The Auld Triangle

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"The Auld Triangle" is a song, which was first performed publicly as a part of the play The Quare Fellow (1954) by Brendan Behan. The song is rumoured to have been written by Brendan's brother Dominic Behan, but Dominic never credited the song to himself on any recordings he made of it. Brendan himself always credited his friend Dicky Shannon as the writer. [1] The song was later made famous by Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew and The Dubliners in the late 1960s.


The song is used to introduce the play, a story about the occurrences in a prison (in real life Mountjoy Prison where Behan had once been lodged) the day a convict is set to be executed. The triangle in the title refers to the large metal triangle which was beaten daily in Mountjoy Prison to waken the inmates ("The Auld Triangle goes Jingle Jangle"). The triangle still hangs in the prison at the centre where the wings meet on a metal gate. It is no longer used, though the hammer to beat it is mounted beside it.

"This was a scientific system of perpetual and persistent harassing… harassing morning, noon and night, and on through the night, harassing always and at all times, harassing with bread and water punishments, and other punishments with ‘no sleep’ torture and other tortures. This system was applied to the Irish prisoners and, to them only, and was specially designed to destroy us mentally or physically – to kill or drive insane." Thus triangles we employed to cause insanity. Both Clarke's colleagues in prison ended their lives in an American mental institution. (Thomas Clarke - citation below)

As with many Irish ballads, the lyrics have been changed with each passing cover. For example, the Dropkick Murphys recording condenses the structure into a three-lyric section song with a chorus based on the last two lines of each stanza in the original.

Notable recordings[edit]

This song has been recorded by:

Notable performances[edit]

It was sung in the short film, "Macbeth Retold", starring James McAvoy, one of the three part ShakespeaRe-Told film produced by the BBC during November 2005.

The Swell Season have included the song in their live performances.

The Frames performed it as the final song of a two-hour concert at the Vic Theater in Chicago on 23 November 2010. They performed the song live on RTÉ television's The Saturday Night Show on 18 December of the same year. Bono joined lead singer Glen Hansard on 8 May 2012 in New York City's The Living Room venue to perform the song.[5]

At the Ceiliuradh (celebration) at Royal Albert Hall on 10 April 2014, it was sung by a collection of performers including Glen Hansard, Lisa Hannigan, Elvis Costello, Conor O’Brien (of Villagers), Paul Brady, Imelda May, John Sheahan, Dónal Lunny, Andy Irvine and The Gloaming.

Glen Hansard, joined by Elvis Costello and others at the 2016 Newport Folk Festival, Newport, RI

Hampshire based singer and songwriter Matt O'Neil regularly covers the song during his Acoustic Live Lounge performances, usually along with Clare Island and Whiskey In The Jar


  1. ^ "The Old / auld Triangle Lyrics And Chords". 
  2. ^ "The Frames". Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  3. ^ "First Listen: Soundtrack, 'Inside Llewyn Davis'". NPR. 2013-11-03. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 
  4. ^ "Ryan Boldt – Broadside Ballads". Folk Radio UK. Retrieved 2016-05-16. 
  5. ^ "Glen Hansard w/ Bono "The Auld Triangle" on Vimeo". 2012-05-08. Retrieved 2013-11-10. 

External links[edit]