Dirty Old Town – Ewan MacColl masterpiece

Universal appeal
Dirty Old Town Videos
Lyrics and Chords

Dirty Old Town has been performed to such acclaim by bands like The Dubliners and The Pogues that it is sometimes mistakenly thought of as an Irish song.

The Dubliners

The Dubliners

Final-version

In fact, it was written by the Anglo-Scottish singer Ewan MacColl about the town of Salford near Manchester in the north west of England. MacColl was one of the leading lights of the folk revival in England from the 1940s onwards.

He wrote many great songs like Shoals of Herring which have since become part of the folk tradition.

MacColl is said to have changed “Salford wind” in the original version to “smoky wind” at the request of local councillors who felt the song reflected badly on their town.

MacColl was also a playwright and theatre producer. In 1948 he wrote a play called Landscape with Chimneys, which was set in Salford where MacColl was born and brought up.

MacColl is said to have had a love-hate relationship with the town. He loved its people and was keen to champion their rights, but he disliked the dour, depressing outlook and the poor conditions in which people had to live in the 1930s and 40s.

Dirty Old Town written to help MacColl’s play

Salford landscape

Salford industrial landscape

When Landscape with Chimneys was first due to be performed in 1949, MacColl was concerned about a difficult scene change which would take two or three minutes to accomplish. He decided to solve the problem by having a musical interlude featuring a song about Salford where the play was set.

Ewan MacColl’s real name was James Miller. He changed it to acknowledge his Scottish heritage.

That song turned out to be Dirty Old Town. It’s perhaps ironic that MacColl only wrote it as an afterthought to help with his play because it went on to become his best known and most widely recorded song.

Dirty Old Town has been a standard on the folk circuit ever since it was written and remains as popular as ever today.

Dirty Old Town
Universal appeal
Dirty Old Town Videos
Lyrics and Chords

Did you know?


Despite funerals being the saddest of occasions, they often produce wonderfully warm and life-affirming poems and blessings. The Irish have a great tradition for funeral poems and blessings. Find out more.

Have you heard about…

Some of the most popular surnames in Ireland have histories that go back hundreds, even thousands of years. Several originated from the ancient Irish clans that ruled various parts of the country over the centuries. Find out the stories of some of the most common names in Ireland.

What about this…

Brian Boru is known as the last High King of Ireland and is even credited with seeing off the Vikings who had terrorised the Irish for over 200 years. Find out more.

Personalised framed prints

Illuminated Letters

Stunning Illuminated Letters based on the ancient Book of Kells

Copy Protected by Chetan's WP-Copyprotect.