Colonel Farrell and the Teapot- – -
by Jim Remington – - -

One of the most common Irish ballads is a song called “Whiskey in the Jar”. The song has been performed and recorded by many different artists including the Dubliners, the Pogues, Thin Lizzy, Metallica (really!), and Celtic Thunder. Even the great piper Seamus Ennis took at whack at it. The song is set in the Cork and Kerry Mountains and although there are many versions the basic story line stays about the same. A highwayman robs the Colonel (or Captain) makes off with the loot to his sweetie who puts water in his gunpowder and turns him in to Colonel/ Captain Farrell. The song is told by the highwayman who regrets the whole episode especially the possibility of long prison time or hanging. We’re not sure but the girlfriend and Colonel/Captain Farrell may have become an item. The song has a wonderful nonsense type chorus (“Musha ringum durum da, Whack fo’l the daddy-o, whack fo’l the daddy-o, there’s whiskey in the jar”) and a great foot stomping, hand clapping audience participation part. All and all lots of fun and a great crowd pleaser. But my favorite version by far is one that was sung on a bus going between Cork and Killarney. It was not sung by Metallica.
I was on an extended stay in Ireland and on a tight budget so I was traveling either by hitching or public transportation – both are great ways to get around the country on a shoestring and meet your average Mick. I love traveling in Ireland this way. On a particular part of the journey I was traveling between Cork City and Killarney to do some roaming around Macgillycutty’s Reeks, a remote area on the Ring of Kerry. I was traveling on an older model public transportation bus which means almost anything can happen and you plan for any outcome. A sleeping bag is handy. We were well into the mountains, that is the Cork and Kerry Mountains, when the bus driver announced that the engine was overheating and we needed to stop for some water to add to the radiator. No big problem – there’s water everywhere in Ireland! The driver managed to pull off the very narrow road in front of an ancient looking farmhouse. He turned the engine off and walked up to the farmhouse. The door was opened and the bus driver was in. Being a bus full of Irish (I think I may have been the only Yank) there was no shortage of conversation. But just as if it was written in the script, someone slowly started to sing the first verse of “Whiskey in the Jar”. “As I was going over the Cork and Kerry Mountains…”. The voice was a beautiful Irish tenor and everyone immediately grew quiet. The song unfolded, without missing a word, to the chorus and right on cue the whole bus sang out the whacky infectious chorus including the foot stomping, hand clapping. What a performance! Every verse was taken by the soloist and it was as if this had been practiced beforehand. But this was Ireland and they know their music. Meanwhile, while the passengers were in full vocal ecstasy, the bus driver was filling the radiator – from a very small teapot! Apparently that was all the woman of the house had handy. The driver made trip after trip with a smile on his face adding maybe a pint at a time. You had to see the humor in what he was doing while accompanied by the bus full of splendid singers banging out “Whiskey in the Jar”. The chorus was repeated on and on until the driver was finished. When the driver entered the bus, to applause, he congratulated us on our fine singing style. He did mention something about not quitting our day jobs.
We made it to Killarney without further delay. I got to hike around the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks which were moody, remote and spectacular; a story in themselves. I think I hummed “Whiskey in the Jar” non-stop for the next two weeks I trekked. I still get a smile on my face when I hear the slightest part of that song. And the teapot still cracks me up!

Jim Remington is a teacher and director at the Lakewood School of Music in Lakewood, CO, and lives with his wife, 2 horses and 2 dogs in the Wet Mountain Valley near Westcliffe, CO. Jim can be reached at: [email protected]

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