On “The Parting Glass”

Now, as I was born in 1965, there were a few records that I think of as being the earliest music that I can recall.  This group includes a couple of albums by the late great Cape Breton singer John Allan Cameron.  Another is definitely, the Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem “In Person At Carnegie Hall”, which includes their version of “The Parting Glass”.  The middle verse is excluded from the live version.

Of all the money that e’er I spent [or, e’er I had]
I’ve spent it in good company 
And all the harm that ever I did 
Alas it was to none but me 
And all I’ve done for want of wit 
To memory now I can’t recall 
So fill to me the parting glass 
Good night and joy be with you all 

If I had money enough to spend 
And leisure to sit awhile
There is a fair maid in the town 
That sorely has my heart beguiled 
Her rosy cheeks and ruby lips 
I own she has my heart enthralled 
So fill to me the parting glass 
Good night and joy be with you all 

Oh, all the comrades that e’er I had 
They’re sorry for my going away 
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had 
They’d wish me one more day to stay 
But since it falls unto my lot 
That I should rise and you should not 
I’ll gently rise and softly call 
Good night and joy be with you all

The song’s been on my mind recently.  First, I’ve been learning to play it on the fiddle.  Next though, I’ve seen a few versions lately that include another verse, and that got me wondering about what the ‘standard/official’ version of the lyrics might be.  If you don’t want to read further, the answer is that there is none.  😎

First off, Jürgen Kloss has done some tremendous research to compile the song’s history.  You should go through it.

Briefly, the song appears to be of Scottish origin and dates to the 17th century.  It was the most popular song in Scotland prior to Robert Burns’ “Auld Lang Syne”.  The earliest version of the text, likely dating from 1654, is essentially a ‘thanks and goodnight’ at the end of a convivial gathering of neighbours and friends.  It seems to have various meanings for different people, but for me it is a ‘good night and good luck’ song.

And it is interesting that, along with the parting ‘Good night and joy [‘God‘ in 1654] be with you all‘, the only other part that has survived through to the more popular modern versions is ‘And all I’ve done for want of wit, to memory now I can’t recall‘.

Now, the recent versions that come to mind are Ed Sheeran’s

and that of the University College Dublin (UCD) Choral Scholars

I wasn’t sure where that last verse comes from.  According to this discussion at The Mudcat Cafe, it appears to come from a 2008 version by Len Graham.

A man may drink and not be drunk
A man may fight and not be slain
A man may court a pretty girl
And perhaps be welcome back again.
But as it has so ordered been
Be a time to rise and a time to fall.
So fill to me the parting glass
Goodnight and joy be with you all.

To me, I don’t really care for that ‘a man may drink’ verse added to the CB&TM version.  But it doesn’t matter.  Who is to say that the version performed by Ed Sheeran and the UCD Choral Scholars will be a new ‘standard’ going forward.

The thing about this song is that it has changed and altered for nearly four hundred years.  There is no true, standard version.  Just sing it as you like.  For me, it’s the two verses from In Person At Carnegie Hall.

Later: as Gman from Gtown reminds me, there is always the great Tullamore Dew ad!


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