‘Whiskey in the Jar’ is the tale of a highwayman or footpad who, after robbing a military or government official, is betrayed by a woman; whether she is his wife or sweetheart is not made clear. Various versions of the song take place in Co Kerry, Kilmoganny, Cork, Sligo and other locales throughout Ireland. It is also sometimes placed in the American South, in various places among the Ozarks or Appalachians, possibly due to Irish settlement in these places. Names in the song change, and the official can be a Captain or a Colonel, called Farrell or Pepper among other names. The protagonist’s wife or lover is sometimes called Molly, Jenny, Emzy, or Ginny among various other names. The details of the betrayal are also different, being either betraying him to the person he robbed and replacing his ammunition with sand or water, or not, resulting in his killing the person.
The song first gains wide exposure when Irish folk band The Dubliners perform it internationally as a signature song, and record it on three albums in the 1960s. In the United States, the song is popularized by The Highwaymen, who record it on their 1962 album Encore. The song has also been recorded by singers and folk groups such as Roger Whittaker, The Irish Rovers, Seven Nations, Off Kilter, King Creosote, Brobdingnagian Bards, Charlie Zahm, Metallica and Christy Moore.