The Parting Glass

A Song of Farewell and Hope

Ready for your parting glass?
••• Ready for your parting glass?. © Bernd Biege 2017

"The Parting Glass" is a popular Irish folk song (though one may even discuss whether the song is originally Irish or Scottish) ... and it seems to be the most sought-after Irish traditional on this site. Why? Well, this might have to do with the many singers that recorded the song. And with the high number of immensely successful pop culture highlights it is associated with. From “Assassin’s Creed” to “The Walking Dead”, “The Parting Glass” is part of it.

The Parting Glass - the History

The tune itself is not an original for “The Parting Glass”, as it happens so often on traditional music – it was apparently originally simply called "The Peacock", and featured (without any lyrics) in a collection of tunes compiled by James Aird and published in 1782. The same tune was also noted to be in use with the lyrics of "Sweet Cootehill Town", a song of farewell by an emigrant to the County Cavan market town. In the USA, the same melody again was used as a church hymn for some time, and is apparently still popular in the Sacred Harp tradition.

As to the lyrics ... well: they first appeared in print around the time of the American War of Independence, 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 a Border Reiver executed for his part in the murder of the warden of the Scottish West March.

Today, however, it is widely regarded as "Irish", mainly because so many Irish artists released recordings, I guess.

The Parting Glass - the Lyrics

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.

The Parting Glass - Variations on a Theme

Note that there might be several variations of the lyrics and that the version given above is not to be seen as the "official". Song lyrics changed over times, either in contents or in minute details that may be down to changing ways in pronunciation, especially if the language changed from a Shakespearean model to our more modern take on English (let alone the influences that changed language in the colonies ... oh, sorry ... overseas). So if you find different lyrics or are even singing a different version, these are as correct as the version above. Main rule in traditional music: there is never a really definitive version.

Especially with artists trying to bring their own slant to it ... modern versions 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 "+", it also featured on the soundtracks of "The Walking Dead" and "Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag".

And 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 tops as search terms used on the site! Why is that so? Pop culture apart, it may just be the perfect song to round off an evening with friends, to hazard a guess.