Wild Rover – the most widely performed Irish song?

The Wild Rover is arguably the most widely performed Irish song ever and yet its exact origins are unknown. In fact, it may not even be Irish.

Lyrics and chords

The song has been popular since at least the early 19th century and although it seemed to fall out of favour in the first half of the 20th century, it made a storming comeback in the folk revival in the 1960s.

The Dubliners
The Dubliners

Folk clubs and Irish music centres were springing up all over the English speaking world in those days and soon every singer was adding it to his repertoire.

The story of the Wild Rover

The Wild Rover tells the story of a dissolute young man to who drinks his way through life spending all his money on whiskey and beer. To amuse himself, he goes to an alehouse and asks for credit. The landlady refuses saying she can get that kind of business any day.

However, he then takes bright sovereigns from his pocket making “the landlady’s eyes open with delight”. In the final verse, however, he says he’ll reform like the prodigal son of the bible. Are we to believe him?

Wild Rover as a stereotypical Irish drinking song

For many people, the Wild Rover is the stereotypical Irish drinking song.

It seems the very embodiment of the Irish spirit of the craic…where drink, laughter, good nature and good cheer are what matters most.

In this interpretation, the Wild Rover’s promise to reform in the final verse isn’t taken seriously.

Wild Rover as a temperance song

"I'll definitely give up drinking...tomorrow!"
“I’ll definitely give up drinking…tomorrow!”
To others though, it was written as temperance song with its origins in Scotland or England. The lyrics in the final verse certainly give some credence to this where the singer promises to give up dissolute lifestyle.

“I’ll go back to my parents confess what I’ve done,

And I’ll ask them to pardon their prodigal son

And if they caress me as oft times before

Then I never will play the Wild Rover no more”

If the Wild Rover was intended as a temperance song, however, the message has been lost on most its fans, many of whom sing it with a pint of beer or Guinness in their hands.

Major performances of the Wild Rover

The song has been performed by several major Irish folk bands including most notably, The Dubliners and The Clancy Brothers.

It has also been performed by countless amateur singers at folk and Irish music clubs across the world. For many, including some of the acts who made it popular, it has been over-performed and needs to be given a rest.

That seems unlikely to happen at the moment because popularity of the Wild Rover shows no sign of waning.

Click here for an English version of The Wild Rover

The Wild Rover
Lyrics and chords