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I'm making a choral arrangement of the Irish folk song "Rocky Road to Dublin." One variation of the lyrics is here. I've been able to decipher the meaning of most of the words, many of which were unfamiliar, but there are a couple of phrases I haven't figured out.

This is the chorus:

One two three four five,
Hunt the Hare and turn her down the rocky road
And all the way to Dublin, Whack fol lol le rah!

I had assumed this was all nonsense, other than "rocky road, all the way to Dublin," but I noticed that on that particular website "Hare" is capitalized. Is there a reason for that, and is there any meaning here?

Also, in verse 4, when the storyteller is in the hold of a ship, we have:

Down among the pigs, played some funny rigs,
Danced some hearty jigs, the water round me bubbling;

What are rigs? I can't find it now, but I recall once finding a source that listed "prank" as a definition for rig. That's my best guess, but the situation described is still a bit confusing. Can someone shed some light on this?

  • Welcome to English Language & Usage @Sam. These are interesting questions, but I suggest you edit so that there is only one question. Post other questions separately. – andy256 Jan 1 '15 at 8:05
  • Have you looked at the Wikipedia page for this song (<en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rocky_Road_to_Dublin>)? This provides some information which may help you with interpretation of the lyrics. I note on the WIKI page that "Hare" is not capitalized, so I suspect it may be an error in transcription onto the web page from which you found it. – brasshat Jan 1 '15 at 9:10
  • Might I suggest an "irish-english" tag? – Sam Kauffman Jan 8 '15 at 21:37
  • Huzzah! An "irish-english" tag now exists! – Sam Kauffman Aug 25 '15 at 22:27
  • Relevent Bellowhead-rigs-of-the-time-lyrics – Phil Sweet Aug 16 '18 at 0:46
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Hunt the Hare is the title of a traditional Irish jig. That's probably why it is capitalized. Reference: https://thesession.org/tunes/4426

You're right about rig, it's an archaic word for a trick or prank. From Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable:

Run a Rig (To).

To play a trick, to suffer a sportive trick. Thus, John Gilpin, when he set out, “little thought of running such a rig” as he suffered. Florio gives as a meaning of rig, “the tricks of a wanton;” hence frolicsome and deceptive tricks. The rig of a ship means the way it is rigged, hence its appearance; and, as pirates deceive by changing the rig of their vessel, so rig came to mean a trick to deceive, a trick, a frolicsome deception.

  • Ah, so the chorus is about dancing. That explains it. Thanks! – Sam Kauffman Jan 1 '15 at 18:33
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methinks ye all are overthinking this way too much and missing the simple context of the whole idea. When you consider the verse as a whole then it is easy to see that the phrase "played some hearty rigs" means the music played on an instrument; namely a guitar!

Then the next line makes complete sense of someone dancing(a jig) to that music. The next day he is hungover, and perhaps seasick from too much frolicking the night before.

Watch the YouTube video of Luke Kelley and the early Dubliners playing the Rocky Road to Dublin. Watching them execute this song with enthusiasm and the unparalleled mastery of lead singer Luke Kelly. They actually re-create the scene as they play and dance around.

  • So, in fact, a “rig” is a song played on fiddle, guitar, or other. The whole song, The Rocky Road to Dublin is known as an Irish slip-jig and is considered one of the more difficult types of song to sing. In Luke Kelley’s introduction to this song he states, “if you want to learn to speak proper English you must be able to recite the chorus after hearing it only once! “ – Marco Marcoco Aug 15 '18 at 23:29
  • Are you saying that the word "rig" can mean "song," or is it just used poetically to mean that? – Sam Kauffman Aug 17 '18 at 0:53

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