I have no idea where I learned this, though I’m pretty sure it was early. I assumed I’d got it from the Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, who were favorites of mine, but they don’t seem to have done it, and the only version I can find of it in my LPs is by the Irish Rovers, and is nothing like I remember…
The versions in general circulation seem mostly to descend from the Dubliners’ recording, and I assume that’s how it came to me — albeit at second or third hand — but that’s just a guess. In any case, the song has a long and well-researched lineage, back to the ballad of an Irish highwayman named Patrick Flemming who was executed in 1650. That ballad, given in full on other folklore sites, includes a fair number of lines that overlap my version, and an identical theme:
My whore she proved false and that is the reason
Or else Patrick Flemming had never been taken,
When I was asleep and knew nothing of the matter
Then she loaded my arms with water
By about 1850 it had taken something very close to its modern form, and was published in a broadsheet as “The Sporting Hero, or Whiskey in the Bar” (reproduced below). It was very popular on both sides of the Atlantic, as it remains to the present — for the obvious reason that it’s an entertaining, rowdy, rebellious story, and a lot of fun to sing.