“Dicey Reilly” or Dicey Riley as it is sometimes spelt is a song about a woman alcoholic from Dublin. Despite the seriousness of the subject, the song is warm and light hearted. It’s uncertain whether Dicey was a real person, and if she was, whether or not she used prostitution to finance her drinking.
Most versions of the song only feature two verses and a chorus, which focus purely on Dicey’s drinking habits. However, there is also a longer version made popular by the Dublin singer and songwriter Dominic Behan, which introduces the theme of prostitution.
The shorter version is still the best known and tells the story of how Dicey has taken to drink and will never give it up.
The word ‘pop’, which is used in the chorus, is Dublin slang for pawn shop. This suggests Dicey’s daily routine is to visit the pawn shop to get money to buy drink. The ‘heart of the rowl’ refers to the end part of a roll of chewing tobacco. The end of the roll was generally considered to be the best because it had more time to mature.
The “heart of the rowl” therefore came to mean the best, which suggests that for all her faults, Dicey was liked and considered to be a good person at heart.
Oh poor old Dicey Reilly she has taken to the sup
Oh poor old Dicey Reilly she will never give it up
For it’s off each morning to the pop
And then she’s in for another little drop
For the heart of the rowl is Dicey Reilly
Oh she walks along Fitzgibbon street with an independent air
And then it’s down be Summerhill and as the people stare
She says it’s nearly half past one, and it’s time I had another little one
Ah the heart of the rowl is Dicey Reilly
Long years ago when men were men and fancied May Oblong
Or lovely Beckie Cooper or Maggie’s Mary Wong
One woman put them all to shame, just one was worthy of the name
And the name of the dame was Dicey Reilly
Oh but time went catching up on her like many pretty whores
And it’s after you along the street before you’re out the door
The balance weighed and they looks all fade, but out of all that great brigade
Still the heart of the rowl is Dicey Reilly