The Wild Colonial Boy

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"The Wild Colonial Boy" is a traditional anonymous Irish-Australian ballad of which there are many different versions, the most prominent being the Irish and Australian versions. The original was about Jack Donahue, an Irish rebel who became a convict, then a bushranger,[1] and was eventually shot dead by police. This version was outlawed as seditious, so the name in the song was changed to Jack Doolan. The Irish version is about a Jack Duggan, young emigrant who left the town of Castlemaine, County Kerry, Ireland, for Australia in the early 19th century. According to the song, he spent his time "robbing from the rich to feed the poor". In the song, Duggan is fatally wounded in an ambush when he is shot in the heart by Fitzroy.

Irish lyrics[edit]

The lyrics are as follows:

Australian lyrics[edit]

The Australian version is quite different. It is about a boy named Jack Dolan, born in Castlemaine. The poem then continues on to tell of his exploits without mentioning his moving to Australia, which implies that the Castlemaine in question is that in Victoria.

Here is one version of the "Jack Dolan/Doolan/Duggan" poem:

In popular culture[edit]

"The Wild Colonial Boy" has been recorded by Rolf Harris, Larry Kirwan, John Doyle, The Irish Rovers, The Brothers Four, Oliver Reed and The Clancy Brothers, among others, and was featured in the film The Quiet Man.

  • The album Ireland in Song by Cathy Maguire includes the Irish version of the song.
  • In the United States, a version of this song was popularized by folk singer Burl Ives.
  • Dr. Hook recorded a version of this song on American Bandstand (1981). It was mentioned by Dennis Locorriere that the royalties went to charity.
  • Billy Walker recorded the song as B-side to his hit, "Charlie's Shoes", in 1962. He included it in his album Greatest Hits.
  • The walking skeleton in Robert Frost's poem "The Witch of Coos" is said to have been searching for a way out of the house, because he wanted to sing his favorite song, "The Wild Colonial Boy", in the snow.
  • A portion of the Irish version can be heard in the 1952 film The Quiet Man.
  • Mick Jagger sings this song in the 1970 movie Ned Kelly, which is about the real-life Australian outlaw of the same name. According to The Argus report in November 1880, Ann Jones had asked her son to sing the ballad when the Kelly gang were at her hotel in June that year.[2]
  • The Pogues and The Dubliners released "Jack's Heroes", a 1990 single celebrating the Republic of Ireland national football team, which uses the tune of "The Wild Colonial Boy".[3]
  • A waltz version of the tune features in the ball scene in Baz Luhrmann's film Australia (2008).
  • Damien Leith released a version on his 2015 album Songs From Ireland.
  • Sung by Paddy Carmody (Robert Mitchum), in the hotel scene of the 1960 movie The Sundowners.
  • A Czech translation of this song under the name Vostrej Australák (The Sharp Australian) was recorded by the Greenhorns (Zelenáči) band and published by Supraphon in 1982.[4]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Charge of Harbouring the Kelly Gang". The Argus. Melbourne. 26 November 1880. p. 6. Retrieved 13 October 2013 – via National Library of Australia.
  3. ^ Moran, Fran (9 January 2002). "Singles, B Sides, Eclectica". The Parting Glass: An Annotated Pogues Lyrics Page. Retrieved 6 July 2016.
  4. ^ See catalogue entry of this record at the National Library of the Czech Republic or its official recording on YouTube

External links[edit]