The Wild Rover

Last updated
The Wild Rover
Catalogue Roud 1173
Genre Folk

"The Wild Rover" (Roud 1173) is a very popular and well-travelled folk song. Many territories have laid claim to have the original version.



In 2015 the English Folk Song and Dance periodical "Folk Music Journal" vol 10 No 5 had an article by Brian Peters. [1] He claims that the origin of the song was a seventeenth century English Broadside written by Thomas Lanfiere. This evolved into several distinct versions. They have been found in England, Scotland, Ireland and North America. Shortly afterwards it became popular in Australia.

The song tells the story of a young man who has been away from his hometown for many years. When he returns to his former alehouse, the landlady refuses him credit, until he presents the gold which he has gained while he has been away. He sings of how his days of roving are over and he intends to return to his home and settle down.

Other overview or significant versions

According to Professor T. M. Devine in his book The Scottish Nation 1700 - 2000 (Penguin, 2001) the song was written as a temperance song. [2] The song is found printed in a book, The American Songster, printed in the US by W. A. Leary in 1845, and spread from Scotland to America from the temperance movement. There is another US printed version in the "Forget-Me-Not Songster" (c. 1850), published by Locke. An alternative history of the song is suggested by the fact that a collection of ballads, dated between 1813 and 1838, is held in the Bodleian Library. The printer, Catnach, was based in the Seven Dials area of London. The Bodleian bundle contains "The Wild Rover". [3] The Greig-Duncan collection contains no less than six versions of the song. It was compiled by Gavin Greig 1848–1917.

The song is number 1173 in the Roud Folk Song Index, which lists 200 versions, [4] many of which are broadsides, in chapbooks or song collections. About 50 have been collected from traditional singers. Of these, 26 were collected in England, 12 in Scotland, 3 in Ireland, 5 in Australia, 4 in Canada and 2 in the US.


Raymond Daly and Derek Warfield of The Wolfe Tones describe how the fans of Celtic Football Club in Scotland [5] sing The Wild Rover at away matches. The chorus is well known throughout most Irish, Irish-American and British cultures, even among people who have no knowledge of the rest of the song.

As with Celtic Football Club, the chorus is sung by football fans throughout England, usually with the words adapted to suit the team in question. It is most notably sung by fans of Burnley Football Club in England.

Many companies have also taken advantage of the tune's popularity and used it to advertise their products. Dairy Crest adapted the tune to advertise their Clover margarine in the UK. There have been so many recordings of the song that it would be inappropriate to list them all. One version was a hit single in the UK. The Irish punk band Stiff Little Fingers released an EP which included the song. It reached number 83 in 1989. [6]



The following recordings can be heard on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website:

It has also been performed and recorded by The Clancy Brothers with Tommy Makem on the 1965 album “Recorded Live in Ireland” and The Pogues in their 1984 album “Red Roses for Me”.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Barbara Allen (song)</span> Traditional ballad

"Barbara Allen" is a traditional folk song that is popular throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. It tells of how the eponymous character denies a dying man's love, then dies of grief soon after his untimely death.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lord Randall</span> Traditional song

"Lord Randall", or "Lord Randal", is an Anglo-Scottish border ballad consisting of dialogue between a young Lord and his mother. Similar ballads can be found across Europe in many languages, including Danish, German, Magyar, Irish, Swedish, and Wendish. Italian variants are usually titled "L'avvelenato" or "Il testamento dell'avvelenato", the earliest known version being a 1629 setting by Camillo il Bianchino, in Verona.

"Lily of the West" is a traditional British and Irish folk song, best known today as an American folk song, listed as number 957 in the Roud Folk Song Index. The American version is about a man who travels to Louisville and falls in love with a woman named Mary, Flora or Molly, the eponymous Lily of the West. He catches Mary being unfaithful to him, and, in a fit of rage, stabs the man she is with, and is subsequently imprisoned. In spite of this, he finds himself still in love with her. In the original version, the Lily testifies in his defense and he is freed, though they do not resume their relationship.

"The Daemon Lover" – also known as "James Harris", "A Warning for Married Women", "The Distressed Ship Carpenter", "James Herries", "The Carpenter’s Wife", "The Banks of Italy", or "The House-Carpenter" – is a popular ballad dating from the mid-seventeenth century, when the earliest known broadside version of the ballad was entered in the Stationers' Register on 21 February 1657.

