The Rocky Road to Dublin – Part 1

Hello and welcome to Learn English Vocabulary. My name is Jack and I’m making this podcast for you to learn or revise English vocabulary. You can find a transcript of this podcast on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk. There’s a page for this podcast with the transcript, an activity and a task for you to do in the comments section.

Today, I am going to look at a song following a request from a listener that I have known for a long time on another podcast. This is for Marco from Mexico who is a football fan and also a fan of Irish folk music. Or at least, a fan of one tune because he’s asked me to make a podcast about a song called The Rocky Road to Dublin.

The words to this song were written in the 19th Century by an Irish Poet called D.K. Gavan for an English music hall performer Called Harry Clifton. From 1850 till the first world war, in England, singers, dancers and entertainers performed in special theatres called music halls. These were different from theatres because the audience would eat, drink and smoke while watching the entertainment and the performances would feature popular songs and comedy. 

The song has been performed by many different bands and performers. The version that Marco has shared is by a group called the High Kings and I’ll embed a video of the group performing the song on the podcast page on LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk

The song tells the story of a brave young Irishman travelling from his home in Tuam, a small town in Galway in Ireland, to Dublin and then to Liverpool. The song is dense; there are a lot of lyrics. There are five verses so I’m going to split this podcast into two parts. I’ll publish part 2 tomorrow because listening to me talking about this song for 30 mins would be too much for anyone. 

The song starts in the merry month of June. I wasn’t sure why we talk about the merry month of June. Apparently, May is normally the merry month because of a traditional folk festival. Merry just means happy, though it does often mean slightly drunk and there are other references to alcohol in the song so that might be deliberate. 

In the merry month of June from me home I started

Left the girls of Tuam nearly broken-hearted

I left the girls of Tuam nearly broken-hearted. Broken-hearted means to be overwhelmed by sadness and grief. Usually because the person you love has left or died. The young man that this song is about claims that the girls, plural, all of them, of Tuam are broken-hearted because he has left.  

Saluted Father dear, kissed me darling mother

Drank a pint of beer, me grief and tears to smother

To salute means to raise your hand to your head like soldiers do when they meet other soldiers. He saluted his father and kissed his darling mother. If someone is your darling, then you love them very much. They are very dear to you. This is a common pet name that people use with their partner. It can be used for men or women. I sometimes call my wife darling. 

A pint of beer is a quantity of beer that’s sold in pubs. A pint is 568 ml and you can order a pint or a half-pint. Normally men choose to drink pints. We use pints for milk as well, though in supermarkets milk is often sold in litres these days. In the song, he drank a pint of beer to smother his grief and tears. This means he wanted to hide how sad he was to leave his home town. 

To smother something means to cover it so that no air can get to it. You can smother a fire with a fire blanket; this stops the air from getting to the fire so it puts the fire out. You can smother a person by putting a pillow or cushion over their face – this is a way of killing someone. Normally, this verb is used in a figurative way to say that someone is too involved with someone else and doesn’t give them space to grow or develop. Overprotective parents might be accused of smothering their children. 

Then off to reap the corn, leave where I was born

To reap is normally used to talk about collecting the crops that a farmer grows. The farmer reaps the corn that he plants and looks after when it is fully grown. In the song, it means to go to collect money. 

Cut a stout blackthorn to banish ghosts and goblins

OK … This is a bit tricky. Stout means thick and strong. Blackthorn is a type of tree that has really hard knots, that is where branches join the trunk. Sticks with a hard knot at the end were often chosen to be used as weapons and walking sticks. These sticks were called shillelaghs in Ireland, though I might be pronouncing that incorrectly.

The hero of the song cut a shillelagh to banish ghosts and goblins. To banish someone means to send them away as a punishment. We use the word ban now more frequently to say that someone has been told to leave and never return to a place, perhaps a pub or a restaurant because of their bad behaviour. 

Ghosts and goblins are literally the spirits of the dead and small monsters, but I think that in the song, the hero is singing about criminals and baddies that attack travellers. 

Cut a stout blackthorn to banish ghosts and goblins

A brand new pair of brogues, rattlin’ o’er the bogs

Brogues are leather shoes. Rattling over the bogs. About 1/6th of Ireland is covered by bogs which are wetlands which are covered in soggy plants and peat which is made of dead plants. It’s a bit like a swamp, but swamps have trees. Bogs only have small plants.

A brand new pair of brogues, rattlin’ o’er the bogs

Frightenin’ all the dogs on the rocky road to Dublin

Now comes the chorus.

One two three four five

Hunt the Hare and turn her down the rocky road

And all the way to Dublin, Whack fol lol le rah!

A hare is an animal like a tall rabbit. They are not very common. I always get very excited if I ever see a hare. You see rabbits all the time and they are cute, but hares are not easy to find. There is an Irish Jig which is a traditional type of dance called Hunt the Hare so I think that our hero is dancing down the road on the way to Dublin. 

Whack fol lol le rah. I don’t know what this means. I have looked it up online and people suggest that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s just an exclamation of joy like yipee or whoopertydo. 

