Simanaitis Says

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LILY IS my granddaughter, though I call her Lillibulero, after a traditional English ballad with a 350-year heritage. Lillibulero is said to have sung a king out of three kingdoms. Yet it has also announced the hour to millions of people around the world, on everything from short wave to the internet.


This BBC recording offers the proper mood. Image from Old BBC.]

The tale of Lillibulero involves discord, yet unity too. The discord has its gory aspects, though I suspect this will be okay with my granddaughter. Lily is almost 10, and kids that age seem to enjoy grizzly stuff.

For all its peaceful ambience I enjoy, Britain has had some bang-up set-toos. In one of them, the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – 1689, the British Parliament tossed out King James II, who also carried titles of James VII of Scotland and James II of Ireland. Thus, Lillibulero singing a king out of three kingdoms.


James II of England, 1633 – 1701, reigned 1685 – 1688. Portrait by Nicolas de Largillière, 1686.

On the bright side, this particular James was merely exiled to France, for a second time. By contrast, his older brother, Charles II, may have died of poison. And their father, Charles I, lost his head. Well, it wasn’t actually lost; they sewed it back on later.

These were complex times indeed. Less than 150 years earlier, James’s great-great-great-great-uncle Henry VIII broke with Roman Catholicism over familial dalliances, thus establishing Britain as officially Protestant. By contrast, James II, who inherited the throne after his brother’s death, was Catholic. By the way, all this continues to have relevance today in the politics of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.


Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, 1630 – 1691, Irish royalist, Jacobite soldier. Portrait by Français de Troy, 1690.

In 1687, James II was two years into his kingship when he appointed Richard Talbot, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell, as Lord Deputy of Ireland. Tyrconnell, another Catholic, promptly assigned positions in Ireland’s government and militia to other Catholics, thus pleasing Irish Catholics no end and displeasing plenty of other people.

Along came the 1689 Glorious Revolution, with William III (a Protestant) placed by Parliament on the British throne, James rethinking things in France (again) and plenty of his Jacobite supporters stirring things up in Ireland.

The lyrics of Lillibulero satirize these Jacobite hopes of having James regain the British crown (ultimately thwarted by the Battle of Boyne in 1690). Like any proper folk song, Lillibulero has too many verses and a nonsense refrain, but several suffice to tell the tale. [Teague, or Taig, was (and is) a derisive term for an Irish Catholic.]

Ho, brother Teague, dost hear the decree?/Lillibulero bullen a la/We are to have a new deputie/Lillibulero bullen a la.

Lero, lero, lillibulero/Lillibulero, bullen a la/Lero, lero, lero, lero/Lillibulero, bullen a la.

Now Tyrconnell is come ashore/Lillibulero bullen a la/And we shall have commissions galore/Lillibulero bullen a la.

It gets positively scurrilous through the middle, and ends with the following, the lillibulero bits left to the reader’s imagination.

There was an old prophecy found in a bog/That our land would be ruled by an ass and a dog.

So now this old prophecy’s coming to pass/For James is the dog and Tyrconnell’s the ass.

Let’s raise the level of this discussion by appealing to the British Broadcasting Corporation. From 1955 until fairly recent satellite radio days, BBC World Service employed Lillibulero as an audio logo immediately prior to its hourly time check.


BBC World Service. A link in space and time.

For those searching out BBC news in fragile short wave reception throughout the world, Lillibulero was a friend indeed. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2015


  1. Tom Tyson
    May 21, 2015

    Oh, so THAT’s what that little ditty is named. I’ve been hearing and whistling it since I was a teen with a shortwave radio.

    Many thanks for filling in a(nother) gap in my knowledge.

    – TT

  2. JIM
    February 4, 2018

    It was partly meant as an insult to the Catholic Irish who were regarded as backward and superstitious (old prophesy found in a bog).
    The problem is it’s the pot calling the kettle black as witch hunting was still popular there when it was written and these folks were the ones who believed that Prince Rupert’s poodle was a demon, if not the devil himself. The good protestants forgot the caution about removing the beam from their own eyes

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