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. Brendan credited his brother Dominic Behan for writing it. 2 years later, Dominic released it on an album called Irish Songs. The song was later made famous by Luke Kelly, Ronnie Drew and The Dubliners in the late 1960s, and was revived for a new audience by Irish rock band the Pogues on their 1984 album Red Roses for Me.


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. In the original play by Brendan Behan, the song is written as the "old triangle" not "auld triangle".

The triangle was rung regularly to signify points in the prisons routine.

A second level of meaning is hinted at in the final verse in which the singer imagines himself dwelling in the women's prison. Another mourns the separation from "his girl Sal". These hint at the internal erotic fantasies that prisoners use to separate themselves from the harsh prison environment. In this meaning the old triangle becomes the female pudenda and the Royal Canal the vagina. [1]

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.


And the auld triangle went jingle-jangle

All along the banks of the Royal Canal

Notable recordings[edit]

This song has been recorded by:

Notable performances[edit]

The Doug Anthony Allstars performed a medley (a variation on Fred Geis’s "Lament for Brendan Behan" prefacing "The Auld Triangle") on the Australian ABC program The Big Gig in the late 1980s.[5]

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. U2 played a live cover version at Croke Park, Dublin on 24 July 2009 as part of the 360 tour. Bono joined lead singer Glen Hansard on 8 May 2012 in New York City's The Living Room venue to perform the song.[6]

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.


  1. ^ "The Auld Triangle". | Song of the Isles. Retrieved 25 March 2018.
  2. ^ "The Frames". Archived from the original on 10 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  3. ^ "First Listen: Soundtrack, 'Inside Llewyn Davis'". NPR. 3 November 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2013.
  4. ^ "Ryan Boldt – Broadside Ballads". Folk Radio UK. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  5. ^ hismerrymen (30 March 2010), DAAS: The Big Gig - The Auld Triangle / Brendan Behan Is Dead, retrieved 11 October 2018
  6. ^ "Glen Hansard w/ Bono "The Auld Triangle" on Vimeo". 8 May 2012. Retrieved 10 November 2013.

External links[edit]