Rocky Road

In Brief

"The rocky road to Dublin" is a 19th century ballad about a poor boy from Connaught who travels through Mullingar to Dublin, and on to Liverpool. He is robbed in Dublin, housed with pigs during the sea crossing to Holyhead, and taunted to fight in Liverpool. With the help of some boys from Galway, though, he gets his own back from the Liverpudlians.

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In pointed response, then, to Deasy's (false) story of a Protestant nobleman putting on his "shiny topboots" to ride merrily down to Dublin from the north and affirm Ireland's glorious Union with Great Britain, Stephen recalls a popular account of a poor Catholic peasant trudging over rocky roads to Dublin from the west, looking for honest work and encountering disrespect, hatred, and abuse. Like Croppies Lie Down some ten lines earlier, the recollection of this line shows Stephen using music to silently resist his oppressor.

The Rocky Road to Dublin is a great song, and the Dubliners have owned it since the 60s. Their masterful rendition of the fast 9/8 slip jig (almost rap-like in its constant verbal repetitions and echoes) can use some accompanying lyrics. Here is your annotator's best effort at transcribing a recent performance, with some language from earlier recordings when I cannot make out the words:

'Twas in the merry month of June when from me home I started,
Left the girls of Tuam, sadly broken hearted,
Saluted father dear, kissed me darling mother,
Drank a pint of beer, me tears and grief to smother,
Then off to reap the corn, and leave where I was born,
I cut a stout black thorn to banish ghosts and goblins;
A brand new pair of brogues to rattle o'er the bogs
And frighten all the dogs on the rocky road to Dublin.


One, two, three four, five,
Hunt the hare and turn her
Down the rocky road
And all the way to Dublin,
Whack follol de dah!

In Mullingar that night I rested limbs so weary,
Started by daylight next morning bright and early,
Took a drop of the pure to keep me spirit from sinking;
That's the Paddy's cure, whenever he's up for drinking.
To see the lassies smile, laughing all the while
At me curious style, 'twould set your heart a bubblin'
They asked if I was hired, wages I required,
Till I was almost tired of the rocky road to Dublin.


In Dublin next arrived, I thought it was a pity
To be so soon deprived a view of that fine city.
Was then I took a stroll, all among the quality;
Me bundle it was stole, all in a neat locality.
Something crossed me mind, when I looked behind,
No bundle could I find upon me stick a wobblin'.
Enquiring after the rogue, they said me Connaught brogue
It wasn't much in vogue on the rocky road to Dublin.


From there I got away, me spirits never falling,
Landed on the quay, just as the ship was sailing.
The Captain at me roared, said that no room had he;
When I jumped aboard, a cabin found for Paddy.
Down among the pigs, played some lonely rigs,
And danced some hearty jigs, the water round me bubbling;
When off Holyhead I wished meself was dead,
Or better for instead on the rocky road to Dublin.


The boys of Liverpool, when we safely landed,
Called meself a fool, I could no longer stand it.
Blood began to boil, temper I was losing;
Poor old Erin's Isle they began abusing.
"Hurrah me soul" says I, me Shillelagh I let fly.
Some Galway boys were by and saw I was a hobblin',
With a loud "hurray!" they joined me in the affray.
We quickly cleared the way for the rocky road to Dublin.


JH 2012