Seven Drunken Nights is one of the best known Irish drinking songs with lots of humour and bawdy innuendo.
It has been around for at least 200 years and has spread across the world with versions to be found in America, the UK and several other countries.
It became a UK top ten hit for the Dubliners in 1967 and was later recorded by numerous other artists.
Bawdy ballad about battle of the sexes
The song tells the story of a man who comes home drunk every night to find evidence that makes him suspect his wife is having an affair.
Each time he confronts her, she give gives an implausible excuse. For example, on the first night the drunk sees a horse tied outside the door where his own horse should be.
His wife scolds him for being a drunken fool and tells him it’s just a sow that her mother sent to her.
Drunken husband never acts on his suspicions
The drunk never really believes the excuses because he can always see a flaw in the wife’s answer.
The running joke in the song is that he seems oblivious to the main issues and always picks up on some minor detail. For example, when he gets home on the fifth night, he notices “a head upon the bed where my old head should be”.
Again his wife scolds him for being drunk and tells him it’s a baby boy her mother sent to her.
You’re drunk, you’re drunk you silly old fool
The drunk picks up on a minor detail saying he’s never seen whiskers on a baby before – thereby totally ignoring the fact that there must be some fully grown man attached to this head who would be unmistakable to anyone else.
But of course, all is explained by the man’s inebriated state, as his wife keeps telling him: “You’re drunk, you’re drunk you silly old fool.
The drunk never seems to sober up
The fun of the song is in the wife’s implausible explanations and the drunk’s reluctant acceptance of them even though he doesn’t really believe her.
There’s also a sense of amusement in the fact that the man never seems to sober up. If he did, he would surely see what is blindingly obvious to everyone else.
Instead, he seems to live his life in a state of perpetual drunkenness in which drink, rather than his wife, is his true love.
Final two verses often considered too raunchy
The song is called Seven Drunken Nights but only the first five are usually performed as the final two verses are considered a little too raunchy.
The sixth verse refers to the wife’s breasts and in the seventh verse, the drunk refers to seeing “a thing” where his “old thing should be”.Many will consider those lines quite tame by modern standards, especially given the way the limits of public entertainment have been pushed over recent years. Nevertheless, most singers still stop at the fifth verse.
Song began life as Four Nights Drunk
The first published version of the song appeared in the Child Ballad collection compiled in the 19th century by Francis Child. He gave it the title Our Good Man. It also became known as Four Nights Drunk.
That version followed a similar pattern to the present day song except it only covered the first four nights.
The final bawdier nights were probably added later. There are several variations so they were probably written by different people and adapted along the way by different singers.
Several versions of the final two bawdy nights
In our full version of the Seven Drunken Nights lyrics we give the final two verses which are most commonly used but we also give some of the alternatives.
One of them shows how the Irish like taking a pop at the English from time to time. It recounts how the drunk comes home after three in the morning to see a man with his pants down running from the house.
His wife tells him it’s just a tax collector come over from England. The drunk doesn’t believe her because he’s never known an Englishman who could “last” till three.
Imagine how the film The Sound of Music could have been different, if Seven Drunken Nights had been one of the songs on the playlist.