The Parting Glass

The Parting Glass is one of my personal favourites. It seems that this song was also a favourite parting song at family and social gatherings in Scotland and in Ireland, and was sung long before Auld Lang Syne. I hadn’t heard it for a very long while and decided it merited inclusion in our Celtic Christmas album because of its haunting melody and beautifully crafted words –though the album has the instrumental version of it. It is a very old song – and although the first recorded printed version was as a broadside (or broadsheet) in the 1770s it was known since at least as early as 1605 when the first stanza was included in a letter written by one of the Border Reivers as a farewell before his execution. He had been involved in the murder of Sir John Carmichael, warden of the Scottish West March.
Now then, your friend and mine, the genius that was Robert Burns (and what a genius in my opinion – as a songwriter as well as a poet…) was born on January 25th 1759 – so this song easily predates Auld Lang Syne by at least 150 years.
The melody first makes its appearance in James Aird’s A Selection of Scots, English, Irish and Foreign Airs, vol. 2 (1782), with the name The Peacock. There are other names for the tune – but that’s nothing new in traditional music – half the fiddle tunes I play are known by alternative names and it’s no wonder: music in the oral tradition was passed on from musician to musician and by the very definition of the term ‘oral’ was not written down. Let me tell you it is dead easy to get the wrong name since there are sometimes a lot of similarities from one to another. Add to that sometimes a piece might be named after the musican that played or composed it – take Sonny Brogan’s Mazurka for example.
I have always thought it marvellous that a tune written so long ago can touch us today and convey emotional content and below I have transcribed the words. They are as beautiful, poignant and expressive as the lovely melody – whatever the name of it. Good night and Joy be to you all.

Of all the money that e’er I had
I spent it in good company
And all the harm I’ve ever done
Alas it was to none but me
And all I’ve done for want of wit
To mem’ry now I can’t recall
So fill to me the parting glass
Good night and joy be to you all

[Chorus]
So fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
And gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

Of all the comrades that e’er I had
They’re sorry for my going away
And all the sweethearts that e’er I had
They’d wish me one more day to stay
But since it fell unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

Fill to me the parting glass
And drink a health whate’er befalls
And gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

La La

But since it fell unto my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all

[Chorus]

Good night and joy be to you all.

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