drinkin’ and fightin’ songs

from “Representations of Drinking in English Songs” in Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia [pg. 224]:

In English songs of the nineteenth century, fighting assumes less prominence than in contemporary Irish drinking songs (Ingle 2000). Only 16 English songs of this period contain fight-related themes, and 7 songs from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries have been identified. In contrast, over 70 of 200 Irish drink-related songs of the same era concerned fighting. Of those, half were concerned with a peculiar Irish institution, ‘faction fighting,’ which is foreign to British tradition (Conley 2000). Only 2 English songs have been found with comparable themes. ‘Pleasures of the fair’ (in which a mob at a rural carnival ‘drinks and fights uproariously’) depicts a brawl that apparently arises from high spirits. And ‘Pace egging song’ also depicts a spontaneous group fight among a reveling throng at an Easter festival.

“Other English group fight-theme songs include ‘Dramatic morality,’ in which drinking at a theater leads to disorder wherein men cuff and spar with each other, with no mention of anger as a motive. In a playful scene at ‘The Manchester races,’ a throng eats and drinks with abandon, while others fight. Three songs depict group fights, growing out of arguments at sporting events. ‘Wednesbury cocking’ describes a bloody affair, to be long remembered (and thus atypical), while in ‘Wedgfield wake’ (a seasonal fair) another cockfight debate triggers a fight. Finally, in ‘Humor of Eccles wake,’ an unspecified sporting dispute also leads to a brawl. In reviewing ‘recreational fighting,’ it appears these English songs are neither as organized nor as damaging as Irish faction fights….

The contrasts between song themes from Scotland, Ireland, and England are also intriguing and suggest topics for social historians to pursue. The balance between perceived benefits and dangers of drinking is significantly different between Irish and British songs, for one thing — and the Irish reference for fighting as a recreation in their street ballads (Ingle 2000) could not be discovered in English street ballads or in rural folk songs. Are the British really so different in their attitudes toward drink-enhanced fighting, or are they simply disinclined to sing about them?


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previously: early modern and modern clannish ireland and english victorian working class pugilists

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20 Comments

  1. My experience of Northern Ireland where I grew up and Tennessee where I got married is that fighting in bars is common in both; I’ve not been in a fight, but my Tennessean brother in law and most of my working-class Northern Irish Protestant friends have (& NI Catholics are certainly not more peaceful). IME fighting in pubs in southern England is far, far rarer and in London is almost always Irish immigrants or (if serious/lethal) Irish ‘Travellers’.
    I think there are a certain number of stages that men go through psychologically before beginning to fight. The Southern English have several more such than the Celts do, and when they do fight it tends to be for a reason, eg because one man stole another’s girlfriend. And this typically results in honourable fisticuffs rather than the ambush ringed-fist-to-the-nose that seems common in Belfast!

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  2. Hi HBDchick long time reader, first time commentator. I styled my acronym from yours ;)
    It occurs to me that a lot of the indigenous Irish culture remains within Irish Travellers: cousin marriage, intense violence, feuding clans, nomadic lifestyle (as herders would have) etc. People often wonder where the travellers came from, and there are many theories, but maybe they began as ordinary Irish who could not or would not transition into less violent, settled exogamy.

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  3. How do you find this stuff? Like, really. How do you find it? I am not nearly as convinced that HBD explains any of the stuff most of you folks seem to think it does, but I am consistently impressed with the evidence you use to investigate the question. There is not a blog on history or anthropology out there that finds and posts the type of anthropological information you summarize and write up on every day. Where do you find it? What possessed you to open Alcohol and Temperance in Modern History: An International Encyclopedia?

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  4. Lady of Letters
    “It occurs to me that a lot of the indigenous Irish culture remains within Irish Travellers: cousin marriage, intense violence, feuding clans, nomadic lifestyle (as herders would have) etc”

    Yes and possibly not just Irish. I wonder if the Gauls had drinking songs like that?

    They still use chariots as well.

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  5. @t. greer – “How do you find this stuff? Like, really. How do you find it?”

    trade secret! (~_^)

    no, it was just a google books search. i was searching for more info on the irish “faction fighting” — i may have searched for something like “faction fighting england” when i came across the alcohol and temperance book — don’t remember exactly. (^_^)

    edit: nice lookin’ blog you got there! (^_^)

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  6. @simon – “My experience of Northern Ireland where I grew up and Tennessee where I got married….”

    well, you just went from one scots-irish land to another! (~_^)

    @simon – “I think there are a certain number of stages that men go through psychologically before beginning to fight. The Southern English have several more such than the Celts do….”

    that’s an interesting thought!

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  7. @lady of letters – “People often wonder where the travellers came from, and there are many theories, but maybe they began as ordinary Irish who could not or would not transition into less violent, settled exogamy.”

    yes, the genetics show that the irish travellers are just irish people — that have been rather cut off genetically from the main population for a few hundred years due to all the inbreeding (and there is a LOT of it — cousin marriage rates of 65%-70%! that’s way higher than even the arabs). they’re just a sub-population of the irish (native and possibly anglo- and scots-irish — dunno).

    the prevailing explanation for why they hit the road is that it had something to do with all the chaos surrounding the cromwellian invasion, like that the ancestors of the travellers were displaced off their lands or something. could be.

    like you say, though — maybe they started off pretty inbred (back in the 1600s) and just kept on inbreeding!

