"The Parting Glass" is one of the most popular Irish folk songs (though there is some debate about whether the song is originally Irish or Scottish). The beloved song has been recorded by various singers over the years, who have each brought their own style while crooning lyrics, which tell the story of a bittersweet goodbye. The song has a long history, but was brought back into the Irish music world by Liam Clancey, and has now been performed by everyone from The Dubliners to Ed Sheeran.
From folk song to pop culture hit, "The Parting Glass" has even been featured in Assassin’s Creed and The Walking Dead.
History of the Song
The tune that is now associated with the song was not a melody that was written specifically for “The Parting Glass.” As so often happens in traditional music, the tune was reused and was originally simply called "The Peacock." It was first featured (without any lyrics) in a collection of songs compiled by James Aird and published in 1782. The same tune was also used with the lyrics of "Sweet Cootehill Town", a farewell song by an emigrant who left his hometown in County Cavan. In the United States, the same melody was used as a church hymn for some time and is apparently still popular in the Sacred Harp tradition.
As for the "Parting Glass" lyrics, it seems that they first appeared in print around the time of the American Revolutionary War (in the late 1700s), and the song was soon after included in a collection of "Scots Songs." At least parts of the lyrics may, however, be traced back to the early 1600s, again with a Scottish background.
In 1605, a portion of the first verse was actually used in a farewell letter (which today is known as the poem "Armstrong's Goodnight") penned by Border Reiver. Reiver was executed for his part in the murder of the warden of the Scottish West March.
Due to this history, "The Parting Glass" has long been thought of as a Scottish song that fell out of favor when the famous Auld Lang Syne gained popularity.
Today, however, it is widely regarded as "Irish," mainly because so many Irish artists released recordings of the folk song.
O, 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.
O, 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.
Variations on a Theme
While the above lyrics are generally the most common, it is also possible to find several variations to the words of "The Parting Glass." This is because song lyrics change over time, especially due to changing pronunciation of certain words. If you find different lyrics or have been singing a different version, these are just as correct as the version above.
When it comes to traditional Irish music, there is rarely a single definitive version.
This is especially true when so many artists try to bring their own style to a classic song. Modern versions of "The Parting Glass" include the seminal recording by the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, by The Pogues and Steeleye Span, by Sinead O'Connor and Loreena McKennitt. It also appears in popular collections of songs by, to name a few, the High Kings and Celtic Woman. Ed Sheeran released it as a "hidden track" on his album +, and it also featured on the soundtracks of "The Walking Dead" and "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag."
One never ceases to be amazed when looking at the statistics; in any collection of traditional Irish song lyrics, the lyrics to "The Parting Glass" always seem to come out as a top search by curious music lovers—probably because this is the perfect song to round off an evening with friends.