Lillibulero

In reply to a fairly recent comment, I happened to mention the fact that I could remember the BBC World Service using the tune LILLIBULERO before news broadcasts. (I understand that a shortened version is still sometimes played just before the hourly news bulletin.) The World Service has been using the tune since the Second World War, and various attempts to change it or remove it altogether have been resisted by regular listeners.

The tune dates back to the time of the English Civil War, but the song became very popular before, during, and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when the following anti-Catholic words were set to it.

Ho, brother Teague*, dost hear the decree?
Lillibullero bullen a la
We are to have a new deputy
Lillibullero bullen a la

Refrain:
Lero Lero Lillibullero
Lillibullero bullen a la
Lero Lero Lero Lero
Lillibullero bullen a la

Oh by my soul it is a Talbot
Lillibullero bullen a la
And he will cut every Englishman’s throat
Lillibullero bullen a la

Refrain

Now Tyrconnell is come ashore
Lillibullero bullen a la
And we shall have commissions galore
Lillibullero bullen a la

Refrain

And everyone that won’t go to Mass
Lillibullero bullen a la
He will be turned out to look like an ass
Lillibullero bullen a la

Refrain

Now the heretics all go down
Lillibullero bullen a la
By Christ and St Patrick’s the nation’s our own
Lillibullero bullen a la

Refrain

There was an old prophecy found in a bog
Lillibullero bullen a la
The country’d be ruled by an ass and a dog
Lillibullero bullen a la

Refrain

Now this prophecy is all come to pass
Lillibullero bullen a la
For Talbot’s the dog and Tyrconnell’s the ass
Lillibullero bullen a la

Refrain

* Teague or Taig was – and is – a very derisive term for Irish Catholics.


I always knew that LILLIBULERO was a Protestant song, but never realised how anti-Catholic its lyrics were until I actually read them.

In light of this I would like to state that I have written this blog entry because of the historical importance of the tune, and not because I support the Protestant cause or espouse an anti-Catholic point-of-view.


The tune LILLIBULERO still has resonance with those people who continue to hold anti-Catholic views, and some of them can still be heard singing the following song – THE PROTESTANT BOYS – to the tune during the so-called ‘marching season’ in Northern Ireland.

The Protestant Boys are loyal and true
Stout hearted in battle and stout-handed too
The Protestant Boys are true to the last
And faithful and peaceful when danger has passed
And Oh! they bear
And proudly wear
The colours that floated o’er many a fray
Where cannons were flashing
And sabres were clashing
The Protestant Boys still carried the day

When James half a bigot, and more of a knave
With masses and Frenchmen the land would enslave
The Protestant Boys for liberty drew
And showed with the Orange the banner of Blue
And Derry well
Their might can tell
Who first in their ranks did the Orange display
The Boyne had no shyers
And Aughrim no flyers
And Protestant Boys still carried the day

When treason was rampant and traitors were strong
And law was defied by a vile rebel throng
When thousands were banded the throne to cast down
The Protestants rallied and stood by the Crown
And oft in fight
By day and night
They countered the rebels in many a fray
Where red pikes were bristling
And bullets were whistling
The Protestant Boys still carried the day

And still does the fame of their glory remain
Unclouded by age and undimmed by a stain
And ever and ever their cause well uphold
The cause of the true and the trusted and bold
And scorn to yield
Or quit the field
While over our heads the old colours shall play
And traitors shall tremble
When’ er we assemble
For Protestant Boys shall carry the day

The Protestant Boys are loyal and true
Though fashions are changed and the loyal are few
The Protestant Boys are true to the last
Though cowards belie them when danger has past
Aye still we stand
A loyal band
And reck not the liars whatever they say
For let the drums rattle
The summons to battle
The Protestant Boys must carry the day

It shows that over three hundred years after the events that are remembered in this song, the power of words and music to reinforce people’s political and religious views remains potent.


