All among the barley

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The eternal dance of the seasons, a hymn to party toasting with the “barley juice” !! “All among the barley” is a hymn to agriculture for the processing of a cereal at the base of nutrition, but above all because of its fermentation you get two of the favorite drinks from the Irish: beer and whiskey!

The origin of this song is uncertain, the musical arrangement is by Elizabeth Stirling that on 1849 wins a prize offered by Novello for publication on the Part-Song Book.
Elizabeth Stirling (1819 – 1895) studied music in Oxford at a time when women were not allowed to take a degree and she is famous for having played the ballad in question. The attribution of the composer of the text “Ripe And Bearded Barley” which is referred to as A. T. remains open.


The song is mostly performed by choirs with arrangements for three or four voices
Singing Milkmaids from On the Wash 2005

But there is no shortage of folk versions with vocals and instruments

Helena Ward
2018  ( II and III) for Melissa Harrison‘s book All Among the Barley (see)

Spring Barley 2017

Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts from Shadows & Half Light 2008 (fiddle and voice) 

Solstice Assembly with the title “The Ripe and Bearded Barley” from Some Assembly Required 1992

Paddy Tutty from Prairie Druid 1992


All among the barley,
who would not be blithe?
When the ripe and bearded barley
is smiling on the scythe.
Now is come September,
the hunter’s moon(1) begun,
And through the wheaten stubble
is heard the frequent gun.
The leaves are pale and yellow,
and kindling into red,
And the ripe and bearded barley
is hanging down its head.
The spring is like a young man
who does not know his mind.
The summer is a tyrant
of most ungracious kind.
The autumn’s like an old friend,
who loves one all she can,
And she brings the bearded barley
to glad the heart of man.
The wheat is like a rich man,
it’s sleek and well-to-do.
The oats are like a pack of girls, laughing and dancing, too.
The rye is like a miser,
it’s sulky, lean and small,
And the ripe and bearded barley
is monarch(2) of them all.
IV (additional verse Tinkers Bag)
Now in comes Old Man Winter,
with frost and wind and rain
The snow upon the hanging bough, and ice out in the lane.
And we around the fire sit,
while bitter winds do wail
And drink to old John Barleycorn(3), his own good nut brown ale.

1) In the Anglo-Saxon countries there is the habit of giving a name to every full moon of the month. Generally the full moon of September is called “harvest” (or full moon of wheat or barley) the one closest to the equinox. But here as in Italy too it is called the hunter’s moon. In America, on the other hand, the moon of the hunter or of the blood is the full moon of October.
2) beer and whiskey are made from the barley !!
3) the personification of the spirit of the wheat (see)


Good luck to the barley mow

Leggi in italiano

A popular drinking song from rural England, Ireland and Scotland (and the Americas) that could not miss after the “crying of the neck” or during a “Harvest supper“; this auspicious song is also a tavern game: the most common form of the game sees only one singer, while the audience lifts the glass to drink twice in the refrain responding to the auspicious verse with a joyful “Good luck!”; in the second version a soloist intones the first stanza and all the participants sing in chorus the progressive refrain, whom that mistakes the words, or takes a breath to sing, must drink. Obviously the goal of the game is to drink more and more, as you make mistakes!

Harvest Scene, Barrow-on-Trent, Derbyshire, George Turner II 1881


The song is very ancient as the rituals inherent to the harvest of wheat / barley are ancient (see traditional methods); the first known publication dates back to 1609, in the Deuteromelia by Thomas Ravenscroft, with the title “Give Us Once A Drinke” is transcribed as it was sung in the Elizabethan taverns.

The song started with:
“Give us once a drink for and the black bole(1)
Sing gentle Butler(2) “balla moy”(3)
For and the black bole,
Sing gentle Butler balla moy”
and it ended with:
“Give us once a drink for and the tunne
Sing gentle Butler balla moy
The tunne, the butt The pipe, the hogshead The barrel, the kilderkin The verkin, the gallon pot The pottle pot, the quart pot, The pint pot,
for and the black bole
Sing gentle Butler balla moy”

1) What were the beer glass like in medieval taverns? The three most common materials at the time were metal (pewter), glass and ceramics. In Italy in the fourteenth century, for example in the taverns, glass was more common. Here we quote a black bowl that makes one think more properly of a dark bowl or cup, perhaps made of wood? In the wassaling songs, which are also very old, the material of the toast cups carved in the wood is often described. Later, the use of pewter is more likely.
2) bottler
3) the scholars believe it could be for ‘Bell Ami’, only later the song became part of the songs during the Harvest festival and the verse was changed to ‘Barley Mow’, others believe that it is a Mondegreen.


