Whiskey, You’re the Devil

Traditional, c. 1873 | Roud V44901, Ballad Index RcWYTD

Lyrics:

Whiskey you’re the devil
You’re leading me astray
Over hills and mountains
And to Americay
You’re sweeter, stronger, decenter
You’re spunkier than tay
Oh whiskey you’re my darling drunk or sober

Oh now brave boys we’re on the march
And off to Portugal and Spain
The drums are beating, banners high
The devil a home will come tonight
Oh love, fare you well

With me tiddle-aye da du la du ma dah
Tiddle-aye da du la du ma dah
Me rikes fall too ra laddie-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

Oh, whiskey you’re the devil
You’re leading me astray
Over hills and mountains
And to Americay
You’re sweeter, stronger, decenter
You’re spunkier than tay
Oh whiskey you’re my darling drunk or sober

The French are fighting boldly
Men are dying hot and coldly
give every man his flask of powder
His firelock on his shoulder
So its love, fare thee well

With me tiddle-aye da du la du ma dah
Tiddle-aye da du la du ma dah
Me rikes fall too ra laddie-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

Oh, whiskey you’re the devil
You’re leading me astray
Over hills and mountains
And to Americay
You’re sweeter, stronger, decenter
You’re spunkier than tay
Oh whiskey you’re my darling drunk or sober

Says the mother do not wrong me
Don’t take me daughter from me
For if you do
I will torment you
And after death
Me ghost will haunt you
love, fare thee well

With me tiddle-aye da du la du ma dah
Tiddle-aye da du la du ma dah
Me rikes fall too ra laddie-o
There’s whiskey in the jar

Oh, whiskey you’re the devil
You’re leading me astray
Over hills and mountains
And to Americay
You’re sweeter, stronger, decenter
You’re spunkier than tay
Oh whiskey you’re my darling drunk or sober

Additional/Alternative Verses
Fragment published in Mary O. Eddy’s Ballads and Songs from Ohio (1964) from the singing of Mrs. Robert R. Cox of Steubenville, OH-

They rolled him up in a nice, clean sheet
And laid him out in a nice, clean bed
With fifteen candles at his head
And a barrel of murphies at his feet

Whack-ti-ma-tu-ra lu-ra-lad-dy
Whack-ti-ma-tu-ra lu-ra-lay
Whack-ti-ma-tu-ra lu-ra-lad-dy
Lots of fun at Finnigan’s wake

–recording of this version

Alternate chorus published in Helen Creighton’s Songs and Ballads from Nova Scotia (1966) from the singing of Mr. Frank Faulkner, South-East Passage-

Whack hurrah. Blood-hounds ye sol ye
Whack the floor, your trotters shake
Now isn’t it the truth I’ve told ye?
Lots of fun at Finnigan’s wake

Verses cited as roots of “Love Farewell"

Passage from Lews S. Winstock’s 1970 book Songs and Magic of the Redcoats:

Yet this song, so unmistakably Irish in melody and words, almost certainly had its origin in an English nine-verse broadside ballad of the American War of Independence.

2nd verse
The drums are beating to alarm them,
We wish to stay still in your arms.
But we must go and cross the ocean,
The Americans keep us all in motion,
A long farewell.

4th verse
I think I hear my brother crying,
‘March, my lads, the colours flying.
Our cause is just, we’ll be victorious,
If we’re killed our death is glorious,

7th verse
Dear mothers, weep not for us,
We’re going to fight for Britain’s glory.
Our country calls, our courage to display.
The drums are beating, there’s no delay.

This ballad may have been written with an established Irish melody in mind, or the melody may have been composed for the words by some forgotten Irish fiddler or harpist, or words and tune may just have been thrown together because they happened to suit. Whatever the circumstances may be, “Love Farewell” is certainly an Anglo-Irish hybrid.

Lyrics - “John and Moll"
Published between 1790 and 1840 by Jennings in London. Bodleian Harding B 25(976).

As John and Moll did lie composed
On a bed of sweet primroses
Colours flying, drums a-beating
March, my lads, there’s no retreating

Love, farewell, darling, farewell
For we are all for marching

O, soldier dear, pray do not wrong me
Do not take my daughter from me
If you do, I shall torment you
And after death my ghost shall haunt you

Love, farewell, darling, farewell
For we are all for marching

O mother dear, I will not wrong you
Neither take your daughter from you
If I do, you shall torment me
After death your ghost shall haunt me

Love, farewell, darling, farewell
For we are all for marching

Our captain cries, Lads, all be ready
March, my boys, let’s all be steady
There’s every man with his ball and powder
And every lad his firelock on his shoulder

Love, farewell, darling, farewell
For we are all for marching

Hark, I hear the drums are beating
March, my boys, there’s no retreating
Drums are beating, colours flying
Cannons roaring, soldiers dying

Love, farewell, darling, farewell
For we are all for marching

Farewell my dear, since I must leave you
Do not let my absence grieve you
If you wait for my returning
I will [ease?] you of your mourning [moaning?]

Love, farewell, darling, farewell
For we are all for marching

[The final line is badly blotted in the broadside copy and difficult to read]

Lyrics - “Whiskey, You're A Villyan"

Published by J. Marsh at 1029 Chestnut St, Philadelphia, PA in 1865. Attributed to Frank Drew. The Library Company of Philadelphia Wolf 2602

Oh! Whiskey you’re a villyan, you led me astray
Over bogs, over briers, an’ out of my way
You wrastled me a fall, an’ you threw me to-day
But I’ll toss you to-morrow when I’m sober

Whiskey, you’re a villyan, &c.