In the second verse, our hero has travelled as far as the town of Mullingar which is over halfway to Dublin. 

In Mullingar that night I rested limbs so weary

Started by daylight me spirits bright and airy

Limbs are literally your arms and legs. Weary means really tired due to hard work. It’s a bit dramatic or poetic – I don’t think I have ever said; I feel weary. It’s used more in descriptive writing. 

Started by daylight – that means in the day when the sun had risen. Me spirits or my spirits are my general sense of well being. Most commonly, we say that someone is in good spirits. Our hero had bright and airy spirits. These are not common collocations, but I think the meaning is clear. If you are feeling bright and airy, you are feeling alert and positive. 

Took a drop of the pure

Keep me heart from sinking

That’s the Paddy’s cure whenever he’s on drinking

A drop of the pure means a small glass of whiskey. So our hero had a small glass of whiskey to keep his heart from sinking. To sink means to go down, usually in water. The Titanic crashed into an iceberg and sank. If your heart sinks, it means your spirits or attitude changes from happy and positive to sad and negative. We use this to talk about a negative reaction to bad news. So you could say when John read the news, his heart sank. Or perhaps when a child is really excited about their birthday because they think they are getting a skateboard and then they open the present and it’s lego, their heart might sink. When he opened the present, his heart sank. 

That’s the Paddy’s cure whenever he’s on drinking. The word paddy derives from the name Patrick. St Patrick is the patron saint of Ireland and the term Paddy has been used as a slur or negative phrase to describe the Irish. However, the phrase is also used quite proudly by Irish people to refer to themselves. So this is a slightly complicated word in that, it can mean proud Irish person when spoken by an Irish person, but should probably be avoided by non-Irish. 

A cure is a remedy, that is, the thing that makes an illness better. Today we have lots of medicines that can cure all sorts of illnesses, but scientists are still searching for cures for lots of diseases.

If you drink too much, you will suffer from a bad headache, a hangover in the morning. One way to cure a hangover or to make a hangover less painful is to drink some alcohol. This is often called hair of the dog – I have no idea why though, I may look it up for another podcast. Our hero describes a drop of the pure, which is a small glass of whiskey as the Irish cure to a hangover. If you are reading the transcript for this podcast, you might have noticed that the word whiskey is spelt w h i s k e y. Whiskey is from Ireland and Whisky – w h i s k y is from Scotland. In the USA, their local whiskey is spelt the Irish way, but in Canada, Japan and India, it’s spelt the Scottish way. 

To see the lassies smile, laughing all the while

At me curious style, ‘twould set your heart a bubblin’

The lassies means the women. I think it comes from Scots – I would associate it more with Scotland than Ireland, but it may be common in Ireland too.  As our hero travelled through Ireland, he came across women who would smile and laugh at his curious style. Curious normally describes someone who wants to know more about something. So if you are nosey and like to know all about everything around you, you could be described as curious. The word curious can also mean strange and intriguing. It means strange but in an interesting way. The way that our hero rattles and dances along is interesting and intriguing to the people, the ladies that see him. And if you saw the way they smiled and laughed, it would set your heart a bubblin’. I think that this just means it would excite you. I’ve not heard the phrase heart bubbling before, but it sounds like an alternative to butterflies in your stomach, the feeling you get in your stomach and chest when something exciting is about to happen.

These ladies that our hero came across didn’t just smile and laugh:

An’ asked if I was hired, wages I required

‘Till I was nearly tired of the rocky road to Dublin

The ladies asked our hero if he was looking for work. 

Wages means the money you are paid for the time you spend working. If you get paid the same amount every month, that is a salary, but if you are paid for the time you work, the days or hours you work and the amount can change each week, then you are paid wages. 

And we have the chorus again before the story continues. Now, our hero has arrived in Dublin. 

One two three four five

Hunt the Hare and turn her down the rocky road

And all the way to Dublin, Whack fol lol le rah!

And that’s where we’re going to leave our hero for now. I will return to finish this song in the next C1 podcast. Although I have only looked at the vocabulary from the first two verses, I recommend you listen to the High Kings version of this song and try to follow the lyrics I’ve covered so far. 

I hope you have enjoyed this podcast. I do love reading your comments so please leave me a comment on the site or a rating or a review on Apple podcasts. I love to hear from you and any comments or suggestions you have. Thank you also to those of you that have bought me a coffee. I really appreciate it.

If there are any topics or songs or scenes from a film that you would like me to talk about or anything else you would like to hear, I would be delighted to make a podcast for you. So please visit LearnEnglishVocabulary.co.uk and say hello.

Thanks for listening. 

Listen to the song now to see if you can hear the lyrics from the first verses and chorus.

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2 Comments

  • Joemari Bano
    Posted 17/02/2021 at 1:25 am 0Likes

    Great content Jack! Have a vacation in ph and we will roam the country for coffee. =)

  • QuanDong
    Posted 25/02/2021 at 8:35 am 0Likes

    thanks you for making this podcast

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