The Wild Rover

"The Wild Rover" (Roud 1173) is a popular English-language folk song.

The Wild Rover
CatalogueRoud 1173
Writtenc. 1500s


Historically, the song has been referred to in Irish folklore and, since the late sixteenth century, it has been noted in written records—although it is likely that some northern Atlantic fishing crews knew the song before these historical accounts were made. The song is a staple for artists performing live music in Irish pubs. It is often considered to be a drinking song rather than a temperance song. For many people, the Wild Rover is the stereotypical Irish drinking song.[1] In the twentieth century the location of the song became a major concern due to its popularity, spurring continued debate amongst several European nations.

"The Wild Rover" is the most widely performed Irish song, although its exact origins are unknown.[1]

The song tells the story of a young man who has been away from his hometown for many years. Returning 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 versionsEdit

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. (These figures may reflect collecting effort and collectors' taste rather than the distribution of singers who knew the song.)


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.

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.

The returning officers of the Oxford Union Society at the University of Oxford have long[vague] sung a version of The Wild Rover at the conclusion of the Election Count, with the lyrics edited to include reference to University life and "hacking".[citation needed]



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


  1. ^ a b "Wild Rover". Irish Music Forever. Archived from the original on 18 October 2012. Retrieved 29 October 2012.
  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. ^ "The Wild Rover (Roud Folksong Index S437206)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  7. ^ "Wild Rover (Roud Folksong Index S436702)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 22 February 2021.
  8. ^ "The Wild Rover (Roud Folksong Index S376852)". The Vaughan Williams Memorial Library. Retrieved 22 February 2021.

External linksEdit