Rocky Road to Dublin

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"Rocky Road to Dublin" is a fast-paced 19th century Irish song about a man's experiences as he travels to Liverpool in England from his home in Tuam in Ireland. It is often performed instrumentally.


The words were written by D.K. Gavan, "The Galway Poet", for the English music hall performer Harry Clifton (1824-1872), who popularised the song.[1][2]

The song describes the many troubles and travails that the protagonist encounters on this travels. At the beginning of the songs, the protagonist of the story states that he is "off to reap the corn" or intending to become a migrant agricultural labourer. He begins his journey by bidding farewell to his family and friends. He leaves his hometown of Tuam on foot, resting in Mullingar where the local women make fun of his clothes. He next arrives in the Irish capital city Dublin, but is robbed of his meagre possessions, but struggles to find the thief and is mocked for his Connacht accent ("Connacht brogue wasn't much in vogue", The term brogue generally refers to an Irish accent). He hops a ship in the harbour headed for England, and is placed in the hold with the pigs where he experiences severe sea sickness off the coast of Holyhead, Wales. He arrives in the English city Liverpool where he is mocked by the locals because of his Irishness. He engages them in a fight using his blackthorn shillelagh, but is outnumbered until a group of Irishmen from County Galway come to his rescue ("join in the affray"), the first people who have helped him on his voyage.


The tune uses Dorian mode. It has a typical Irish rhythm, classified as a slip (or hop) jig in 9/8 timing. An extra beat or two between chorus and verse is often added. Sometimes, the final line in the verses is sung with 7 strong musical beats (9/8 + 12/8):

And frighten all the dogs on the rocky road to Dublin. (every strong musical beat is in bold)

Rather than with 6 strong musical beats (9/8 + 9/8):

And frighten all the dogs on the rocky road to Dublin.


There are many variations in the lyrics depending on the singer. For instance "June" in the first line is often replaced by "May". Most interpretations of the twentieth century omit the second and antepenultimate couplets, and replace the original chorus by the following:

One two three four five,
Hunt the hare and turn her down the rocky road
And all the way to Dublin, whack-fol-la-de-da !


The song is partially recited several times by Mr. Deasy in James Joyce's novel Ulysses.

The song serves as the first movement of Peter Graham's composition Gaelforce, which exists in versions for brass band (2000, commissioned by Foden's Band)[4] and concert band (2001).[5] The main theme and chorus are repeated four times, rather than five as in most modern vocal performances.



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