Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, the subject of the song.

Lillibullero (also spelled Lillibulero, Lilliburlero[1]) is a march that seems to have been known at the time of the English Civil War.[2] According to the BBC, it "started life as a jig with Irish roots, whose first appearance seems to be in a collection published in London in 1661 entitled 'An Antidote Against Melancholy', where it is set to the words 'There was an old man of Waltham Cross'."[3] The lyrics, generally said to be by Thomas, Lord Wharton, were set to the tune of an older satirical ballad.

The most popular lyrics refer to the Williamite war in Ireland 1689–91, a result of the Glorious Revolution. In this episode the Catholic King James II, unsure of the loyalty of his army, fled England after an invasion by Dutch forces commanded by the Protestant William III. William was invited by Parliament to the throne. James II then tried to reclaim the crown with the help of France and his Catholic devotees in Ireland led by Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell. His hopes of using Ireland to reconquer England were thwarted at the Battle of Aughrim during 1691. The song Lillibullero puts words into the mouths of Irish Catholic Jacobites and satirises the sentiments of the devotees of the Catholic King James. It was said to have 'sung James II out of three kingdoms'. Such was its dramatic success as propaganda that by 17 November an anti-Dutch parody of the original, "A New Song Upon the Hogen Mogens" was in circulation, drawing on popular animosity against the Dutch, who had been the national enemy for a generation, in order to counter the appeal of the original.[4]

The two broadsheet versions of the song current during October 1688 are attributed to the Whig politician Thomas Wharton, who had composed the words two years earlier during 1686 on the Earl of Tyrconnell's becoming Lord Deputy of Ireland.[5] The refrain has been interpreted as simply mock Irish nonsense words, but Professor Breandán Ó Buachalla has claimed that they are a garbled version of the Irish sentence "Leir o, Leir o, leir o, leiro, Lilli bu leir o: bu linn an la, " which he translates as "Manifest, manifest, manifest, manifest, Lilly will be manifest, the day will be ours" referring to a possible prophecy of Irish victory by the English seventeenth century astrologer William Lilly.[6]

A Scottish origin for the tune has been argued, as music for a rhyme called Jumping Joan or Joan's Placket.[7] The music has also been attributed to Henry Purcell. Although Purcell published Lillibullero in his compilation Music's Handmaid of 1689 as "a new Irish tune", it is probable that Purcell appropriated the tune as his own, a common practice of the time. It is the BBC World Service's signature tune. A French version is known as the Marche du Prince d'Orange, and is attributed to Louis XIV's court composers Philidor the Elder and Jean-Baptiste Lully.


Ho, brother Teague, dost hear the decree?
Lillibullero bullen a la
We are to have a new deputy
Lillibullero bullen a la
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
Now Tyrconnell is come ashore
Lillibullero bullen a la
And we shall have commissions galore
Lillibullero bullen a la
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
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
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
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

An explanation of the lyrics

The lyrics of the song are related to Irish politics of the 1680s and '90s. "Teague" or Taig was (and is) a derisive term for the Irish Catholics – derived from the Irish first name "Tadhg". The "new Deputy" refers to Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, who was appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland by James II during 1687. The first Irish Roman Catholic to have the post in nearly 200 years, he quickly filled the army in Ireland with Catholic officers (hence "we will have commissions galore") and recruits, alarming the Protestants and increasing the hopes of the Irish Catholic community for a restoration of their lands and political power ("by Christ and St Patrick, the nation's our own" – the reference may also be to Dublin's two Cathedrals: Christ Church – more properly Holy Trinity – and St Patrick's). The Catholic resurgence created fears amongst Irish Protestants of a massacre, similar to that which had happened in the Irish Rebellion of 1641.

The song parodies the widespread Irish belief in prophecy ("there was an old prophecy found in a bog, that Ireland'd be ruled by an ass and a dog"). Talbot, as well as being a name, is a breed of hound or hunting dog. A common theme of such prophecies was that the foreigners would be driven out of Ireland in some decisive battle. See the Siege of Limerick for an example of these attitudes. The song's title and the words of the refrain have been interpreted as a garbled version of the Irish words Lile ba léir é, ba linn an lá, "Lilly was clear and ours was the day". The lily may be a reference to the fleur de lis of France, or to the most celebrated astrologer of the mid seventeenth century, William Lilly, who became well known for prophesy at this time and to whom could readily be attributed foreknowledge that a Catholic would be king of England.[8] Alternatively, the lyrics could mean, "Lilly is clear [about this], the day will be ours". It is also thought that "Lilli" is a familiar form of William, and that bullero comes from the Irish "Buaill Léir ó", which gives: "William defeated all that remained".

The Protestant Boys

Other words have been set to the tune. Of these words, the best-known is The Protestant Boys, an Ulster Protestant folk lyric which is played by flute bands accompanying the Orange Order during Orange or band-only parades, which have been the subject of controversy during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. These lyrics begin:

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 cannon were flashing
And sabres were clashing
The Protestant Boys still carried the day.