Over time, new strophes have been added and especially in the nineteenth century there are many transcriptions in the collections of old traditional songs such as in “Songs of the Peasantry of England”, by Robert Bell 1857 : This song is sung at country meetings in Devon and Cornwall, particularly on completing the carrying of the barley, when the rick, or mow of barley, is finished. On putting up the last sheaf, which is called the craw (or crow) sheaf, the man who has it cries out ‘I have it, I have it, I have it;’ another demands, ‘What have ’ee, what have ’ee, what have ’ee?’ and the answer is, ‘A craw! a craw! a craw!’ upon which there is some cheering,& c., and a supper afterwards. The effect of the Barley-mow Song cannot be given in words; it should be heard, to be appreciated properly, – particularly with the West-country dialect.
Robert Bell transcribes the widespread version in West England and also the variant sung in Suffolk

Here’s a health to the barley mow!
Here’s a health to the man
Who very well can
Both harrow and plow and sow!
When it is well sown
See it is well mown,
Both raked and gavelled clean,
And a barn to lay it in.
He’s a health to the man
Who very well can
Both thrash (1) and fan it clean!
1) in the Middle Ages there were two ways to separate the wheat grains from the ear: the farmer beat the sheaves with a stick or a whip or they were trampled by the draft animals.
The sifting: wheat and chaff were separated first by placing them in a sieve and then throwing them in the air (it must of course be a breezy day) the chaff flew away and the grain returned to the sieve.


The master of drinking Adriaen Brouwer (1606-1638)

The Barley Mow is one of the best-known cumulative songs from the English folk repertoire and was usually sung at harvest suppers, often as a test of sobriety. Alfred Williams, who noted a splendid set in the Wiltshire village of Inglesham some time prior to the Great War, wrote that he was “unable to fix its age, or even to suggest it, though doubtless the piece has existed for several centuries.” Robert Bell found the song being sung in Devon and Cornwall during the middle part of the 19th century, especially after “completing the carrying of the barley, when the rick, or mow, of barley is finished.” Bell’s comment that “the effect of The Barley Mow cannot be given in words; it should be heard, to be appreciated properly” is certainly true, and most singers who know the song pride themselves on being able to get through it without making a mistake.(Mike Yates)

So we toast to all the dimensions in which beer is marketed (and are indicated in all the existing measures in the past times from the barrel  to the “bowl” and to the health of all those who “manipulate” the beer and of all the “merry brigade” who drinks it!

Arthur Smith in’The Barley Mow’ (1955)  a typical pub in Suffolk in the fifties.See VIDEO: 

Irish Rovers

Here’s good luck to the pint pot,
good luck to the barley mow, (1)
Jolly good luck to the pint pot,
good luck to the barley mow;
Oh, the pint pot, half a pint, gill, (2) half a gill, quarter gill
Nipperkin (3) and a round bowl(4)
Here’s good luck, (5)
good luck, good luck
to the barley mow.
Here’s good luck to the half gallon, good luck to the barley mow,
Jolly good luck to the half gallon,
good luck to the barley mow;
Oh, the half gallon, pint pot, half a pint, gill, half a gill …
Here’s good luck to the gallon,
Here’s good luck to the half barrel,
Here’s good luck to the barrel,
Here’s good luck to the daughter(6),
Here’s good luck to the landlord,
Here’s good luck to the landlady,
Jolly good luck to the landlady,
Jolly good luck to the brewer, (7)
Here’s good luck to the company, good luck to the barley mow,
Jolly good luck to the company,
good luck to the barley mow;
Oh, the company, brewer, landlady, landlord, daughter, barrel,
Half barrel, gallon, half gallon, pint pot, half a pint, gill,
Half a gill, quarter gill, nipperkin and a round bowl,
Here’s good luck, good luck,
good luck to the barley mow.

