Noah’s Ark Shanty


Naming Swan Arcade, who recorded it for the Voices CD released through Fellside, as his source for this jon says, “A great shanty this, and a useful way out if a singing session starts taking an excessively religious dimension.” I can only guess, but suspect having such a jolly little safety valve as this up your sleeve might well prove very handy. A couple of quick notes on this as I’m curious as to what Noah’s Ark was doing in Frisco Bay anyway and there’s a suggestion on Mudcat that “the bull put his horn through the side,” rather than arm makes sense. With this being a shanty there are probably countless variants as far as the lyrics go, some presumably made up on the spot. As such it’s hard to be definitive in any way about this and indeed I couldn’t find anything especially pertinent on the source. I’ll simply refer you to Reinhard’s Mainly Norfolk for the Swan Arcade sleeve notes, that refer in turn to this as “an aetiological work song,” and I guess (although I had to look that up), that it could be subtitled in a Kipling-esque-Just-So way as ‘How the dog got it’s nose.’ Mudcat gives the lyrics here and you can, as always, explore further at will.

You can buy the September digital album now from all good download stores:


22 Responses to “Noah’s Ark Shanty”

  1. Joanna says:

    This is a very nice shanty 🙂

  2. muzza says:

    Yeeeesssssssss..this should get the onlookers joining in………for my own part I am going to change the wasted “repeated lines” to:-
    He took two animals of every kind
    To me way, hay, hay-oh
    Of all the sorts that he could find
    A long time ago

    The bull and the cow they started to row
    To me way, hay, hay-oh
    They stormed about from stern to bow
    A long time ago

    I know, I know…………………..I’ll fry in Hell…..but I’ll risk it!(sorry Cecil)

  3. Jane Ramsden says:

    I had to look it up too! Wiki says:
    Etiology (alternatively aetiology, aitiology) is the study of causation, or origination. The word is derived from the Greek αἰτιολογία, aitiologia, “giving a reason for” (αἰτία, aitia, “cause”; and -λογία, -logia).[1]
    The word is most commonly used in medical and philosophical theories, where it is used to refer to the study of why things occur, or even the reasons behind the way that things act, and is used in philosophy, physics, psychology, government, medicine, theology and biology in reference to the causes of various phenomena. An etiological myth is a myth intended to explain a name or create a mythic history for a place or family.

  4. Jane Ramsden says:

    Sounds like a drop of naval rum could have been consumed in the singing of this song, Jon! I think one could step up the tempo a bit too and make it a rollicking shanty!
    I like your variation, Muzza. I think it’s allowed as these songs are living things!

  5. Jane Ramsden says:

    As if I hadn’t said enough, I was going to add, there was a Swan Arcade in my home town, Bradford, before it was erroneously pulled down by a short-sighted Council. So I looked up Dave Brady from the Swan Arcade group referred to on Reinhard’s site and found they were named after that structure, which I remember with fondness as a child. Here is a link to Dave Brady’s Guardian obituary which makes informative and interesting reading:

    The Topic Folk Club is still going strong, now in the Irish Centre, and I recently saw Katriona Gilmore & Jamie Roberts there, so still hosting the new and very talented!

  6. Reinhard says:

    No Hell at all for you muzza! That´s just folk tradition at work and very nicely done.

  7. i got this one from Pete Coe some years ago at the WMA summer school – in his version (which was contained in a large, venerable book with a Green Cover. So it must be right.) the ‘repeated verse lines’ were:

    They took two animals of every kind
    A bull and a cow, a stag and a hind

    The bull and the cow, they started to row
    And the little black dog went “rowdy-dow dow”

    which also has the advantage of introducing the protagonists earlier in the song, no?

    As i’m Liverpool based, i always moved the action to Liverpool Bay, which scans better. It’s also more likely that Biblical adventures would start in God’s Favourite City 😉

  8. Jane Ramsden says:

    I’ll do a bit of Swan-upping here and say more likely in Yorkshire – God’s own county!

  9. Nick says:

    Ah but Jane… Swan-upping is what they do on the Thames, the prefered location of all Deities 🙂

  10. Sarah says:

    Love this!

  11. Jo Breeze says:

    More about Noah’s Ark Shanty from the Vaughan Williams Memorial Library at the English Folk Dance and Song Society.
    There are 10 records of Noah’s Ark in the Library, though most of these are different songs under similar titles.
    We used the Roud number to cross reference against different titles for the song. Checking the first lines in the full record view allows us to identify the Roud number of the song we’re interested in. When searched on Roud No. 318, there are 34 versions of the song – more commonly known as ‘A Long Time Ago’.
    If you wish to see more detail on each record, change the ‘output’ to ‘record’ and press ‘submit query’.
    There are no records of the song in the Take 6 collection.
    We use the Roud index and the Take 6 online collections in the search for information on Jon’s selections.
    For more information, or to carry out your own search for songs, please visit
    If you need any help accessing the library online or have any questions, please contact the VWML on 020 7485 2206 or

  12. […] Noah's Ark Shanty « A Folk Song A Day I can only guess, but suspect having such a jolly little safety valve as this up your sleeve might well prove very handy. A couple of quick notes on this as I'm curious as to what Noah's Ark was doing in Frisco Bay anyway and there's a suggestion on Mudcat . I think one could step up the tempo a bit too and make it a rollicking shanty! I like your variation, Muzza. I think it's allowed as these songs are living things! Jane Ramsden says: September 4, 2010 at 11:18 pm . […]

  13. Jan says:

    I first heard this from the Spinners, although I have to admit it was the Swan Arcade version onFellside’s Voices album that inspired me to start singing it.
    Muzza, I like your variations, also the Pete Coe ones Phil mentions. I thikh whoever sings a song should make it their own in some way – that’s the Folk Process!
    By the way, my bull puts his horn through the Ark’s side.

  14. Diana says:

    Another great shanty. Amusing as well, easy to imagine what was happening aboard the Ark.

  15. noah says:


    […]Noah’s Ark Shanty « A Folk Song A Day[…]…

  16. Old Muzza(NW Surrey.UK says:

    With the happenings of recent days I don’t think that old Ark would be welcome anywhere ….probably get a navy escort….. and a thorough search.!

  17. Old Muzza(NW Surrey-UK) says:

    opportunity for energetic person to join cruise ship and see the world..
    free accommodation but will be expected to earn keep by helping with feeding boisterous passengers(many with low hygiene standards) and cleaning out the accommodation.
    If you own a shotgun and can recognise a woodpecker…..the job is yours!

  18. Linda says:

    Brings some lovely images of life on board … and a great reason for a dog having a cold nose……love to hear Fay sing this

  19. Old Muzza(N.W.Surrey UK) says:

    Texas and Bangladesh could do with a few arks at this time!

  20. Linda says:

    Brilliant just what we need a good shanty…..

  21. Linda says:

    Nice and lively some good stuff coming up……

  22. OldMuzza(NWSurreyUK) says:

    Ref my comment in 2017….poor old Bangladesh has copped it big time yet again!

Your Reply

Warning: Undefined variable $user_ID in /customers/a/0/f/ on line 121