Nottingham Ale

"Nottingham Ale" is an English drinking song sung to the tune of "Lillibullero"

The historian Blackner relates that a person of the name Gunthorpe who within living memory of persons then living [1815], kept the PunchBowl public house in Peck Lane Nottingham, sent a barrel of ale of his own brewing as a present to his brother, as an officer in the navy, and who in return composed this poetic epistle. It appears to have been a popular song around the end of the 19th century and was one which Goldsmith enjoyed especially when sung by one of the comic singers who frequented one of his haunts in London.

It was sung at the launching ceremony of " The Nottingham" an East Indiaman on March 7, 1787 at the Clevey's yard Gravesend. The ship was 1152 tons and had a crew of 144 and was one of the largest and fastest ever built.

Fair Venus, the goddess of beauty and love
Arose from the froth which swam on the sea
Minerva leapt out of the cranium of Jove
A coy, sullen slut, as most authors agree
Bold Bacchus, they tell us, the prince of good fellas
Was a natural son, pray attend to my tale
And they that thus chatter, mistake quite the matter
He sprung from a barrel of Nottingham Ale!
Nottingham Ale, boys, Nottingham Ale
No liquor on earth is like Nottingham Ale!
Nottingham Ale, boys, Nottingham Ale
No liquor on earth like Nottingham Ale!
And having survey'd well the cask whence he sprung
For want of more liquor, low spirited grew
He mounted astride to the jolly cask clung
And away to the gods and the goddess flew
But when he look'd down and saw the fair town
To pay it due honours, not likely to fail
He swore that on earth 'twas the town of his birth
And the best - and no liquor like Nottingham ale
Ye bishops and deacons, priests, curates and vicars
When once you have tasted, you'll own it is true
That Nottingham Ale, it's the best of all liquors
And who understands the good creature like you
It expels every vapour, saves pen, ink and paper
And when you're disposed from the pulpit to rail
T'will open your throats, you may preach without notes
When inspired with a bumper of Nottingham Ale
Ye doctors who more execution have done
With powder and bolus, with potion and pill
Than hangman with halter, or soldier with gun
Than miser with famine, a lawyer with quill
To dispatch us the quicker, you forbid us malt liquor
Till our bodies consume and our faces grow pale
But mind it what pleases and cures all diseases
Is a comfortable dose of good Nottingham Ale
Ye poets, who brag of the Helicon brook
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
Hers liquor surpasses the stream of Parnassus
The nectar Ambrosia, on which gods regale
Experience will show it, nought makes a good poet
Like quantum sufficit of Nottingham ale

Overtures from Richmond

Yet another set of lyrics[9] set to the tune at the time of the American Civil War is attributed to the ballad scholar Francis J. Child, born in Boston during 1825. It is a satire on Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy, and perhaps refers to the Hampton Roads Conference.

1. "Well, Uncle Sam," says Jefferson D.,
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"You'll have to join my Confed'racy,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, that don't appear-o,
That don't appear," says old Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
That don't appear," says old Uncle Sam.
2. "So, Uncle Sam, just lay down your arms,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"Then you shall hear my reas'nable terms,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, I'd like to hear-o
I'd like to hear," says old Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
I'd like to hear," says old Uncle Sam.
3. "First you must own I've beat you in a fight,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"then that I always have been in the right,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, rather severe-o,
rather severe," says old Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
Rather severe," says old Uncle Sam.
4. "Then you must pay my national debts,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"No questions asked about my assets,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, that's very dear-o,
That's very dear," says old Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
That's very dear," says old Uncle Sam.
5. "Also some few IOUs and bets,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"Mine, and Bob Toombs', and Sidell's and Rhett's,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, that leaves me zero,
That leaves me zero," says Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
That leaves me zero," says Uncle Sam.
6. "And by the way, one little thing more,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"You're to refund the costs of the war,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, just what I fear-o,
Just what I fear," says old Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
Just what I fear," says old Uncle Sam.
7. "Next you must own our Cavalier blood!"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"And that your Puritans sprang from the mud!"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, that mud is clear-o,
That mud is clear," says old Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
That mud is clear," says old Uncle Sam.
8. "Slavery's, of course, the chief corner-stone,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"Of our new civilisation!"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, that's quite sincere-o,
That's quite sincere," says old Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
That's quite sincere," says old Uncle Sam.
9. "You'll understand, my recreant tool,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"You're to submit, and we are to rule,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, aren't you a hero!
Aren't you a hero," says Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
Aren't you a hero," says Uncle Sam.
10. "If to these terms you fully consent,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam,
"I'll be perpetual King-President,"
Lilliburlero, old Uncle Sam.
"Lero, lero, take your sombrero,
Off to your swamps," says old Uncle Sam,
"Lero, lero, filibustero,
Cut, double quick!" says old Uncle Sam.

The BBC and Lillibullero

The tune of Lillibullero was adopted by the British Broadcasting Corporation's World War II programme Into Battle and became the unofficial march of the Commandos of the British Army. Since its association with the BBC's role in the war, various recordings of Lillibullero have been played by the BBC as an interval signal. These include a marching band and a symphony orchestra.

