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The Barley Grain
(Roud 164)
Michael Flanagan
Luogh, Doolin
Recorded in singers’ home, August 1974

Carroll Mackenzie Collection


Oh, there was three farmers in the north,
And as they were passing by.
They swore an oath to the mighty oat
That the barley grain should die.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.

Oh the frost and snow began to melt,
The dew began to fall,
The barley grain stuck up its head,
And soon belayed them all.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.

Oh the reaper comes with his big long hoop,
He cuts me above the knee.
He used me ten times worse than that,
When he ties me like a T.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.

Oh the binder comes with her twisted tongue,
She looks with me, to frown.
What was in my middle she found a thistle,
That pulled her courage down.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.

O the car-man comes with his big long fork,
He sticks me in the heart.
He used me ten times worse than that,
When he tied me to his cart.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.

He brought me to his barn,
He threw me upon the floor.
He left me there for many the day,
Til my head grew out the door.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.

Sure the thrasher comes with his big long flail,
He hits me on the head.
He used me ten times worse than that,
When he turned me inside out.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.

He put me into a big sack bag,
And he brought me to the well.
He left me there for many the day,
Til my belly began to swell.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.

He put into gallons,
And put me into quarts.
He showed me to the publican,
For many a hundred pounds.

But of all the falls I every got,
Was the biggest fall of all.
When the drunkard drank me off the glass,
And fell against the wall.

With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
With me rights dela-ra-lee.
With me rights dela-ra-laddy,
And the barley grain for me.


"This is one of the many songs celebrating alcoholic drink, in this case symbolically, with the personified subject being processed and eventually slain. Ballads celebrating the immortality of this powerful hero drink who, in mythic fashion, is resurrected despite such determined attempts to crush him, have circulated in England and Scotland for at least four hundred years and may well be considerably more ancient. The earliest written variant occurs in the Bannatyne Ms. of 1568 under the title, 'Why should not Allane honorit be?' in which grain turned into intoxicating drink is personified as Allan of Malt. In his adaptation 'John Barleycorn - A song to its own tune', Robert Burns followed closely the fragment he remembered from tradition and concluded the song in similar folk idiom. He commented on this score,

'I once heard the old song that goes by this name sung, and being very fond of it, and remembering only two or three verses of it, viz., the first second, and third, with some scraps which I have interwoven here and there.'
Birmingham scholar and collector, Roy Palmer, in the notes to a Shropshire version included in his ‘Songs of the Midlands', wrote:

'Beyond the life cycle of barley and beer, this song is about the life, death and resurrection of the corn or vegetation spirit and therefore of all living things. It was issued on a broadside as early as 1624 and Ann Gilchrist, a percipient commentator, has speculated that the song may have originated with 'the musical harvesters of Elizabethan times (Journal of the Folklore Society, VI, 1928). It continued to be printed on broadsides until the nineteenth century and many versions have been collected from the oral tradition.'
The note to the slightly bowdlerized version from Balbriggan included in Colm O Lochlainn’s ‘Irish Street Ballads’ obviously believed it not to be Irish as it reads:

'There are so many English versions of this song that we would hesitate to include it but for its fine tune and unusual chorus.'"

Reference:
Songs of the Midlands, Roy Palmer, E.P Publishing, 1972.
Irish Street Ballads, Colm O Lochlainn, Three Candles Press, Dublin 1939.
Jim Carroll



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