The Ferryman – lament for passing of Dublin tradition

The Ferryman, sometimes known as The Strawberry Beds, is one of many great songs by Dublin songwriter Pete St John which have become standards in Irish folk circles.

Ferryman Videos
Lyrics and Chords

Others include The Fields of Athenry and The Rare Ould Times.

St John spent many years abroad in the 1950s and 60s. When he came back to Dublin in the 1970s, he was appalled at the way the city was being changed by developers and at how people were being made redundant as their trades became obsolete.

Pete St John Irish singer songwriter who wrote Fields of Athenry

Pete St John

For 320 years there had been a ferry service across the River Liffey based at the North Wall in Dublin. The increasing use of cars and the improved road network meant it was falling into disuse and so the decision was taken to close it.

The Liffey Ferry, commonly known to Dubliners as the Workers’ Ferry, made its last crossing from the Grand Canal basin to Spencer Dock in October 1984.

St John was there to witness the sad occasion. He heard one of the ferry workers say: “Here I am redundant and I’m only 42, after 20 years befriending the machine.” This gave him the idea to write a song. The result was The Ferryman which laments the closure of the ferry service, the loss of jobs and the end of a proud tradition.


The phrase Anna Liffey is a colloquial Dublin term for the River Liffey. The use of the word “breast” combined with the woman’s name Anna gives the sense that the river was like a mother providing for the people.

The Ferryman remains positive

Despite the sadness and regret expressed in The Ferryman, the song ends on a positive note.

The Strawberry Beds refers to an area just up the river from where the ferries crossed. It was a popular picnic and recreation area.

Molly we’re still living and darling we’re still young
And that river never owned me heart and soul

St John was paying tribute to the resilience of the Dublin people and acknowledging that life goes on, despite whatever setbacks may occur.

The Ferryman has been recorded by numerous artists, most notably perhaps by The Dublin City Ramblers and by The Dubliners.

Watch a video featuring Pete St John provide a poetic introduction to The Ferryman on Irish television in 1988.

The Ferryman
Ferryman Videos
Lyrics and Chords

Did you know?

Fans of Game of Thrones can soon visit some of the key filming locations in Northern Ireland, in a move that will provide a huge tourism boost for the area. Find out more.

Have you heard about…

A two-minute film from showcases Irish dancing in all its glory. It sees Cork trio Kieran Hardiman, Alan Kenefick and Ciaran Plummer performing their perfectly choreographed routine around the grounds of University College Cork. Find out more.

What about this…

Female Irish warrior Grainne Ni Mhaile, or Grace O’Malley is one of the most colourful characters in Irish history. Born around 1530, she was a Pirate Queen and became a constant thorn in the side of British Queen Elizabeth I. 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.