The Leaving of Liverpool

“The Leaving of Liverpool” is one of the “Irish” tunes I’ve been listening to quite a lot, and have been learning to play on the whistle. I put “Irish” in quotations, because it isn’t really Irish; it’s a sailor’s song, and was collected in the wild (so to speak) twice, around 1885, by two different Americans. It concerns a sailor embarking on a long sea voyage to California from Prince’s Landing Stage in Liverpool, lamenting not the leaving of Liverpool but the leaving of his own true love. For all that, it’s a surprisingly sprightly and upbeat tune, heartfelt but not maudlin.

The usual lyrics are as follows:

Fare thee well to Prince’s Landing Stage
Mersey River, fare thee well
Well I am bound for California
But I know that I’ll return someday

So fare thee well, my own true love
When I return united we will be
It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me
But my darling when I think of thee

Oh I have signed on the yankee sailin’ ship
Davy Crockett is her name
And Burgess is the captain of her
And they say that she’s a floatin’ shame


Oh I have sailed with Burgess once before
And I think that I know him quite well
For if a man is a sailor, he can get along
If not, he’s in a floating Hell


The sun is on the harbor, love
And I wish that I could remain
Because I know it will be some long long time
Before I see you again

Some performers, notably that quintessential Irish pub band the Dubliners, add the following verse, which adds an interesting spin:

Farewell to Lower Frederick Street, Anson Terrace and Park Lane
I am bound away for to leave you and I’ll never see you again
So fare thee well my own true love
When I return united we will be
It’s not the leaving of Liverpool that grieves me
But my darling when I think of thee

The singer is telling the girl that they’ll be wed when he returns, but he’s telling the streets of the city that he’s never coming back. The Dubliners sometimes seem to have a jaundiced view of human nature.

As I say, it isn’t truly an Irish song…but it’s certainly been popular with Irish pub bands and folk musicians. I’m personally well-acquainted with four different versions of the song, ranging from hard-edged to a little goofy to pretty. Here they are.

First, the Dubliners, who are (as I noted above) the quintessential pub band. Alas, I can’t find the precise recording I usually hear; this one is a little bit slow, but I can’t leave out the Dubliners.

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Next, the Young Dubliners, a younger harder-edged group inspired by the Dubliners. This is much more sprightly, with guitars and drums:

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Next, here’s the goofy version, performed by Gaelic Storm, which is an “Irish” band in the same way that “The Leaving of Liverpool” is an “Irish” song. I like it a lot, though:

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And finally, here’s a lovely version by the High Kings:

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  • bob cratchit

    Hi. I bet it (the tune) could still be of Irish origin. Quite a lot of Irish immigrated to Liverpool during famine years being right across the Irish Sea. Also a fan of this tune and many others like it, I have never heard it sung by an Englishman.

    • Will Duquette

      It might very well originate with an Irish sailor; history does not say. The Irish certainly seem to have an affinity for it. As for Englishman: here’s a version from a Liverpool folk group called the Spinners:

      • bob cratchit

        Thank you for that. It just doesn’t make any sense unless it’s sung by an Irishman. This is a better version:



        • Will Duquette

          I’ve heard that version, and I thought about including it in the original post; but what I love about the Pogues is Sean McGown’s rough voice coupled with absolutely gorgeous accompaniment. The accompaniment here is so simple it seems to lack a certain Poguishness.