Irish music often uses exaggeration for comic effect, but nowhere is it done on such a grand scale as in the song The Irish Rover. The lyrics date from the early 19th century and tell the story of an incredibly large sailing ship and its even more unlikely freighter. In fact, the only thing that seems ordinary and credible about the Irish Rover is that she set sail in 1806 from Cork with a cargo of bricks that would be used to help build New York’s Great Hall. After that, things start to get out of control. For example, we are told that the ship has 27 masts. To accommodate that much sailing power, a ship would have to be about 200 yards long. Remember, this is a song from the early 19th century when even large commercial sailing ships only had 3 masts. Contemporary audiences would be immediately alerted that this was a joke and not to be taken seriously.

The audience would then be ready for the even wilder exaggerations that were about to occur regarding the cargo aboard the Irish Rover.

We were previously told that he had a cargo of bricks, but that is forgotten when we hear that he has everything from “a million bags of the best rags in Sligo” along with “three million sides of blind old horse skins and four million of barrels”. of bones.” It’s the cattle that’s really impressive. The Rover has “five million pigs and six million dogs.” Following the stereotype of the Irish and drinking there are seven million barrels of porter, but at least that’s useful.

Finally they tell us that he has 8 million bales of old goat tails!

Most of the charge, of course, is nonsense and the fact that there is so much of it gives it a comic effect that has delighted audiences for the last 200 years. The lyrics build and build and become more and more ridiculous until it reaches a climax with the sinking of the ship after a mast snaps. Even then, it can’t go quietly. He first has to go nine laps before she disappears, leaving the singer as the sole survivor to tell the tale. Comedy works because the exaggerations are so outrageous and they present such unlikely products that we know they shouldn’t be taken seriously. Instead, we can enjoy the fact that we are part of a “joke” as the hype gets wilder and wilder.

This is a technique widely used in 19th century Irish music.