1) [shout GOOD LUCK and drink a sip!]
2) they are all units of measure ordered by the largest (barrel) to the smallest (round bowl).
But as for all units of measurement of the peasant tradition there are local differences in the measured quantity
a gill is a half-pint in a northern pub, but a quarter-pint down south“.
3) “The nipperkin is a unit of measurement of volume, equal to one-half of a quarter-gill, one-eighth of a gill, or one thirty-second of an English pint.
In other estimations, one nip (an abbreviation that originated in 1796) is either one-third of a pint, or any amount less than or equal to half a pint
“.[wiki] “A nip was also used by brewers to refer to a small bottle of ale (usually a strong one such as Barley Wine or Russian Stout) which was sold in 1/3 pint bottles“.
4) “The round bowl” sometimes also “hand-around bowl”, “brown bowl” or “bonny bowl” could be the typical cup with which toasted in the wassailing evidently a unit of measure that has been lost over time.
5) [shout GOOD LUCK, drinking is optional!]
6) the daughter of the tavern owner or more generally she is a waitress serving at the tables
7) there are those who add “the slavey” and “the drayer” to the list; “slavery” means a servant and “the draye” is the one who pulls (or guides) the cart that is the man of deliveries that in fact supplies the tavern with beer. The name derives from the fact that once such a cart was wheelless and was dragged like a sled.



The draft beer is marketed in the Anglo-Saxon countries starting from the pint that in England and Ireland corresponds to 20 ounces (568 ml ie roughly 50cl). The American pint instead corresponds to 16 ounces; so the standard glass for beer contains exactly a pint (as we call Italian “big beer”); the shapes vary according to the time and the fashions, but the capacity of the glass is always a pint! A law by the British parliament in 1698 stated that “ale and beer” (ie beer without hops and beer with hops) must be served in public only in “pints, full quarts (two pints) * or multiples thereof”. The rule was further reiterated in 1824 by imposing the imperial unit as a unit of measure for all beverages. * The glass that contains 2 imperial pints (1.14 liters) is the yard or a narrow and long glass just a yard. Today with the adaptation to European regulations the British government has “restricted” the pint to “schooner” (as it is called in Australia, but we are still waiting for the nickname that will be given in England to the new measure!) The glass equal to 2/3 pint (400 ml)


A variant always from Suffolk

Well we ploughed the land and we planted it,
and we watched the barley grow.
We rolled it and we harrowed it
and we cleaned it with a hoe.(1)
Then we waited ‘til the farmer said,
“It’s time for harvest now.
Get out your axes and sharpen, boys,
it’s time for barley mow.”
Well, here’s luck to barley mow
and the land that makes it grow.
We’ll drink to old John Barleycorn(2),
here’s luck to barley mow.
So fill up all the glasses, lads,
and stand them in a row:
A gill, a half a pint, a pint, a pint and a quart and here’s luck to barley mow.
Well we went and mowed the barley
and we left it on the ground.
We left it in the sun and rain ‘til it was nicely brown.
Then one day off to the maltsters,
then John Barleycorn did go.
The day he went away, we all did say,
“Here’s luck to barley mow.”
Have no fear of old John Barleycorn
when he’s as green as grass.
But old John Barleycorn is strong enough
to sit you on your arse.
But there’s nothing better ever brewed
than we are drinking now,
Fill them up: we’ll have another round,
here’s good luck to barley mow.

1) weeding: cutting and shuffling of the ground for the most superficial part
2) John Barleycorn is the spirit of beer 


South Australia sea shanty

Leggi in italiano

Under the heading Codefish shanty we have two versions, one of Cape Cod and the other of South Australia: the titles are “Cape Cod girls” and “Rolling King” or “Bound for South Australia” (or simply “South Australia”).
Which of the two versions was born before is not certain, we can only detect a great variety of texts and also the combination with different melodies. At the beginning probably a “going-away song”, one of those songs that the sailors sang only for special occasions ie when they were on the route of the return journey.


