Published in Caledonian Country Dances by Walsh in London 1733, in a collection by Burke Thumoth in 1754, in a Danish manusicript for the dulcimer in 1753 and in a music copybook by Henry Livingston Jr. in 1771, this Irish tune was composed during the high point of the Spa in Mallow, County Cork, Ireland, when people came from all over to avail of the spring water that had been claimed to have blood-purifying qualities. In the evening after everyone had drunk the waters and settled down then the dancing and card games would ensue and this ballad soon appeared telling everyone what wonderful things happened if you drank the water no matter what size you were, what your complexion was, or even if you were lovesick or wanting to conceive and on the other side of it telling people of the Rakes of Mallow who spent their nights drinking claret, merrymaking and carousing the local hotspots before they settled down.
In 1757, the Spa town was said to be “the greatest water-drinking place in Ireland” but sadly by 1775 it had started to lose its popularity. Luckily in 1828 it was given another lease of life when a Spa House was built over the well but it never found the fortune it once enjoyed and it became the headquarters of the Rakes of Mallow.
The song also goes by the names “Romping Molly” and “Rigs o’ Mallow”, had an extra verse added by Henry Livingston Jr. in the late 1700s and is linked with the dance “Morning Star” that hails from New England.
In the movies it was featured in the fight scene of The Quiet Man starring John Wayne and in the 18th century theatre it was featured in a medley in the comic opera Auld Robin Gray written by Samuel Arnold. In 1947 the piece was given yet another resurgence when it was arranged by the composer Leroy Anderson and added to his Irish Suite.
Leroy Anderson recordings
Boston Pops Orchestra
RCA 60746-2-RG (CD: Irish Night at the Pops)
Conductor – Arthur Fiedler
Eastman-Rochester Pops Orchestra
Mercury 434 376-2 (CD: Fennell Conducts the Music Of Leroy Anderson and Eric Coates)
Conductor – Frederick Fennell
Richard Hayman and His Orchestra
Naxos 8.555016 (CD: Irish Rhapsody)
Naxos 8.990018 (CD: Irish Rhapsody)