Shoals of Herring

Words & Music : Ewan MacColl
Lyric as sung by Dick Gaughan

With our nets and gear we're faring
On the wild and wasteful ocean
It's there on the deep
That we harvest and reap our bread
As we hunt the bonny shoals of herring

Oh, it was a fine and a pleasant day
Out of Yarmouth harbour I was faring
As a cabin boy on a sailing lugger
For to go and hunt the shoals of herring

Now the work was hard and the hours were long
And the treatment surely took some bearing
There was little kindness and the kicks were many
As we hunted for the shoals of herring

Oh, we fished the Sward and the Broken Bank
I was cook and I'd a quarter sharing
And I used to sleep standing on my feet
And I'd dream about the shoals of herring

We left the home grounds in the month of June
And to canny Shields we soon was bearing
With a hundred cran of the silver darlings
That we'd taken from the shoals of herring

Now you're up on deck, you're a fisherman
You can swear and show a manly bearing
Take your turn on watch with the other fellows
While you're following the shoals of herring

In the stormy seas and the living gale
Just to earn your daily bread you're daring
From the Dover Straits to the Faroe Islands
While you're following the shoals of herring

I earned my keep and I paid my way
And I earned the gear that I was wearing
Sailed a million miles, caught ten million fishes
We were following the shoals of herring

Night and day we're faring
Come winter wind or winter gale
Sweating or cold,
Growing up, growing old and dying
As you hunt the bonnie shoals of herring


Song Notes

Probably the best known song from the Radio Ballads series. This is from Singing the Fishing (1959). Within a few years of having been written it had become a staple in the repertoires of groups like the Spinners, Clancy Brothers and Corries and thence into the repertoires of every floor singer in the British Isles. There are people now who have never heard of Ewan MacColl who swear it's a traditional song they learned from their grandparents. In Ireland, it has even metamorphosed into "The Shores of Erin".

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