Some somewhat less contentious (except – I suspect – to some ale and beer drinkers) are the lyrics of NOTTINGHAM ALE, which was also set to the tune of LILLIBULERO.

When Venus, the goddess of beauty and love
Arose from the froth that swam on the sea
Minerva sprang out of the cranium of Jove
A coy, sullen dame as most mortals agree
But Bacchus, they tell us, that prince of good fellows
Was Jupiter’s son, pray attend my tale
They who thus chatter mistake quite the matter
He sprang from a barrel of Nottingham Ale

Nottingham Ale, me boys, Nottingham Ale
No liquor on earth is like Nottingham Ale
Nottingham Ale, me boys, Nottingham Ale
No liquor on earth is like Nottingham Ale

You bishops and curates, priests, deacons and vicars
When once you have tasted, you all must agree
That Nottingham Ale is the best of all liquors
And none understands a good creature like thee.
It dispels every vapour, saves pen, ink and paper
For when you’ve a mind in your pulpit to rail
It’ll open your throats, you may preach without notes
When inspired with a bumper of Nottingham Ale.

Ye poets who pray on the Hellican brooke
The nectar of Gods and the juice of the vine,
You say none can write well except they invoke
The friendly assistance of one of the Nine.
His liquor surpassed the streams of Parnassus
That nectar, Ambrosia, on which Gods regale
Experience will show it, naught makes a good poet
Like quantum sufficients of Nottingham Ale.

And you doctors, who more executions have done
With powder and potion and bolus and pill
Than hangman with halter, or soldier with gun
Miser with famine or lawyer with quill
To dispatch us the quicker, you forbid us malt liquor
Till our bodies consume, and our faces grow pale
Let him mind you, who pleases, what cures all diseases
A plentiful glass of good Nottingham Ale.

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14 Comments on “Lillibulero”

  1. A really interesting post, thank you. I always knew about Lillibulero as a song from King Billy's side of the Glorious Revolution/Williamite Wars in Ireland. One forgets just how sectarian the words to the tune are (though they are from a much different time to now). One would have thought that the BBC World Service would have dropped the shortened version of the tune by now, though then again the BBC still persists in using the term “The Republic of Ireland”, rather than the official name of the state which is Ireland. Plus ca change…

  2. The Wilde Goose,

    I had no idea what the lyrics were before I stumbled upon them … and then realised how sectarian they were.

    The BBC is a very conservative organisation and hates to change … but its listeners are even worse. When the BBC tried to stop using 'Lillibulero' there were numerous protests … and they had to keep using it.

    All the best,

    Bob

  3. arthur1815 says:

    Bob,

    Lillibulero is also the quick march of the Corps of Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, in which my father served in the Malayan Campaign.

    Since – AFAIK – the vast majority of people have no idea of the original words/context of the tune, to suggest that it not be played to avoid offence would be as ridiculous as suggesting that we should no longer play the National Anthem because the original words (c.1715)included the following:

    God grant that Marshal Wade
    May by thy mighty aid
    Victory bring.
    May he sedition hush,
    On like a torrent rush,
    Rebellious Scots to crush,
    Great George is King!

    and it might upset the SNP…

    I, personally, shall continue to whistle it whenever I please.

    Arthur

  4. Arthur1815,

    I never knew that 'Lillibulero' was the REME's quick march. Thanks for that interesting little fact.

    I agree about most people not knowing – or even caring – what the original lyrics of 'Lillibulero' are. Regardless of their sectarian origins, the tune will still remain one of my favourites.

    The 'missing' verse of the National Anthem does have some interesting words. I wonder if singing them regularly at public events in the run up to September would ensure that the SNP got the result in the vote that they want?

    All the best,

    Bob

  5. rogerbw says:

    Plenty of other verses of the National Anthem are doing down someone or other. I see nothing wrong with this verse which is essentially never used now:

    “O Lord our God arise,
    Scatter her enemies,
    And make them fall:
    Confound their politics,
    Frustrate their knavish tricks,
    On Thee our hopes we fix:
    God save us all.”

