Lilli Burlero

The lyrics of this lively tune were written by Thomas Warton (1648-1715) to attack the pro-Catholic policies of the Irish Earl of Tyrconnell, Richard Talbot (1630-1691). Talbot was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland in 1687 and dutifully restored and protected rights and privileges of disenfranchised Irish Catholics even after James II was deposed and the Williamite accession accomplished. Wharton, squarely in King William’s camp, set his satirical lyrics to a melody arranged by Henry Purcell in 1678, one based on an old tune called “Quickstep.” His song became instantly popular, so much so that later Wharton could boast that with it he had “rhymed James out of three kingdoms.”

Many theories attempt to explain the chorus. Most agree that it is a garbled version of a Gaelic phrase, the most likely being “Lilli/ bu le’ir o/, bu linn an la,”meaning “Lilly will be manifest; the day will be ours.” William Lilly (1602-81) was an English astrologist who in Prophecy of the White King (1644) predicted, accurately in the case of the beheaded Charles I, that an English king would be executed. Another more fanciful translation is “Li! Li beur lear-a! Buille na la” or “Light! Light on the sea! Beyond the promontory! ‘Tis the stroke of morning,” which is part of a solar hymn ostensibly sung by druids. However it is unraveled, the phrase became in the 18th century a rallying cry for English and Irish Protestants. And like so many Revolutionary War songs, this one served as a double agent. It is thought that the chorus in a pre-Wharton version made up a series of Papist passwords used during their violent reprisals against Ulster Protestants in 1641. True to its origins, “Lili Burlero” crossed the sea to provided quick marches for both Redcoats and Continentals in the War for Independence.


Lilli Burlero

Ho! Brother Teague, dost hear de decree,
Lilli burlero bullen a la;
Dat we shall have a new debittie,
Lilli burlero bullen a la.

CHORUS:
Lero, lero, lero, lero, Lilli burlero bullen a la.
Lero, lero, lero, lero, Lilli burlero bullen a la.

Ho! By my shoul it is a Talbot,
Lilli, etc.
And he will cut all the English throat,
Lilli, etc.

Though by my shoul de English do prat,
Lilli, etc.
De law’s on dare side, and Chreist knows what,
Lilli, etc.

But if dispense do come from de pope,
Lilli, etc.
We’ll hang Magno Carto and demselves in a rope,
Lilli, etc.

And the good Talbot is made a lord,
Lilli, etc.
And he with brave lads is coming aboard,
Lilli, etc.

Who all in France have taken a swear,
Lilli, etc.
Dat dey will have no Protestant heir,
Lilli, etc.

O! but why does he stay behind?
Lilli, etc.
Ho by my shoul `tis a Protestant wind,
Lilli, etc.

Now Tyrconnell is come ashore,
Lilli, etc.
And we shall have commissions gillore,
Lilli, etc.

And he dat will not go to mass
Lilli, etc.
Shall turn out and look like an ass,
Lilli, etc.

Now, now de heretics all go down,
Lilli, etc.
By Chreist and St. Patrick the nations our own,
Lilli, etc.

There was an old prophecy found in a bog,
Lilli, etc.
That Ireland should be rul’d by an ass and a dog:
Lilli, etc.

And now this prophecy is come to pass,
Lilli, etc.
For Talbot’s the dog, and Tyrconnell’s the ass,
Lilli, etc.

BORN IN BATTLE: The American Revolution Songs of the Revolution Lilli Burlero