Whiskey in the Jar is arguably the second most well known Irish drinking song (I guess you could argue that the most well known is the Wild Rover). The song has been recorded by rock bands (Thin Lizzy and Metallica amongst them) as well as by a whole host of folk musicians, many of whom have Irish roots. One example of the latter is the Dubliners. It has also been performed by countless amateur and semi-professional musicians in pubs and bars around the globe. If I'm being honest, I think the song has been overplayed. However, there is a reason why it has been performed and recorded so many times, and that is because it is a great song with a rousing melody and memorable lyrics. So if you can divorce the song from its baggage, then you are left with a gem.
Nobody really knows with any great certainty when Whiskey in the Jar was written. The earliest 'solid proof' of its existence seems to date from a Broadside ballad in the Bodleian Library collections, Oxford. This was published in the 1840s. However, it is certainly possible that Whiskey in the Jar pre-dates this by some decades.
A little bit of potted history (with apologies to those who know much more than me about this): up until 1922, Ireland was ruled by the British from London. The majority catholic population felt (and were) oppressed by their British protestant masters. An Irish nationalist movement arose, and there were a number of failed up-risings. However, this ultimately culminated in Independence for most of Ireland after world war one. The struggle for freedom and resentment at opression gives the song its context.
The hero of the song is a highwayman who robs a British officer at gunpoint, but who is then betrayed by an unfaithful woman. In this version of the song, he ends up in jail, hoping that his soldier-brother might ride to his rescue. It's possible, though not certain, that the highwayman is actually an Irish irregular ('gorrilla', bandit etc.). In any case, robbing a British soldier would have made him a hero in Irish nationalist eyes. Several different versions of the lyrics exist, including some that have the highwayman / bandit / irregular esaping from jail, and others that transport the setting to pre-revolutionary America.
Capo at 2nd Fret
As I was a goin' over the far-famed Kerry mountains
I met with captain Farrell and his money he was counting.
I first produced me pistol and I then produced me rapier,
Saying, "Stand and deliver for you are a bold deceiver."
Whack fol my daddy O,
Whack fol my daddy O,
There's whiskey in the jar.
I counted out his money and it made a pretty penny
I put it in me pocket and I took it home to Jenny
She sighed and she swore that she never would deceive me
But the devil take the women for they never can be easy
I went into my chamber, all for to take a slumber
I dreamt of gold and jewels and for sure 't was no wonder
Jenny took me pistol. She filled it up with water
Then sent for captain Farrell to be ready for the slaughter.
'twas early in the morning, just before I rose to travel
Up comes a band of coopers and likewise captain Farrell
I first produced me pistol for me rapier she had stolen
I couldn't shoot the water, so a prisoner I was taken
If there's anyone can aid me 'tis my brother in the army
If I can find his station in Cork or in Killarney
If he'll go with me, we'll go rovin' through Killkenny
I'm sure he'll treat me better than my own a-sporting Jenny
There's some take delight in the carriages a rolling
And others take delight in the hurling and the bowling,
But I take delight in the juice of the barley
And courting pretty fair maids in the morning bright and early