The Parting Glass an Irish farewell

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The Parting Glass is a great example of that special quality found in the best farewell songs, being able to combine joy and sorrow in a way that is both sad yet uplifting at the same time.

It’s thought to have been a popular New Year’s Eve song in both Ireland and Scotland before it was superseded by Auld Lang Syne. The song may have fell out of use during New Year celebrations but it still remains popular in Ireland and throughout the world.

It’s a song of farewell, sung for and to close friends. It conjures up the same feeling as Shakespeare’s ‘parting is such sweet sorrow’. This Irish classic may make you cry, but in a moving and life-affirming way.

What is the once National Anthem of New Year’s Eve ballad all about? The singer must depart but where is he going? Does he simply have to leave the area or the town? Will he ever return? Or is he foreseeing that he does not have long to live and this really is the final farewell? It’s never made clear so we can interpret it in our own way, depending on what suits our circumstances at any given time.

No regrets for a life well spent: The opening verse makes it clear that this is a person who is comfortable with himself. He seems to have had a happy go lucky approach to life. He’s never had very much money but what he had he spent in good company.

It doesn’t sound like he’s the kind of person who ever did much wrong but, in any case, whatever harm he may have done, it was only to himself.

O’ Connell bridge

As for mistakes, he may have made several but he can’t remember them. It’s like an Irish forerunner to Edith Piaf’s Je ne regret rien (No Regrets).

Any mistakes he may have made, through want of wit or whatever, no longer matter. He can’t even remember them. All that matters is the here and now, the impending departure and the need to be at peace with friends.

The parting glass comes with a toast: good night and joy be with you all. They’re sorry for my going away. This is a popular man who is welcome wherever he goes. All the friends he has ever had are sorry when he leaves them; his many sweethearts always wished he could stay at least another day. But something is happening that is beyond his control. His comrades may stay but he must leave. He will do so with the kind of warmth and quiet dignity that we suspect has accompanied him all his life.

I gently rise and I softly call,

Goodnight and joy be with you all

Performances of the Parting Glass

The Parting Glass is one of many Irish songs that were made popular again in the folk revival of the 1950s and 60s. It will always be associated in many people’s minds with The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem who sang it as the final song at many of their concerts.


There’s a little glen in Ireland,

Where I buried father’s heart,

It always beat for Ireland,

When the world was torn apart,

The fabric of our nation,

Was rent and scattered seed,

Then hearts that bled for Ireland,

On foreign fields would bleed.

I know his heart is beating,

It welcomes every dawn;

To live in hearts we leave behind,

Is better than to mourn,

When lullabies of evening,

Are sung to lunar light,

The moon as it is rising,

Lights father’s heart at night.

Michael Walsh-McLaughlin

In honour of Patrick Roe McLaughlin

Son of Moville, Donegal.

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3 replies »

  1. My mother was a classically trained singer and pianist. As a girl she also learned how tp play the guitar extraordinarily well. On the piano she excelled with Bach fugues, singing Schubert Lieder was her favorite past time, but also tuning up the guitar and singing folk songs, including many french and irish ones. She loved Ireland and identified with the fate of the people at the hands of Cromwell. Her real passion, she once confided in me was to own an Irish harp and learn how to master it. The Irish harp is like a Steinweg grand piano, she used to say. Because of her I learned to love Corned Beef and Cabagge, sadly unavailable anywhere on earth, as far as I know. I will try to teach my chilean wife to cook it.

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