The Auld Orange Flute

Picture of a Bodhran
Bodhran. (c) Stockbyte / Getty Images

History and Background:

"The Auld Orange Flute" (also spelled "The Old Irish Flute") is a traditional Irish folksong, with lyrics authored by someone whose name is long forgotten. It tells the story of an Irish Protestant weaver and flute player who marries a Catholic woman and converts to her religion. Try as he might, he can't get his staunch Protestant flute to play any songs other than "The Protestant Boys." Though the song was originally probably meant to lampoon Irish Protestants (signified by the color orange, for the Orange Order, which implies loyalty to English royalty), because of its good humor, it has been popular for many years among people on both sides of the issue of Irish independence.

Melody:

"The Auld Orange Flute" is set to an old Irish air that's fondly (but not very helpfully) usually called "Toor-al-i-ay," though there are several old airs that go by either that particular name or one that's very close to it. It's a common tune, though, also known as the melody for a popular old music-hall song called "Villikins and his Dinah," and known in the United States as the melody for the Gold Rush-era old-time ballad "Sweet Betsy from Pike."

Lyrics:

In the County Tyrone near the town of Dungannon
There were many a ruction meself had a hand in
Bob Williamson lived there, a weaver by trade
And all of us thought him a stout Orange blade.

On the twelfth of July as the yearly did come
Bob played on his flute to the sound of the drum
You may talk of your harp, your piano, or lute
But nothing could sound like the Auld Orange Flute.

But this treacherous scoundrel, he took us all in
And married a Papish called Bridget McGinn
Turned Papish himself, and forsook the old cause
That gave us our freedom, religion, and laws.

Now the boys in the townland made noise upon it
And Bob had to fly to the Province of Connacht
He flew with his wife and fixings to boot
And along with the others, the Auld Orange Flute.

At chapel on Sundays, to atone for past deeds
He'd say Paters and Aves and counted his beads
'Til after some time at the Priest's own desire
He went with that auld flute to play in the choir

He went with that auld flute to play in the loft
But the instrument shivered and sighed and then coughed
When he blew it and fingered it, it made a strange noise
For the flute would play only "The Protestant Boys."

Bob jumped up and started and got in a flutter
As he put the auld flute in the blessed holy water
He thought that it might now make some other sound
When he blew it again, it played "Croppies, Lie Down!"

And all he did whistle and finger and blow
To play Papish music, he found it no-go
"Kick the Pope," "The Boyne Water," and such like would sound
But one Papish squeak in it could not be found.

Recommended Recordings:

(Click on the song title to sample an MP3 from Amazon.com)

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem - "The Auld Orange Flute"
The Dubliners - "The Old Orange Flute"
The NorthQuest Players - "The Old Orange Flute"