“As an original worksong it was sung in a variety of trades, including being used by the wool and later the wheat traders who worked the clipper ships between Australian ports and London. In adapted form, it is now a very popular song among folk music performers that is recorded by many artists and is present in many of today’s song books.In the days of sail, South Australia was a familiar going-away song, sung as the men trudged round the capstan to heave up the heavy anchor. Some say the song originated on wool-clippers, others say it was first heard on the emigrant ships. There is no special evidence to support either belief; it was sung just as readily aboard Western Ocean ships as in those of the Australian run. Laura Smith, a remarkable Victorian Lady, obtained a 14-stanza version of South Australia from a coloured seaman in the Sailors’ Home at Newcastle-on-Tyne, in the early 1880’s. The song’s first appearance in print was in Miss Smith’s Music of the Waters. Later, it was often used as a forebitter, sung off-watch, merely for fun, with any instrumentalist joining in. It is recorded in this latter-day form. The present version was learnt from an old sailing-ship sailor, Ted Howard of Barry, in South Wales. Ted told how he and a number of shellbacks were gathered round the bed of a former shipmate. The dying man remarked: “Blimey, I think I’m slipping my cable. Strike up South Australia, lads, and let me go happy.” (A.L. Lloyd in Across the Western Plains from here)

This kind of songs were a mixture of improvised verses and a series of typical verses, but generally the refrain of the chorus was standardized and univocal (even for the obvious reason that it had to be sung by sailors coming from all the countries).
The length of the song depended on the type of work to be done and could reach several strophes. The song then took on its own life as a popular song in the folk repertoire.
The first appearance in collections on sea shanties dates back to 1881.

The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem 1962 the version that has been the model in the folk environment

Let’s see them in a pirate version in the TV adaptation of the “Treasure Island”

Johnny Collins, from “Shanties & Songs of the Sea” 1996

The Pogues

Gaelic Storm from Herding Cats (1999) they recall the version of the Pogues. It is interesting to compare the same group that has also tried with the arrangement of  Cape Code Girls.

In South Australia(1) I was born!
Heave away! Haul away!
South Australia round Cape Horn(2)!
We’re bound for South Australia!
Heave away, you rolling king(3),
Heave away! Haul away!
All the way you’ll hear me sing
We’re bound for South Australia!

As I walked out one morning fair,
It’s there I met Miss Nancy Blair.
I shook her up, I shook her down,
I shook her round and round the town.
There ain’t but one thing grieves my mind,
It’s to leave Miss Nancy Blair behind.
And as you wallop round Cape Horn,
You’ll wish to God you’d never been born!
I wish I was on Australia’s strand
With a bottle of whiskey in my hand

1) Land of gentlemen and not deportees, the state is considered a “province” of Great Britain
2) the ships at the time of sailing followed the oceanic routes, that is those of winds and currents: so to go to Australia starting from America it was necessary to dub Africa, but what a trip!!

3) Another reasonable explanation  fromMudcat “The chanteyman seems to be calling the sailors rolling kings rather that refering to any piece of equipment. And given that “rolling” seems to be a common metaphor for “sailing” (cf. Rolling down to old Maui, Roll the woodpile down, Roll the old chariot along, etc.) I would guess that he is calling them “sailing kings” i.e. great sailors. There are a number of chanteys which have lines expressing the idea of “What a great crew we are.” and I think this falls into that category.” (here)
Moreover every sailor fantasized about the meaning of the word, for example Russel Slye writes ” When I was in Perth (about 1970) I met an old sailor in a bar. I found he had sailed on the Moshulu (4 masted barque moored in Philly now) during the grain trade. I asked him about Rolling Kings. His reply (abridged): “We went ashore in India and other places, and heard about a wheel-rolling-king who was a big boss of everything. Well, when the crew was working hauling, those who wasn’t pulling too hard were called rolling kings because they was acting high and mighty.” So, it is a derogatory term for slackers. (from here).
And yet without going to bother ghostly Kings (in the wake of the medieval myth of King John and the fountain of eternal youth) the word could very well be a corruption of “rollikins” an old English term for “drunk”.
Among the many hilarious hypotheses this (for mockery) of Charley Noble: it could be a reference to Elvis Prisley!

There is also a MORRIS DANCE version confirming the popularity of the song

Codefish Cape Cod Girls