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  8. @simon – “I think there are a certain number of stages that men go through psychologically before beginning to fight. The Southern English have several more such than the Celts do….

    hbd chick:
    “that’s an interesting thought!”

    Thanks – clearly the southern English, Germans, and Japanese are all capable of high levels of organised violence – John Keegan would class them all as ‘warrior societies’ – and in the case of the English they seem to me not particularly averse to violence, either – they don’t fear violence. But the English generally don’t quickly rouse to violencer – they are phlegmatic rather than hair-triggered – and southern English pubs even in working-class areas feel very different from bars in the Celtic-fringe nations, with an etiquette that puts several more stages in between the initial cause of conflict and the actual outbreak of violence. Eg in England if you spill a man’s drink you are supposed to apologise, and offer to buy him another. Several (Anglo-Celtic culture?) Americans have scoffed when I’ve told them this – from what I can gather, that would be seen as an unacceptable loss of face in much of the US. When my Tennessean brother in law spilt a man’s drink and the fellow expressed outrage, his response was:

    “Calm down, you’re not going to melt!”

    My brother in law was thinking of the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz. Unfortunately the fellow took it as a reference to his chocolately skin complexion, thus a racial slur resulting in a major brawl and a night in the slammer…

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  9. “the prevailing explanation for why they hit the road is that it had something to do with all the chaos surrounding the cromwellian invasion, like that the ancestors of the travellers were displaced off their lands or something. could be.”

    Sounds plausible.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapparee

    Although the emphasis on fighting, horses and racing

    http://homepage.eircom.net/~archaeology/chariot.htm

    makes me wonder if it was similar but earlier i.e. Normans or Vikings even.

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  10. @simon – “But the English generally don’t quickly rouse to violencer – they are phlegmatic rather than hair-triggered….”

    yes. “tempermental” is the word that often comes to my mind when i think about sicilians or the scots-irish or even the native irish (never mind arabs or chechens!). (~_^) i think i’ve used it a few times here on the blog.

    have you seen cohen & nisbett’s research of the physiological responses that southern vs. northern americans have to personal insults? great stuff! (although cohen & nisbett conclude that the difference is due to cultural differences. *facepalm*) re. their results:

    “Cohen and Nisbett recruited subjects with Northern and Southern backgrounds from the University of Michigan student body, ostensibly to work on an psychological task dealing with perception. During the experiment, a confederate bumped some subjects and muttered ‘asshole’ at them. Cortisol (a stress hormone) and testosterone (rises in preparation for violence) were measured before and after the insult. Insulted Southerners showed big jumps in both cortisol and testosterone compared to uninsulted Southerners and insulted Northerners. The difference in psychological and physiological responses to insults was manifest in behavior. Nisbett and Cohen recruited a 6’3” 250 lb (190 cm, 115 kg) American style football player whose task was to walk down the middle of a narrow hall as subjects came the other direction. The experimenters measured how close subjects came to the football player before stepping aside. Northerners stepped aside at around 6 feet regardless of whether they had been insulted. Un-insulted Southerners stepped aside at an average distance of 9 feet, whereas insulted Southerners approached to an average of about 3 feet. Polite but prepared to be violent, un-insulted Southerners take more care, presumably because they attribute a sense of honor to the football player and are normally respectful of others’ honor. When their honor is challenged, they are prepared and willing to challenge someone at considerable risk to their own safety.”

    in other words, scots-irish americans are quick to anger! quicker than yankees anyway.

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  11. @socal patriot – “‘Feudin’ and Fightin’ by Bing Crosby.”

    hey! someone’s linking to bing crosby on my blog! (^_^) yaaaay! (^_^)

    Reply

  12. hbd chick
    “hmmmm. maybe!”

    Then again my mental picture of Ireland in the 1640s may be skewed by my mental image of England in the 1640s.

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  13. hbd chick:
    “have you seen cohen & nisbett’s research of the physiological responses that southern vs. northern americans have to personal insults? great stuff! ”

    Yes, I had seen that – certainly tallies with my experiences. BTW I’d say that US Scots-Irishmen at least in the heartlands (Knoxville, say) are significantly *more* protective of their honor/’face’ than are the Ulstermen in Ulster. On my initial visits to the US it was a bit scary, never knowing when they might ‘go off’. It seems that as a man you can’t ever safely tease a Scots-Irish Southerner.

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  14. Anthony
    06/18/2013 at 12:29 PM

    Trying again. Not really “traditional”:

    How very English. If Elton had been an Irishman/Ulsterman he would have sung “every night’s all right for fighting”.

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  15. @matra – “How very English. If Elton had been an Irishman/Ulsterman he would have sung ‘*every* night’s all right for fighting’.”

    (^_^) (^_^) (^_^)

    Reply

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