"Foggy Dew" or "Foggy, Foggy Dew" is an English folk song with a strong presence in the South of England and the Southern United States in the nineteenth century. The song describes the outcome of an affair between a weaver and a girl he courted. It is cataloged as Laws No. O03 and Roud Folk Song Index No. 558. It has been recorded by many traditional singers including Harry Cox, and a diverse range of musicians including Benjamin Britten, Burl Ives, A.L. Lloyd and Ye Vagabonds have arranged and recorded popular versions of the song.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Matty Groves</span> Traditional English ballad

"Matty Groves", also known as "Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard" or "Little Musgrave", is a ballad probably originating in Northern England that describes an adulterous tryst between a young man and a noblewoman that is ended when the woman's husband discovers and kills them. It is listed as Child ballad number 81 and number 52 in the Roud Folk Song Index. This song exists in many textual variants and has several variant names. The song dates to at least 1613, and under the title Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard is one of the Child ballads collected by 19th-century American scholar Francis James Child.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Raggle Taggle Gypsy</span> Traditional folk song

"The Raggle Taggle Gypsy", is a traditional folk song that originated as a Scottish border ballad, and has been popular throughout Britain, Ireland and North America. It concerns a rich lady who runs off to join the gypsies. Common alternative names are "Gypsy Davy", "The Raggle Taggle Gypsies O", "The Gypsy Laddie(s)", "Black Jack David" and "Seven Yellow Gypsies".

The Roud Folk Song Index is a database of around 250,000 references to nearly 25,000 songs collected from oral tradition in the English language from all over the world. It is compiled by Steve Roud, a former librarian in the London Borough of Croydon. Roud's Index is a combination of the Broadside Index and a "field-recording index" compiled by Roud. It subsumes all the previous printed sources known to Francis James Child and includes recordings from 1900 to 1975. Until early 2006, the index was available by a CD subscription; now it can be found online on the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library website, maintained by the English Folk Dance and Song Society (EFDSS). A partial list is also available at List of folk songs by Roud number.

"The Twa Sisters" is a traditional murder ballad, dating at least as far back as the mid seventeenth century. The song recounts the tale of a girl drowned by her jealous sister. At least 21 English variants exist under several names, including "Minnorie" or "Binnorie", "The Cruel Sister", "The Wind and Rain", "Dreadful Wind and Rain", "Two Sisters", "The Bonny Swans" and the "Bonnie Bows of London". The ballad was collected by renowned folklorist Francis J. Child as Child Ballad 10 and is also listed in the Roud Folk Song Index. Whilst the song is thought to originate somewhere around England or Scotland, extremely similar songs have been found throughout Europe, particularly in Scandinavia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Young Beichan</span> Traditional song

"Young Beichan", also known as "Lord Bateman", "Lord Bakeman", "Lord Baker", "Young Bicham" and "Young Bekie", is a traditional folk ballad categorised as Child ballad 53 and Roud 40. The earliest versions date from the late 18th century, but it is probably older, with clear parallels in ballads and folktales across Europe. The song was popular as a broadside ballad in the nineteenth century, and survived well into the twentieth century in the oral tradition in rural areas of most English speaking parts of the world, particularly in England, Scotland and Appalachia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lord Thomas and Fair Annet</span> Traditional song

Lord Thomas and Fair Annet, also known as Lord Thomas and Fair Eleanor, is an English folk ballad.

The Farmer's Curst Wife is a traditional English language folk song listed as Child ballad number 278 and number 160 in the Roud Folk Song Index.

"The Knight and the Shepherd’s Daughter" is an English ballad, collected by Francis James Child as Child Ballad 110 and listed as number 67 in the Roud Folk Song Index.

"Edward" is a traditional murder ballad existing in several variants, categorised by Francis James Child as Child Ballad number 13 and listed as number 200 in the Roud Folk Song Index. The ballad, which is at least 250 years old, has been documented and recorded numerous times across the English speaking world into the twentieth century.

"The Trees They Grow So High" is a British folk song. The song is known by many titles, including "The Trees They Do Grow High", "Daily Growing", "Long A-Growing" and "Lady Mary Ann".

"The Bonny Bunch of Roses" is a folk song written in the 1830s by an unknown balladeer from the British Isles, perhaps with Irish sympathies.

"Jack Monroe", also known as "Jack Munro", "Jack-A-Roe", "Jackaro", "Jacky Robinson", "Jackie Frazier" and "Jack the Sailor", is a traditional ballad which describes the journey of a woman who disguises herself as the eponymous character to board a sailing ship and save her lover, a soldier.

The Lark in the Morning is an English folk song. It was moderately popular with traditional singers in England, less so in Scotland, Ireland and the United States. It starts as a hymn to the ploughboy's life, and often goes on to recount a sexual encounter between a ploughboy and a maiden resulting in pregnancy.

The Golden Glove is an English folk song also popular in Scotland, Ireland and North America. It tells the tale of a young woman who falls in love with a farmer and devises a somewhat far-fetched ruse to win his love. This song is also known as Dog and Gun and The Squire of Tamworth


  1. "Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads". 12 November 2015. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  2. "Whisky's awa'". Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  3. "Bodleian Library Broadside Ballads". 12 November 1997. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  4. "Vaughan Williams Memorial Library - Search".
  5. Celtic and Ireland in Song and Story, pub Studio Print, 2008 pp361
  6. "Discography". Official website. Retrieved 28 August 2022.
  7. "The Wild Rover (Roud Folksong Index S437206)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  8. "Wild Rover (Roud Folksong Index S436702)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  9. "The Wild Rover (Roud Folksong Index S376852)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 22 February 2021.