    (after all, the point of the song is that you're saying “yay for us, down with everybody else”) but I can quite see that there's not much call for:

    “From France and Pretender
    Great Britain defend her,
    Foes let them fall;
    From foreign slavery,
    Priests and their knavery,
    And Popish Reverie,
    God save us all.”

    As for Lillibullero, “The tune dates back to the time of the English Civil War, but the song became very popular before, during, and after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.” If we're going to consider banning every song that's been re-written with political lyrics, then we'll need to look at pretty much every Irish folk song too (that's where the American Civil War got most of its tunes).

  6. Rogerbw,

    I have actually sung the first verse of the National Anthem that you quote … but not the second one.

    I agree that the lyrics of old songs should not be banned just because attitudes have changed and the world has moved on. They are an easily accessible historical source of political and social attitudes.

    That said, there are moves afoot to try to ban all sorts of media that do not 'comply' with modern mores and attitudes. I have heard it suggested that old films that show actors smoking should not be shown before the TV watershed, and the recent sacking of a BBC DJ who included a song on his show that had the n-word in it (the recording was 82 years old!) is indicative of some attempts to make the past comply with the present.

    Perhaps George Orwell was right. PC language is not that far removed from Newspeak and re-writing history to serve a current political view could easily happen.

    All the best,

    Bob

  7. That said, I don't really mind the tune, and it doesn't offend me. I much prefer the Nottingham beer connection to King Billy 😉

  8. rogerbw says:

    At the IWM Duxford, there's a reconstruction of how the operations room would have looked during the war. A lot of trouble has been gone to to get it accurate in every detail.

    Except that all the ashtrays have been removed.

  9. Dr Vesuvius says:

    Just a quick note – although you're right in saying teague and taig are generally derisive terms for Irish Catholics, they have also at times been used as self identifiers, in the same way that some African Americans have “taken back” the N-word, or the LGBT community use the word “queer”. As a first generation Anglo-Irish Catholic, I have no qualms about referring to my VSF Fenian army as “the Taigs” when appropriate.

    Reading those lyrics though, it struck me that apart from the last two verses (about the prophecy of the dog and the ass) it all sounds like something an Irishman of the times could fully get behind. English throats being slit? Protestants cast out like asses? “By Christ and St Patrick the nation's our own.” All sounds great to my Fenian ears.

    It leaves me wondering if this song actually originated on the other side of the sectarian divide and was later subverted by the addition of those last two verses. There are precedents for propaganda songs being adapted and adopted by both sides of a conflict.

  10. The Wilde Goose,

    I tend to agree with you … and I wonder if the NOTTINGHAM ALE lyrics were part of an advertising campaign.

    All the best,

    Bob

  11. Rogerbw,

    Do you think that they were not there because of the perceived 'positive image' that they might have engendered regarding smoking … or because visitors might have used them?

    I suspect that the former is the truth … but the latter will be the justification given.

    All the best,

    Bob

  12. Dr Vesuvius,

    After your comment I re-read the lyrics … and agree that they could easily be seen as supporting the cause of Ireland. I suppose that it could easily have been a song that crossed the divide, with each side singing slightly different lyrics. It had certainly happened before.

    The problem with certain words – such as the n-word – is whether or not it is all right for certain people to use it, but for others to be banned from doing so. My opinion is that if the word is unacceptable because it is racist or sexist or genderist (is that a real word?), it is unacceptable that anyone use it, regardless of of their ethnicity or sexual orientation.

    All the best,

    Bob

  13. rogerbw says:

    Bob, I thought of that, but you can't get inside the reconstruction itself, just look at it from the public walkway.

  14. Rogerbw,

    I must make sure that I go to see it the next time I visit Duxford.

    All the best,

    Bob


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