During the 1970s a rousing recording by the band of HM Royal Marines used just before the World Service News on the hour was replaced by a weaker and quieter version by a brass ensemble, on the grounds that the band record had worn out, however the Marines version was later reinstated. The most recent recording, written by David Arnold and performed by a string orchestra, was until recently played on the BBC World Service several times a day. A shortened version is currently sometimes played just before each hour before the news.[3]

A well-regarded argument for the persistence of Lillibullero as a distinctive tune of the BBC World Service was that its powerful and simple structure was an effective means of identifying the broadcaster. The engineers who selected it were unaware of its origins, though a BBC World Service history states that the choice of interval theme at the time was that of "the transmission engineers who found it particularly audible through short wave mush, and anyway [the BBC] knew it as a tune for the old English song "There was an old woman tossed up in a blanket, 20 times as high as the moon". Another likely reason for the particular choice of this tune during World War II is that its beginning bars sound the 'Victory V' rhythm (dit dit dit dah, repeated) i.e. the letter V in Morse code, which was used in various forms by the BBC in its home and foreign services."."[10]

The recently initiated BBC Persian TV service makes use of a re-mixed version of Lillibullero as the title theme for its music programmes. Both the music magazine and music documentaries[11] have cuts of the tune with Persian instrumental influence. It was also used for the BBC World Service Television service broadcast in Europe and Asia during the early 1990s.


Lillibullero is the (official) Regimental March of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (abbrev. REME). This Corps was established during the Second World War and so the BBC's official wartime use of Lillibullero described above may well have played a part in its selection by REME, but it seems more likely that the BBC's reliance on REME for its wartime development and coverage resulting in the BBC adopting the march about that time as a distinctive tune (as mentioned previously). This is borne out by the fact that the melody had long been in use in military music, and that the foundation of REME is inextricably associated with many of those regiments.

Lillibullero in fiction

Laurence Sterne's experimental and comic novel Tristram Shandy, published between 1759 and 1767 in nine volumes, hints at the great popularity of Lillibullero. Tristram's uncle, Captain Toby Shandy, a British Army veteran of the fighting in Ireland and the Low Countries during King William's reign, whistles the tune to Lillibullero when he is offered any opinion or argument which would require passionate rebuttal or which he finds embarrassing or upsetting.

In Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley, the highland Chieftain Fergus Mac-Ivor sings a verse of Lillibulero during a dinner before he and his comrades prepare for battle on the side of the Pretender.

In the penny serial Jack Sheppard or, London in the Last Century (1847), Mr. Wood attempts 'to whistle the fragment of an old air, called "Lillibulero"'.

One of the scoundrels in Robert Louis Stevenson's "Treasure Island" whistles the tune.

Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle also makes mention of Lillibulero's use as anti-Catholic propaganda.

In the movie Barry Lyndon (1975) Lillibullero is heard near the start as Barry's regiment assembles at Swords Castle to embark for the Seven Years' War.

The tune is used in The Last Man Out and Raid on Rommel.

The tune is used during the title credits in the period adventure East of Sudan (1964).

In Frederick Forsyth's novel The Afghan, one of the protagonists, Terry Martin, has Lillibullero as his ringtone on his mobile phone.

There Was An Old Woman

The 19th century nursery rhyme There Was An Old Woman Tossed Up in a Basket, published in the collection Mother Goose[12] is sung to the tune of Lillibulero.[13]

See also


  1. "Definition of Lilliburlero from the Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 6 August 2013.
  2. Macaulay's "History of England" vol.3 pg. 214
  3. 1 2 "What is the BBC World Service signature tune?". BBC. Retrieved 16 September 2016.
  4. Crump, Galbraith M. [ed], Poems on Affairs of State, Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660-1714. Vol IV, 1685-1688. Yale, New Haven and London, 1968, p.314
  5. Crump, Galbraith M. [ed], "Poems on Affairs of State, Augustan Satirical Verse, 1660-1714." Vol IV, 1685-1688. Yale, New Haven and London, 1968, p.311/2
  6. Ó Buachalla, Breandán "Lillibulero–The New Irish Song" Familia, Belfast, 1991, pp. 47-59.
  7. Stenhouse, John, Illustrations of the lyric poetry of Scotland, (1853), p.483-4: Strickland, Agnes, Lives of the Queens of Scotland, vol.7 (1858), p.487 footnote, notes an Oxford manuscript of the music for Jumping Joan in slow funereal tempo, claimed to have been played during the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots: Greig, G. R., Family History of England, vol.2 (1836), p.110-1, prints tune said to be played at Mary's execution.
  8. Curry, Patrick "Prophesy and Power – Astrology in early Modern England" Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1992.
  9. Silber, Irwin. Songs of the Civil War. New York: Columbia University Press, 1960.
  10. see:. that cites this passage. Also see for an obituary of its BBC composer David Cox.
  11. (Persian)

External links

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