McCormack and Richard Tauber are singing by the bed
There's a glass of punch below your feet and an angel at your head
There's devils on each side of you with bottles in their hands
You need one more drop of poison and you'll dream of foreign lands

When you pissed yourself in Frankfurt and got syph down in cologne
And you heard the rattling death trains as you lay there all alone
Frank Ryan brought you whiskey in a brothel in Madrid
And you decked some fucking blackshirt who was cursing all the yids
At the sick bed of Cuchulainn we'll kneel and say a prayer
And the ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil's in the chair

And in the Euston tavern you screamed it was your shout
But they wouldn't give you service so you kicked the windows out
They took you out into the street and kicked you in the brains
So you walked back in through a bolted door and did it all again
At the sick bed of Cuchulainn we'll kneel and say a prayer
And the ghosts are rattling at the door and the devil's in the chair

You remember that foul evening when you heard the banshees howl
There was lousy drunken bastards singing billy is in the bowl
They took you up to midnight mass and left you in the lurch
So you dropped a button in the plate and spewed up in the church

Now you'll sing a song of liberty for blacks and paks and jocks
And they'll take you from this dump you're in and stick you in a box
Then they'll take you to Cloughprior and shove you in the ground
But you'll stick your head back out and shout "We'll have another round"
At the graveside of Cuchulainn we'll kneel around and pray
And god is in his heaven, and billy's down by the bay

Lyrics submitted by black_cow_of_death

The Sick Bed of Cúchulaínn Lyrics as written by Shane Patrick Lysaght Macgowan

Lyrics © DOWNTOWN MUSIC PUBLISHING LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

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The Sick Bed Of Cuchulainn song meanings
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  • +7
    General Comment'S about an Irish nationalist and anti-fascist looking back on his life, and about Gaelic Self-destruction, as said above, and about Irish Folklore. Specifically, it sounds like the Narrator was involved in the Spanish Civil War- John McCormack and Richard Tauber were famous tenors of that era, and Frank Ryan was an IRA member who led Irish Volunteers against Franco's Nazi-backed Fascists- the 'fucking blackshirts' who ran the death-trains; it sounds like the narrator was a member of Ryan's International Brigade, 'Connolly's Column'.
    After the war, the narrator descends into Alcoholism (the second verse describes a single drunken rampage in London, while he's pretty much gone in the bridge), and dies a classic Gaelic death- drunken, furious, passionate to the last- Cloughprior, in this case, refers to a cemetary in County Tipperary.
    At the same time, the narrator's life parallels that of the doomed Irish Hero Cúchulainn. A great warrior, he was said to fly into unquenchable rages in battle, and who, when his strength was finally sapped, tied himself to a rock to face his enemies, in order to die on his feet- an echo of the narrator's defiant love of liberty to the end.

    As a side note, Cúchulainn was decapitated after his death- "But you'll stick your head back out and shout 'we'll have another round'" takes on a slightly different meaning with that in mind
    Anacharison August 16, 2006   Link
  • +1
    General CommentShane explained that he lived at his uncle's Irish pub in Essex for some time and this was written about a conglomeration of characters who went in there - pissheads basically - who had loads of tales from their pasts. One got syphillis in Cologne, one got drunk with Frank Ryan (the leader of the Irish members of the International Brigade who fought Franco's fascists in the Spanish Civil War) and one who was on a bender in the Euston Tavern (a pub near the London railway station), etc., etc. He also name-checks his local cemetery in North Tipperary, Ireland, Cloughprior. Throughout Shane's writing there are lots of mentions of places in this area.

    I was really impressed by his mention of Frank Ryan. There aren't even many Irish people who know who he is so for Shane to mention him in one of his early songs could demonstrate what a good knowledge of Irish Republican history that his family had and how they brought him up to know this history. For the record, Frank Ryan not only was a republican leader in Ireland and the leader of the small Irish contingent that fought against the Fascists in Spain but he bizarrely also visited Nazi Germany during WW2 to see if there was any common ground between the IRA and Hitler.

    Christy Moore's "Viva la Quinta Brigade" is all about the Irish volunteers in Spain and was released about a year before Rum, Sodomy and The Lash and so it could be that Shane had simply picked off the history from Christy Moore.

    Bigblue1894on April 29, 2014   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is written as a defiant death bed rant from an exile returned to Ireland. He is recalling demons and drunken rampages that have marked his life
    Sir_commenting_slagon July 12, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General CommentAnd spewed up in the church
    Wallamanageon October 21, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General CommentStrange-this is probably more applicable to Shane Mc Gowan now than ever.
    yomejustaon December 08, 2005   Link
  • 0
    General Commentit perfectly describes the celtic urge to self destruct coupled with the luck of the irish in that the narrator describes a long life of alcholism
    boggleson February 20, 2006   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThat's some great information Anacharis, Thanks. A Modern Cuchulainn, I like it.
    Tindaloson June 30, 2007   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThat's a really good explanation, I knew about and loved the folklore twined into the song but I didn't know about Irish nationalist themes or who the people were. Thanks :)
    BeeAnchoron September 28, 2008   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThanks Anacharis, great explanation.
    My favorite Pogues song by far. Better than 'Fairytale'.
    j1eron January 07, 2010   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThanks for the insight into the song, always loved it but didn't know about the irish taking part in the spanish civil war- awesome
    xXRIOXxon May 10, 2010   Link

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