The Shoals Of Herring

This song has become one of the main examples of sea songs… It was composed by Ewan MaColl, Peggy Seeger, and Charles Parker in 1960… Spotlighting the herring fisheries and the fishermen.   For many here in the US the iconic version of this song is as it was sung by the Clancy Brothers with Liam singing lead.  Having said that, there are SO many superbe versions available on LP, CD, and video and we all have our favourite.  Cliff rarely sings the first and last verse… The last verse is not original but is usually associated with Liam Clancy.


With the 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.

Oh, 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.

Oh, we fished the Swarte 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.

Well, we left the homegrounds 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 gales
Just to earn your daily bread you’re daring
From the Dover Straits to the Faeroe Islands
While you’re following the shoals of herring.

Well, 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 was 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 bonny shoals of herring