Barley Mow, The
DESCRIPTION: Cumulative song toasting successive sizes of drinking vessels, and those who serve them: "The quart pot, pint pot, half-a-pint, gill pot, half-a-gill, quarter-gill, nipperkin, and the brown bowl/Here's good luck, good luck, good luck to the barley mow."
EARLIEST DATE: 1609 (Ravenscroft's Deuteromelia, under the title "Give Us Once a Drinke")
KEYWORDS: ritual drink nonballad
FOUND IN: Britain(England(Lond,South,West)) Australia Canada(Newf)
REFERENCES (9 citations):
Sharp-100E 99, "The Barley Mow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Williams-Thames, pp. 289-290, "The Barley-Mow Song" (1 text) (also Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 389)
Meredith/Anderson, pp. 70-71, "The Barley-Mow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Dixon-Peasantry, Song #8, pp. 177-178, "The Mow" (1 text); Song #9, pp. 178-182,246, "The Barley-Mow Song"; p. 246, "Barley-Mow Song, (Suffolk version)" (3 texts)
Bell-Combined, pp. 379-382, "The Barley-Mow Song" (1 text plus an excerpt)
Kennedy 265, "The Barley Mow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Palmer-ECS, #118, "The Barley Mow" (1 text, 1 tune)
RoudBishop #92, "The Barley Mow" (1 text, 1 tune)
Mrs. Peter Mushrow, "The Baltimore" (on MUNFLA/Leach)
George Spicer, "The Barley Mow" (on Voice13)
Good Luck to the Barley Mow
NOTES: The brown bowl is to get sick into.
Sharp cites a reference noting that this was sung after a pre-Christian ritual called "crying the neck". -PJS
It was my understanding (don't know where I heard it) that the "Barley Mow" was a challenge -- if you fail to sing it through accurately and/or in one breath, you have to take another drink and, perhaps, buy a round for the house. Naturally, things tend to go downhill rapidly after the first error.
Ravenscroft's version of this is fascinating, since the final words are not "barley mow" but "balla moy," which (depending on the language) could mean something like "throw to me." Even the English version has its archaic words -- the chorus runs
The Tunne, the Butt, the Pipe, the hogshead, the barrell, the kilderkin, the verkin, the gallon pot, the pottle pot, the quart pot, the pint pot,
for and the blacke bole, sing gentle Butler balla moy,-
And, yes, a pottle is a half gallon. But I know that only because of an Isaac Asimov science essay which sneered at it.
Roud/Bishop in their notes link this to a sixteenth century piece, "How, Butler, How" or "Fill the Bowl, Butler." I'm not sure I accept this, but it may have suggested a few words, including the "Barley Mow" refrain. For this piece, see R. T. Davies, editor, Medieval English Lyrics: A Critical Anthology, 1963, #167, p. 276, "Fill the Bowl, Butler"; Richard Greene, editor, A Selection of English Carols, Clarendon Medieval and Tudor Series, Oxford/Clarendon Press, 1962, #87, pp. 153-154, "(How, butler, how! Bevis a towt)" (1 text)
Wiltshire-WSRO Wt 389 omits the "peck" verse between verses 8 and 9. - BS
Last updated in version 4.2
Go to the Ballad Search form
Go to the Ballad Index Song List
Go to the Ballad Index Instructions
Go to the Ballad Index Bibliography or Discography
The Ballad Index Copyright 2017 by Robert B. Waltz and David G. Engle.