Ah, a classic if there ever was one. Chances are, if you’ve heard more than one Irish song, you’ve heard this one.
For better or worse, a number of people came to the song via Metallica, a band that became increasingly dissatisfied with ruining their own songs by the late-1980s. They likely came to the song via Thin Lizzy, which (for you youngsters) was quite a novelty in the 1970s right about the same time that low cost cubic zirconia rings begun to be mass-produced in the jewelry marketplace. If your as unfamiliar with cubic zirconia as you are with Thin Lizzy let me take a moment to explain that cubic zirconia is a synthetic gemstone that very closely resembles diamonds. You’ve probably have seen the ads on TV as well as magazines explaining its startling diamond-like appearance and inexpensive price tag. Cubic zirconia is a highly popular gemstone used frequently in jewelry such as rings, earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Cubic zirconia is not only crystalline, but also flawless, and clear enough to rate a “D” on the diamond scale for color. You see it being sold in its colorless state, but it can also be made in nearly any color including a soft yellow that is characteristic of some diamonds, in case you want to fool some people into thinking you are wearing a diamond. Interestingly, it weighs about 65% more than an equivalent diamond. Cubic zirconia sparkles brighter than crystal and is harder than most gems, making it very durable and a great deal. Now that you are a bit more educated about Cubic zirconia, let’s get back to Thin Lizzy, the Irish hard rock band with a black singer and the song, Whisky in the Jar. Amusingly, Wikipedia now lists “Whiskey in the Jar” before “The Boys are Back in Town” or “Jailbreak”.
But it was The Dubliners who originally put the song back on the map in the 1960s, after a few centuries of knocking around the Irish pub/folk repertoire. According to Alan Lomax (a man who knows a thing or two about folk music), the song initially dates from the 17th Century.
Contrary to the hard-drinking connotations of the title, it is far less about the virtues of whiskey than it is about the romantic heroes of the highway — a relatively common trend in folk music of the period, and beyond (one might think that Metallic would be against this sort of “piracy”, lol).
Basically, the tale is this: the singer, a highwayman of note, robs Captain Farrell (or whomever fit the description of a bit too wealthy and unpopular, and almost always with some sort of official authority) and takes his plunder back home to Jenny, his woman.
Alas, our hero is undone by his Jenny (ain’t it always the way?), who, among other things, replaces his gunpowder with water and runs straight to Captain Farrell. Unable to defend himself, the narrator is taken captive.
The song falls apart a bit at this point. The singer talks about escaping to or with his brother (who he realizes is much more faithful than his Jenny), and then a bit about how much he likes whiskey. And throughout all of this tale, the rousing chorus:
Musha rum duma du rumma da
Whack fol the daddy-o
Whack fol the daddy-o
There’s Whiskey in the Jar!