'Dirty Old Town' is about ENGLAND - not Ireland - as secrets about famous Pogues and  Dubliners song are revealed
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'Dirty Old Town' is about ENGLAND - not Ireland - as secrets about famous Pogues and Dubliners song are revealed

DIRTY OLD TOWN, a song made famous by The Pogues and The Dubliners, isn't actually about Dublin. I know. We're shocked too.

It isn't even about Ireland, it's about an English dirty old town.

The song rose to mainstream prominence thanks to The Dubliners, who released a version on their 1968 album Drinkin' and Courtin'.

Two decades later, The Pogues released a grittier version of the song on their second album, 'Rum, Sodomy and the Lash'.

One could be forgiven for thinking the song was as Irish as it gets, but sadly not.

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Written in 1946 by Scottish folk singer Ewan MacColl, the song was written about Salford, a town just outside Manchester in the north-west of England, where MacColl grew up.

As Dubliners frontman Luke Kelly said himself on stage once: "The next song is a love song, written to a place, not to a woman, but to a place.

"A place called Salford."

The gasworks wall, the old canal, the docks, they're all there in the dirty old town of Salford. And that isn't a slight to Salford or its people, the charming industrial is now a vital cog in the economic resurgence in the north of England.

There's a line in the song about smelling a spring "on the smoky wind," but in the original version, the line read "on the Salford wind," and is occasionally sung as "on the sulphured wind."

The Pogues' version is also played as Salford City FC walk out on the field.

With strong Irish links in the town, is it any wonder the song would eventually make its way over and inspire so many folk here?

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But just how did it fall into the hands of Luke Kelly, Shane MacGowan and co?


The original song was released in 1949, and after appearing in a number of films, became a folk-revival staple.

MacColl gave the likes of Rod Stewart, Roger Whittaker and The Dubliners partial rights to the song in the late-60s, and they all went onto to use it for years.

As Ewan MacColl's career began to wind down during the 80s, the song was passed on to his daughter, Kirsty.

You see where this is going?

Kirsty, who had the same musical gifts as her father, would collaborate with The Pogues in 1987 to release quite possibly the greatest Christmas song of all time, Fairytale of New York.

While their version of Dirty Old Town was released two years earlier, we know that Fairytale took around two years to write and record, so there's every chance that Ms MacColl had everything to do with MacGowan picking up the song her father made famous some 35 years prior.

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So there you have it. One of Ireland's most famous love songs has nothing to do with Ireland at all. It's about an English town, written by a Scottish man ... but became an Irish classic. Fancy that.