"The waves are running much too high."

Part of the Annotated Lyrics Horslips Pages

High on the mountain stands a boat,
But are they gods or real folk?
We can't see the fire but we smell the smoke.
Who'll take the plough? Who'll be the yoke?
Night after night I don't believe.
We are the ones you won't deceive.
Not a thing will you achieve
'cos we belong and we won't leave.

Trouble, trouble.
I try to chase trouble but it's chasing me.
Trouble with a capital T.

Lay down your silver and your gold.
I'm a man who can't be sold.
And even when my heart grows cold,
I'll curse your evil stranglehold.
The waves are running much too high.
It's got so dark can't see the sky.
But a change is coming by and by
A time to laugh, a time to die.

High on the mountain stands a boat,
But are they gods or real folk?
We can't see the fire but we smell the smoke.
Who'll take the plough? Who'll be the yoke?

Been so long away from home,
I've almost made this place my own.
Now it seems I'll soon be gone,
Moving on and all alone.

Recorded On:

  1. The Book of Invasions: A Celtic Symphony
  2. Horslips, The Best of
  3. The Belfast Gigs
  4. Rollback

Source Tune:

Brian Boru's March, AKA and see "Brian Borouhme," "The Piper's March." Irish, March (6/8 time).
"The music of this march is wildly powerful and at the same time melancholy. It is at one the music of victory and of mourning. The rapid modulations and wild beauty of the air was such that I think this march deserves full to obtain a celebrity equal to that of the 'Marseillaise' and the 'Ragotsky.'"

Andrew Kuntz, The Fiddler's Companion,

Recordings (Before Horslips):

  1. The Chieftains, The Chieftains 2, 1969

Recordings (After Horslips):

  1. Alan Stivell, Again, 1994
  2. The Prodigals, Go On, 1999

Covered By:

  1. Fathom, The Last Battle, 2007
  2. Horslypse - Tribute with a Capital T, Omagh
  3. The Indulgers with special guest Johnny Fean, Ennis, 2007
  4. Skully, 2008 (Remix of original and Rollback versions)

General Notes from Albums:

The subsequent tune, developing into the basic "Trouble" riff, is "Brian Boru's March."

Notes on The Book of Invasions, Edsel Records

Brian Boru's March underpins this rabble rouse. Started on flute it's picked up and syncopated on guitar. And what of the enigmatic lyrics? A boat on a mountain? Gods or Real Folk? Read the original.

Notes on Horslips, The Best of..., Edsel Records

General Notes from the Official Guestbook:

A few "affordable" pints were to be had in the Speakeasy or Bottom Bar, queuing to get into the Ulster or Whitla, then establishing yourself in amongst the "bouncy" for the opener. And the realising you'd gaffed by drinking so much beforehand that you had to negotiate out to the bogs, timing it carefully in case you missed "Trouble". I'm convinced that a few mates improvised urinals somewhere - or else they had bladders the size of beachballs. I think I still have the Jim Dunlop plectrum lobbed in by Barry - some consolation for not getting the electric fiddle I suppose.

Martin Carlin, Official Horslips Guestbook, Friday, December 15, 2000 - 12:10:20 (GMT)

"You have me thinking about the opening of concerts now. What about the start of the Belfast Gigs? After chants of Horslips-Horslips we have a loud cheer as a spotlight picks out Jim in the darkness playing the opening refain of "Trouble" on the flute , then a massive, massive cheer as the gloriously coloured lights come on showing the stage and our superhero rock stars ( mirrors,hairdryers and all) moving the song into full pelt!!

Stephen, Checking me pulse, Ireland, Official Horslips Guestbook, Monday, April 24, 2000 at 20:41:35 (BST)

General Notes:

Trouble (with a capital T) was chosen to represent 1976 in Beautiful Day: 40 Years of Irish Rock, Cork University Press, 2005

Trouble (with a Capital T) on You Tube:

  1. Trouble (with a Capital T) by Johnny Fean, Thin Lizzy Night at the Point, posted July 14, 2007
  2. Trouble (with a Capital T) by the Indulgers with special guest Johnny Fean, Barge Rooms, Ennis, posted November 24, 2007

Annotated Lyrics:

"on the mountain stands a boat"

and "so dark can't see the sky"

55. So that they were the Tuatha De Danann who came to Ireland. In this wise they came, in dark clouds. They landed on the mountains of Conmaicne Rein in Connachta; and they brought a darkness over the sun for three days and three nights.

The Lebor Gabala Erren, translation on McLaughlin of Donegal family site

LT: When I first read the original and compared it to the Horslips lyrics, I was thrilled by this fantastical story of a 'ship' landing on high ground as if from the sky. Then I found this in A Celtic Miscellany, Kenneth Hurlstone Jackson, ed:

138. The Air Ship

One day the monks of Clonmacnoise were holding a meeting on the floor of the church, and as they were at their deliberations there they saw a ship sailing over them in the air, going as if it were on the sea. When the crew of the ship saw the meeting and the inhabited place below them, they dropped anchor, and the anchor came right down on to the floor of the church, and the priests seized it. A man came down out of the ship after the anchor, and he was swimming as if he were in the water, till he reached the anchor; and they were dragging him down then. 'For God's sake let me go!' said he, 'for you are drowning me.' Then he left them, swimming in the air as before, taking his anchor with him.

Irish, author unknown, fourteenth-fifteenth century ?

"are they gods or real folk"

56. They demanded battle of kingship of the Fir Bolg. A battle was fought between them, to wit the first battle of Mag Tuired, in which a hundred thousand of the Fir Bolg fell. Thereafter they took the kingship of Ireland. Those are the Tuatha Dea - gods were their men of arts, non-gods their husbandmen. They knew the incantations of druids, and charioteers, and trappers, and cupbearers.

The Lebor Gabala Erren, McLaughlin site translation

"can't see the fire but we smell the smoke"

A connecting image with "a fire that you can't see burning" in Come Summer

"the waves are running much too high"

LT: Although it refers to the next 'invasion' of the Milesians, the "nine waves" image always occurs to me when I hear this line. The nine waves image is described here:

The sons of Milidh proceeded thence to Tara, where they met the three sons of Cearmad, to wit, Eathur, Ceathur, Teathur, with their magic host; and the sons of Milidh demanded battle or a right to the sovereignty of the country from the sons of Cearmad, and these replied that they would act towards them according to the judgment of Aimhirgin, their own brother, and that if he delivered an unjust judgment against them, they would kill him by magic. The judgment Aimhirgin gave regarding his brothers and their host was that they should return to Innbhear Sceine, and that they should embark with all their host and go out the distance of nine waves on the high sea, and if they succeeded in coming to land again in spite of the Tuatha De Danann, they were to have sway over the country. And the Tuatha De Danann were satisfied with this, for they thought that their own magic would be able to prevent them from returning ever again to the country.

The History of Ireland (BOOK I-II), Geoffrey Keating, University College Cork Corpus of Electronic Texts

First Posted: May 28, 2005
Last Revised: December 16, 2007