Whiskey in the Jar is one of the most famous and most widely performed Irish songs of all time.
It features love, robbery and betrayal, and is set to a rollicking, irresistible tune, so it’s not hard to see why it has become so popular, not only in Ireland but across the world – particularly in America.
A highwayman is tricked by his lover
Whiskey in the Jar tells the story of a highwayman who stalks the Cork and Kerry mountains in Ireland.
He is bold enough, or reckless enough, to rob Captain Farrell, an officer in the British army.
He counts out the money and then gives for safe keeping to Jenny – his wife or maybe his lover.
Jenny promises that she will never deceive him but she proves to be false.
Whiskey in the Jar and water in the gun
When the highwayman goes to rest after his exploits, Jenny puts water into his gunpowder, rendering his pistol ineffective. She is setting him up to be captured.
The next morning as the highwayman ventures out again, he finds himself ambushed by Captain Farrell and his footmen.
He tries to shoot at them but his pistol won’t work because the powder is wet. He reaches for his sabre but the deceitful Jenny has already taken it from him.
Rendered defenceless, he is captured and taken prisoner.
Dreams of roving in Kilkenny
While in jail, he curses his deceitful Jenny but doesn’t linger in despair for long.
Soon he is looking to the future and considering whether his brother could come and help him.
He hopes that his brother will be able to help him escape from jail and then together they will go roving in Kilkenny and no doubt return to the highwayman lifestyle.
Performances of Whiskey in the Jar
Whiskey in the Jar is one of the most widely recorded Irish folk songs and has even crossed over to appeal to rock audiences.
The Dublin rock band Thin Lizzy launched their hugely successful career when their version became a major hit back in 1972.
Metallica brought Whiskey in the Jar to another generation of rock fans with their version in 1998.
Rock bands like Pulp, The Pogues and U2 have also done versions, highlighting the song’s universal appeal.
Irish whiskey is popular all over the world and was a forerunner of American bourbon. Irish whiskey is spelt with an ‘e’ as opposed to Scotch whisky, which has no ‘e’.
Still a traditional Irish song
Despite its flirtations with rock, Whiskey in the Jar remains a quintessentially Irish folk song and has been performed by most of the major Irish singers of the last 60 years.
It became something of a signature tune for The Dubliners and has also been recorded by a host of other artists including Tommy Makem, The Irish Rovers and Christy Moore.