What’s in a Name? The Parting Glass

It’s a cold rainy Tuesday night and I’m feeling a little guilty about neglecting my blog.  Here I sit searching my brain for a witty and informative topic but alas I am not coming up with much… Blogger’s Block?  So instead of a beer review I thought I’d write a bit of background about this blog’s namesake the song The Parting Glass. 

The Parting Glass is a traditional Irish song often sung at the end of a gathering of friends. It was allegedly the most popular song sung in both Scotland and Ireland before Robert Burns wrote Auld Lang Syne.  The celebrated Irish folk song collector, Colm O’Lochlainn, pointed out that The Parting Glass shares its melody with Sweet Cootehill Town. This is another traditional farewell song, this time involving a man leaving Ireland to go to America.  However, the lyrics are quite different to The Parting Glass. One of the strengths of the Parting Glass is that it is never made clear why the person singing has to leave. He may be leaving the area or the country. It may even be that he fears he does not have long to live. The vagueness leaves each listener free to interpret the song in their own way. The song is also known as Good Night and Joy Be With You All.

The song was printed as a broadside (words to popular songs were printed on sheets of varying lengths) in the 1770s; however, the song is doubtless older than its 1770 appearance in broadside.  It was known at least as early as 1605, when a portion of the first stanza was written in a farewell letter, as a poem now known as ‘Armstrong’s Goodnight’, by one of the Border Reivers executed that year for the murder of Sir John Carmichael, Warden of the Scottish West March.  It was recorded in the Skene Manuscript, a collection of Scottish airs written at various dates between 1615 and 1635 and in the Guthrie Manuscript c 1675. The Parting Glass first appears in book form in Scots Musical Museum (1803/4) and then in Herd’s ‘Scots Songs’ (1869).  The Parting Glass saw a resurgence of popularity in the late 1800s.  My first exposure to this song was through The Pogues recording and I found it wistful and reflective; a beautiful chorus to end a night, or a lifetime, of drinking amongst friends.

Notable Recordings

  • 1959 – The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Maken Tradition Records Come Fill Your Glass with Us
  • 1964 – Bob Dylan used the melody for Restless Farewell from the album The Times They Are A-Changin’ with new verses of his own, based on the original lyrics
  • 1979 – Ronnie Drew performed the song on The Dubliners’ album Together Again
  • 1985 – The Pogues released it as a single.  It also appeared on their re-release of Rum, Sodomy and the Lash
  • 1993 – The Voice Squad closed Good People All with an a cappella version
  • 1998 – Shaun Davey composed the song for the movie Waking Ned Devine
  • 2002 – Sinead O’Connor recorded the song on Sean-Nos Nua
  • 2004 – The Cottars featuring John McDermott on their album On Fire
  • 2004 – The Wailin’ Jennys recorded the song on the album 40 Days
  • 2009 – The Spooky Men’s Chorale close their EP De-ep with a full choir arrangement of the song
  • 2010 – Loreena McKennitt recorded the song for her The Wind that Shakes the Barley album

 Lyrics

Oh, all the money e’er I had, I spent it in good company.
And all the harm that ever I’ve done, alas it was to none but me.
And all I’ve done for want of wit to mem’ry now I can’t recall;
So fill to me the parting glass, Good night and joy be with you all.

Oh, all the comrades e’er I had, they’re sorry for my going away.
And all the sweethearts e’er I had, they’d wished me one more day to stay.
But since it falls unto my lot, that I should rise and you should not,
I gently rise and softly call, Goodnight and joy be with you all.

If I had money enough to spend, and leisure time to sit awhile.
There is a fair maid in this town,  that sorely has my heart beguiled.
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips, I own, she has my heart in thrall;
Then fill to me the parting glass, Good night and joy be with you all.

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