To celebrate St Patrick’s Day, here’s to that popular term for gossip, chat, fun banter, and entertainment, most commonly used in Ireland but also across the British Isles. But where does it come up in song lyrics?
The noun derives from the Middle English crak, and the phrase “what’s the craic” can equally mean “how are you?” as much as “what’s happening?” or “where’s the party?” It variously has moved in usage from Middle English to Irish and Scottish and then back to modern English again over three or more centuries. It is especially prevalent in Northern Ireland. But let’s hear some examples in song.
Belfast’s Van Morrison begins the banter with his laid back, picturesque, talky tour of a beloved part of County Down, from his native Northern Ireland, from 1989’s Avalon Sunset:
Coming down from Downpatrick
Stopping off at St. John's Point
Out all day birdwatching
And the craic was good
Stopped off at Strangford Lough
Early in the morning
Drove through Shrigley taking pictures
And on to Killyleagh
Stopped off for Sunday papers at the Lecale District,
Just before Coney Island …
Then there’s a sadder mention of craic by the traditional Irish group Celtic Thunder from their eponymous 2008 album, about factory workers being exploited and made redundant.
Farewell my companions, my friends and my workmates
Farewell to the paydays, the pints and the craic
Oh, We gave them our best years now they've paid us back
By making us yesterday's men
Sure as hell
By making us yesterday's men …
And staying in Ireland, a mixture of punk and traditional with The Rumjacks, and an aggressively lively, witty parody of Irish cliches (presumably aimed at tourists) around pub culture, with lyrics by lead singer Frankie McLaughlin:
There's a county map to go on the wall
A hurling stick & a shinty ball
The bric, the brac, the craic & all
Let’s call it an Irish pub
Caffreys, Harp, Kilkenny on tap
The Guinness pie & that cabbage crap
The ideal wannabee Paddy trap
We'll call it an Irish pub
Ralph McTell came from Croydon but his music is heavily influenced by Ireland from friends and neighbours in his childhood, including this song, inspired by working on a building site in 1963, then written in the 1970s about the craic that sustained Irish workers who had come to London and missed their home. Here’s a version performed by Nanci Griffith on her 1993 album Other Voices, Other Rooms:
Four who shared this room and we caught up in the craic,
Sleeping late on Sundays and we never got to Mass
It's a long way from Clare to here
It's a long way from Clare to here
It's a long, long way
It gets further by the day
It's a long, long way from Clare to here
When Friday comes around we're only into fighting
My Ma would like a letter home but I'm too tired for writing …
Also in County Clare is Lisdoonvarna, a small town known for its music festivals. Christy Moore’s song of the same name is a lively list number paying tribute to the place. Here’s from live version, which includes many witty variations of lyrics:
The multitudes, they flocked in throngs
To hear the music and the songs.
Motorbikes and Hi-ace vans,
With bottles – barrels – flagons – cans.
Mighty craic. Loads of frolics,
Pioneers and alcoholics …
Craic isn’t always restricted to the Irish, however. It’s as much used in Scotland too. Here’s Ewan McColl, with Peggy Seeger, and he traditional Wark (work) of the Weavers from 1957:
We're a' met the gither here tae sit an tae crack (craik),
Wi' our glasses in our hands and our work upon our back
There's nae a trade among 'em that can mend or can mak
If it wasn't for the work of the weavers …
The great Scottish bard Robert Burns also used it extensively his work, and it is variously present in the Cumbrian dialect and across Yorkshire and Cheshire. In other music artists, it’s cropped up in indie band Catfish & the Bottlemen to Adam Ant, and in hip hop. Everyone’s after a bit of the old craic. Feel free to share yours here, not merely in music, but any other context.
So then where’s the craik? Feel free to share your examples, fictional, factual, or in any cultural context, in comments below. Do these songs make you think of something else? Then also feel free to comment below, on the contact page, or on social media: Song Bar Twitter, Song Bar Facebook. Song Bar YouTube. Please subscribe, follow and share.
New to comment? It is quick and easy. You just need to login to Disqus once. All is explained in About/FAQs ...