The Shoals of Herring

By Ewan MacColl

6/4 time 
1. O, it was a fine and a plea - sant day 
   out of yar - mouth har-bour I was far - ing 
        C     G   (F)  (G)     C
   as a cab - in boy on a sail - ing lug - ger 
                          F         G7
   for to go and hunt the shoals of her - ring

2. O, the work was hard and the hours were long  
   and the treatment, sure, it took some bearing, 
   there was little kindness and the kicks were many 
   as we hunted for the shoals of herring

3. O, we finished the swarth 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 shaols of herring
4. O, we left the home grounds in the month of June
   and to canny shiels we soon were bearing
   with a hundred cran of the silver darlings 
   that we'd taken from the shoals of herring

5. Now your 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 searching for the shoals of herring

6. In the stormy seas and the living gales 
   just to earn your daily bread your daring
   from the dover straits to the faroe islands,
   as your following the shoals of herring 

7. O, I earned me keep and I paid me way
   and I eaned the gear I was wearing 
   sailed a million miles, caught ten million fishes
   we were sailing after shoals of herring

(The original radio version had a different first verse which has a
slightly different melody it goes as follows)

4/4 time

With our nets and gear we're far - ing
on the wild and waste - ful  o   -   cean 
It's there on the deep that we (6/4 time) har - vest 
    G        C                          F         G
and reap our bread as hunt the bon - ny shoals of her - 

(all above info from the Pete Seeger book "The Incompleat Folksinger)


The following is the text of a message that someone sent to Sonny Ochs. So, I don't know who wrote it...

MacColl wrote "Shoals of Herring" for the BBC radio documentary "Singing The Fishing" in the Radio Ballad series of the late 1950s. It's about the herring fisheries off the east coast of England and Scotland. It was quickly adopted into the oral tradition in Britain and Ireland. At some point, the English habit of dropping aitches met with Irish national pride, and someone must have recorded it under the title "Shoals of Erin". I don't know who it was, but it must have been someone whose recordings have had some lasting impact, as this controversy surfaces from time to time.

If you want to cite some definitive sources:

  1. The Ewan MacColl, Peggy Seeger Songbook,, Oak Publications, 1963.
  2. Black and White, The Definitive Collection,, Ewan MacColl, Green Linnet, GLCD 3058, 1991.
  3. Ewan MacColl, Folk On 2,, Ewan MacColl & Peggy Seeger, BBC Radio 2, 1996.
  4. Journeyman, An Autobiography, Ewan MacColl, Sidgewick & Jackson LTD, 1990, p. 323.
Last modified 27 Dec 98 by trent