An Overview of "Whiskey in the Jar"

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The Story Behind "Whiskey in a Jar"

"Whiskey in a Jar," one of the best known traditional Irish vocal ballads, probably originated in the mid-17th century, according to folklorist Alan Lomax, and it has been found in dozens of forms on both sides of the Atlantic. It tells the story of a highwayman (robber) who robs a military officer and who is subsequently betrayed by his woman. "Whiskey in a Jar" has been recorded by dozens upon dozens of traditional artists, but has also been taken in a rock and roll direction, first by Thin Lizzy (who recorded a version learned from Irish trad sources), and then by the Grateful Dead (who recorded a version learned from American trad sources), and then most successfully by Metallica, who won a 2000 Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance for their version, which was likely learned directly from Thin Lizzy, rather than a traditional source.

The song is, as one might guess from the title, a favorite drinking and pub song among fans of Irish music all over the world.

Lyrics:

As I was going over the far-famed Kerry Mountains
I met with Captain Farrell and his money he was countin'
I first produced my pistol and then produced my rapier
Saying "Stand and deliver for you are my bold deceiver"
With your whack fol the diddle day
Whack fol the diddle oh whack fol the diddle
Oh there's whiskey in the jar.

I counted out my money and it made a pretty penny
I put it in my pocket and I gave it to my Jenny
She sighed and she swore that she never would deceive me
But the devil take the women for they never can be easy
With your whack fol the diddle day
Whack fol the diddle oh whack fol the diddle
Oh there's whiskey in the jar.

I went into my chamber for to take a slumber
I dreamt of golden jewels and sure it was no wonder
For Jenny took my charges and filled them up with water
And sent for Captain Farrell to be ready for the slaughter
With your whack fol the diddle day
Whack fol the diddle oh whack fol the diddle
Oh there's whiskey in the jar.

'Twas early in the morning before I rose to travel
The guards were all around me and likewise Captain Farrell
I then produced my pistol for she stole away my rapier
But I couldn't shoot the water so a prisoner I was taken
With your whack fol the diddle day
Whack fol the diddle oh whack fol the diddle
Oh there's whiskey in the jar.

If anyone can aid me it's my brother in the army
I think that he is stationed in Cork or in Killarney
And if he'd come and join me, we'd go rovin' in Kilkenny
I swear he'd treat me fairer than my darling sporting Jenny
With your whack fol the diddle day
Whack fol the diddle oh whack fol the diddle
Oh there's whiskey in the jar.

Noteworthy Recorded Versions:

(Click the link to sample an MP3 download)

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Romer, Megan. "An Overview of "Whiskey in the Jar"." ThoughtCo, May. 25, 2017, thoughtco.com/whiskey-in-the-jar-3552959. Romer, Megan. (2017, May 25). An Overview of "Whiskey in the Jar". Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/whiskey-in-the-jar-3552959 Romer, Megan. "An Overview of "Whiskey in the Jar"." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/whiskey-in-the-jar-3552959 (accessed December 12, 2017).