The Rare Ould Times is a hugely popular song which laments the way Dublin and its traditional way of life underwent seismic changes in the 1960s.
It was written by Dublin songwriter Pete St John and quickly became a standard on the folk circuit in Ireland and throughout the world in the 1970s.
Pete St John was born and raised in Dublin and went on to write numerous modern classics including The Fields of Athenry.
St John went to work in Canada and America in the 1960s. When he returned to Dublin a few years later, he was amazed and dismayed at the way the city had been changed by property developers.
It wasn’t just that famous old buildings had been torn down, Dublin’s traditional way of life was also changing rapidly.
My name it is Sean Dempsey, as Dublin as can be
The Rare Ould Times is told from the point of view of a Dubliner called Sean Dempsey. The first verse evokes the spirit and character of the traditional Dublin remembered from childhood; the songs and the stories, majestic buildings and the “haunting children’s rhymes”.
In the second verse we find that Dempsey was born in Pimlico, an area in the heart of Dublin’s inner city. It makes him “as Dublin as can be” but he’s beset by changes all around him. He is out of work because the skills of his traditional trade as a cooper – making wooden beer barrels – are no longer needed.
His old style Dublin house in Pimlico has also fallen to “progress”.
We then hear about his girlfriend, Peggy Dignan, from the rebel Liberties. The Liberties are areas of Dublin’s inner city. The name stems from the fact that although they were linked to the city, they maintained their own jurisdiction and were partly independent.
The phrase “rebel Liberties” refers to the fact that much of the fighting in the 1916 Easter Rising took part in the Liberties.
The Liberties connection means that Peggy Dignan is also “as Dublin as can be” but, in keeping with the song’s theme of change, she leaves the city to go to live with a man in Birmingham in England.
Read more on “ring a rosey” and the Dublin landmarks referred to in Rare Ould Times.