The Waxies Dargle paints a colourful picture of life in the working class areas of Dublin in the late 19th century.
The women are desperate to go on the outing but are poverty stricken. They try to borrow from uncle McCardle but he won’t help. Later, in order to go on another outing to the Galway Races, one of the women tries to pawn her husband’s braces, again without any luck.
The chorus refers to having a pint – drink being a common form of escape for the poor in tenement slums. Again, there’s the allusion to lack of money and they risk being thrown out of the ‘boozer’ if one of them doesn’t dip in to their pockets and buy some drinks.
The Monto was part of Dublin’s red light district
Monto is short for Montomery Street which was part of Dublin’s red light district in the 19th century.
The line in the third verse if we go up to Monto town we might get a drink for nothing may contain a bawdy overtone of how far the women are prepared to go to get a drink, but it is only a hint and we are left to wonder and make up our own minds.
Humour masks genuine poverty and hardship
The Waxies Dargle is clearly a comical song but it is born out of genuine poverty and hardship.
These were hard times and hunger was a daily reality for many families.
The Irish knew there was no point complaining and they would often deal with their troubles with a form of gallows humour, as in the wonderful final two lines of the song.
Here’s a piece of advice for you which I got from an old fishmonger
When food is scarce and you see the hearse you’ll know you died of hunger
Waxies Dargle melody used in other songs
Waxies Dargle shares its melody with two other well known Irish songs, The Girl I Left Behind Me and the The Rare Old Mountain Dew.
It’s not known who wrote the melody but it is also played as a reel known as Brighton Camp.
The earliest recorded reference to the tune was in Hime’s Pocket Book for German Flute or Violin, published in Dublin in 1810. This version was published under the name, The Girl I Left Behind Me.