verses, and below is a video of the song as performed by Donny and Marie Osmond.
A Traditional Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts”, words added by Sydney Carter, 1963. Carter was an English poet, song writer and folk musician who wrote many folk songs, carols and gospel songs. During WWII he served as a volunteer in the Friend’s Ambulance Service in Egypt, Palestine and Greece, and was a self-described pacifist.
Regarding Lord of the Dance, Carter wrote that he was using the metaphors of dancing and playing music, ie. playing a flute or pipe, to represent the life and times of Jesus.
Due to it’s musical allusion to flute playing, it has long been associated with traditional Irish music.
Lord of the Dance An excellent adaptation made available by the Bytown Uke Group – BUG, based in Ottawa.
Also known as “Cockles and Mussels”, or “In Dublin’s Fair City”, this popular song is set in Dublin, Ireland, and has become the unofficial anthem of Dublin. The song is sung regularly by fans at soccer and hurling matches, and June 13 has been officially declared Molly Malone Day.
Whether or not Molly ever existed is a long-time debate. The statue of her on lower Grafton Street, erected in 1987, depicts a woman in a 17th century dress wheeling a cart. Though Historians claim she lived in the 1600’s, the song “Cockles and Mussels/Molly Mallone” does not appear in any historic musical record before the 1880’s. She is typically represented as a fishmonger by day and a street-walker by night.
MOLLY MALONE C This version is in the Key of C, developed by our group, T’UkeS.
This song is the unofficial anthem of all those who consider themselves to be “Irish Americans”.
To quote Irish Fun Facts: “Written by two of New York’s most prolific professional songwriters, in collaboration with a leading vaudeville performer, none of them Irish.” The credits are shared by George Graff Jr and Chauncey Olcott who wrote the words, and Ernest R. Ball who composed the music for Olcott’s stage production of The Isle O’ Dreams, and Olcott sang the song in the show. In 1912 this was a time when songs in tribute to a romanticized Ireland were very numerous and popular both in Britain and the United States.
Bing Crosby recorded the most iconic version in 1939, then again in 1946 for a movie
soundtrack, and then released on his album of that name in 1952 which featured all Irish tunes.
Probably the most famous song that Irish-American Chauncey Olcott ever turned out, published in 1899. The inspiration came from a trip to his mother’s homeland (Ireland) in 1898 by Olcott and his wife, during which a child offered her a flower. When she asked what kind it was, they were told “a wild Irish rose.” Mrs. Olcott had saved the flower by pressing it into an album. Chauncey Olcott was an American stage actor, songwriter and singer of Irish descent, widely known as an accomplished tenor. He co-wrote the popular Irish-American tune “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”. An Oscar-winning movie depicting the life and times of Olcott was made in 1947, called “My Wild Irish Rose”.