Johnny Jump Up is part of a long line of Irish drinking songs about the joys and the perils of alcohol.
Usually, the drink in question is whiskey or stout, but with Johnny Jump Up, it’s extra strong cider.
It was written by Tadgh Jordan from Cork and became well known in Ireland through the singing of Jimmy Crowley. Christy Moore then learnt the song from Crowley and brought it to a much wider audience.
Extra strong cider stored in whiskey barrels
Johnny Jump Up tells the story of a man who tries a drink of cider after going into a pub in Youghal that has run out of stout.
He doesn’t realise that Johnny Jump Up is the name of an extra strong cider made in nearby Clonmel, an area famous for its apple orchards.
Legend has it that Johnny Jump Up was particularly strong because it was stored in wooden barrels that had absorbed lots of alcohol because they had been used to store whiskey.
Some of this alcohol would then seep into the cider making it as potent as rocket fuel.
The science behind this is, of course, highly dubious but it provides the basis for a wonderful song.
Never, no never, no never again
The unsuspecting singer in the song has no idea that Johnny Jump Up is so strong. He quickly drinks a quart – two pints – and that’s when all the trouble begins.
He ends up breaking the local policeman’s jaw, he sees a cripple start dancing after drinking some of this magical cider – he even sees a corpse come back to life and ask for some Johnny Jump Up to give to the angels so they’ll let him into heaven.
None of this comes without a price, of course, because the singer ends up with a hangover from hell after getting himself into all sorts of trouble, and like all victims of too much drink, he vows he’ll never touch another drop if he lives to be a hundred and ten.
Johnny Jump Up is full of local references
The song has several references to local places. The Lee Road is significant because it leads to a local psychiatric hospital.
This is where the reference to the madhouse comes from. To modern ears, this may seem insensitive and far from politically correct but it must be remembered that the song was written more than 50 years ago when people’s sensitivities were very different.
The singer sees his friend locked in a cell. The friend asks him to tell them he’s not mad; it’s just that he’s been drinking Johnny Jump Up.
Was the song written to help a local pub?
Tadgh Jordan, who wrote Johnny Jump Up, was a well-known figure in his native Cork. There’s a popular story that a local pub landlord asked him to write a song that would encourage people to drink his cider and so boost his business.
Obligingly, Tadgh came up with Johnny Jump Up and, on the basis that there’s no such thing as bad publicity, sales increased.
The story, of course, is almost certainly untrue but the element of conspiracy theory about it possibly reflects the surprise people might have felt at seeing a slang term for cider that they took for granted suddenly being turned into a celebrated song.