Still Whiskey you’re my comfort, by night an’ by day
You’re stronger, an’ are sweeter, an’ spunkier than tay
One naggin o’ spirits is worth tons of Bohay

Whiskey, you’re a villyan, &c.

Sweet Whiskey, you’re a coaxer, I’d best keep away
If your lips I once taste, sure it’s wid you I’d stay
So I’ll make up my mind, an’ my mouth, too, this day
To drink no more Whiskey till I’m sober

Whiskey, you’re a villyan, &c.

So good bye, Whiskey, jewel, it’s the last word I’ll say
Shake hands and part friends, now I’ll stick to Bohay
There’s a bade on your lip! let me kiss it away
Acushla, you’re my darlin’, drunk or sober

Whiskey, you’re a villyan, &c.

Bohay, also spelled bohae, is a type of black tea. The same dumped in the Boston Tea Party.

Lyrics - “The Whiskey Song"
From the playing of Len Graham who learned it from Fintan McManus’s mother Rose McManus. The refrain is taken from “Whisky, You’re A Villyan”, but the verses are unique.

Oh, whiskey, oh, whiskey, you’ve led me astray
Over hedges and ditches and briars far away
If I rattled you I’d fall, but I own you won the day
I’ll meet you on some other early morning

As John walked o’er the floor to his mother he did say
“Oh, mother, dearest mother,” aye, and this to her did say
“Will you loan me a few shillings before I go away?
And I’ll pay you when I come back in the morning”

Oh, whiskey, oh, whiskey, you’ve led me astray
Over hedges and ditches and briars far away
If I rattled you I’d fall, but I own you won the day
I’ll meet you on some other early morning

“To loan you a few shillings it’s a thing I don’t intend
I never used the means that I ought to have done in time
And to loan you a few shillings, sure you know they are but few
I need them for the grocer in the morning”

Oh, whiskey, oh, whiskey, you’ve led me astray
Over hedges and ditches and briars far away
If I rattled you I’d fall, but I own you won the day
I’ll meet you on some other early morning

“Throw your coat around your shoulders and come along with me
We’ll join for a pint and we’ll have ourselves a spree
And when my money is all spent you’ll buy a pint for me
And we’ll all be in good humour in the morning”

Oh, whiskey, oh, whiskey, you’ve led me astray
Over hedges and ditches and briars far away
If I rattled you I’d fall, but I own you won the day
I’ll meet you on some other early morning

On looking o’er my shoulder and to my great surprise
The old lady with the pot-stick at me she made a rise
I jumped out of her road right manfully and this to her did say
“It’s a fine excuse for stopping out ’til morning!”

Oh, whiskey, oh, whiskey, you’ve led me astray
Over hedges and ditches and briars far away
If I rattled you I’d fall, but I own you won the day
I’ll meet you on some other early morning

Of all the good in whiskey that ever yet was known
It makes the girls so frisky and good about their own
The more that they drink of it, sure the less they think of home
I long to see my darling in the morning

Oh, whiskey, oh, whiskey, you’ve led me astray
Over hedges and ditches and briars far away
If I rattled you I’d fall, but I own you won the day
I’ll meet you on some other early morning

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About the Song:

“Whiskey, You’re the Devil,” as we know it today, dates back to at least 1873 with its earliest extant publishing by E. H. Harding in New York (LOC M2.3.U6A44). Jerry Barrington, described as “The Great Irish Vocalist” in the sheet music, is credited with having written and composed the song for James Bracken, Esq. of New York. While he may have adapted the song, it certainly wasn’t an entirely original composition.

In 1865, a song titled “Whiskey, You’re a Villyan” was published by J. Marsh in Philadelphia attributing Frank Drew as the writer and composer. As with most songs like this, there’s no written evidence that Barrington adapted his song from Drew’s, but the similarities are too close to think otherwise.

“Villyan”, in turn, seems to have descended from “Love Farewell.” A broadside c. 1790-1840 titled “John and Moll” puts this song comfortably before the former. Lewis S. Winstock dates “Farewell” to 1809 at the latest in his 1970 book Songs and Music of the Redcoats, noting that it was sung by the 88th Connaught Rangers as they parted for Walcheren. Winstock also says “Farewell” is based on an older yet broadside from England written during the American Revolution. Three verses are included, but no song title. The citation only says, “British Museum 1162.c.2.” Another book, Naval Songs and Ballads (Charles Harding Firth, 1909) also cites this number, but gives The Pretty Milkmaid’s Garland as a title. It’s possible Winstock’s aforementioned English ballad is also in Garland.

The first two verses could, according to Bennett Schwartz on the song’s Ballad Index entry, be referring to the Peninsular War (1807-1814, part of the Napoleonic Wars). However, with the singer being led by whiskey “over hills and mountains and to Americay, looking for a consistent narrative throughline would be a fruitless effort. 

Parent Songs: “Whiskey, You’re a Villyan”, “John and Moll”

Alternative Spellings: “Whisky, You’re the Divil”

Other titles: “Whiskey in the Jar” (Not to be confused with “Whiskey in the Jar“)

I learned this song from a live recording by The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem on their 1962 live album Hearty and Hellish!