Oil Thigh

[Queen's Bands doing the Oil Thigh at an athletics event]

Queen's Bands doing the Oil Thigh at an athletics event

This combined song and dance is a distinctive Queen's tradition, performed at sporting events and most university occasions less formal than convocations (although spontaneous Oil Thighs have also been known to occur). It consists of the old song "Queen's College Colours," sung to the accompaniment of a low-kicking sort of can-can dance.

At football games, during Orientation Week or when alumni meet each other around the world, it doesn’t take long before you’ll hear the trademark warm-up “Ooooooooooooh” of Queen’s song, “The Oil Thigh.” Despite the fact that its main creator felt it was little more than a throwaway, Queen’s alumni can be found kicking the can-can and launching into the Scottish Gaelic lyrics.

The name "Oil Thigh" comes from the chorus of the song, which begins with the Gaelic words "Oil thigh na Banrighinn a'Banrighinn gu brath" ("The university of the wife of the King forever"). At football games, it is a tradition that students perform an Oil Thigh after every touchdown.

The story of the “Oil Thigh” begins in the 1890s, with Queen’s travelling to the University of Toronto for a football game. The Queen’s team was confident, practiced, and favoured to win. They were sure the game would be a cakewalk and they would return to Kingston victorious. Instead, Toronto’s team pulled off an 18-5 win. Back on campus, Queen’s students were dejected. Their team had suffered a surprise defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals and they looked for something to make themselves feel better.

On Oct. 3, 1891, the AMS found what they thought was a solution: Queen’s needed a song, one that was part rallying cry and part celebration. Up until then, the university’s cheer was “1-2-3, Sis! Boo! Yah!”, which failed to inspire both confidence or excitement in players and audience alike. The AMS struck a committee, headed up by Alfred Lavell and S. Alfred Mitchell, to come up with a new song. Eager to reflect the university’s Scottish roots, they enlisted the help of three students: Donald Cameron, F.A. McRae and McLean (his first name isn’t recorded) to create the song’s Gaelic lyrics. After a bit of back and forth, and borrowing the tune from “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” they composed “Queen’s College Colours.” It didn’t take long before it become better known by its first lyric, “Oil thigh.”

After the song committee and subsequently the AMS adopted “Queen’s College Colours” a few days later on Oct. 9, a few holdouts argued loudly that “Sis! Boo! Yah!” wasn’t so bad and everyone should stick with what they knew. Two weeks after its adoption, the AMS met again to refine the song, taking out the Gaelic cries of “Dearg! Gor’mus! Buidthe!” and replacing them with the more familiar and pronounceable, “Queen’s! Queen’s! Queen’s!”

Whether it was the new song or sheer luck, Queen’s handily beat U of T at the next rematch.

Alfred Lavell, who led the effort to create the new song and who wrote most of its lyrics, admitted in his later years how baffled he was that the song caught on. It had a borrowed tune, people mispronounced the words, and he called the lyrics “mere doggerel.” Throughout Queen’s history, many have agreed, and there have been a number of attempts to write a replacement. Rector Leonard Brockington tried to sponsor the creation of something new, but it never panned out. In 1928, George Ketiladze and Harold Sprott wrote Sing the Praise of Queen’s University, which had a few years of popularity and then faded away. In 1940, J.R. Miller and G.F. Allison tried their hand too, and though their song caught on, it couldn’t beat out the “Oil Thigh”.

The song has gone through more changes since 1891. In 1985, the lyrics “So, boys, go in and win!” was replaced with “So, Gaels, go in and win” for gender neutrality. As the years went by, the song got shorter and shorter. Nowadays, it’s customary to sing the chorus and the first verse, but not the other verses’ references to beating McGill, U of T and Western.

The modern version of the Oil Thigh:

Queen's College colours we are wearing once again,
Soiled as they are by the battle and the rain,
Yet another victory to wipe away the stain!
So, Gaels, go in and win!


Oil thigh na Banrighinn a'Banrighinn gu brath!
Oil thigh na Banrighinn a'Banrighinn gu brath!
Oil thigh na Banrighinn a'Banrighinn gu brath!
Cha-gheill! Cha-gheill! Cha-gheill!

Varsity's not invincible, they tremble at the news
Of Queen's College Colours and are shaking in their shoes.
Yet another victory, the chance we dare not lose.
So, Gaels, go in and win!

Chorus: Oil thigh, na Banrighinn...

McGill has met defeat before, they've heard the same old tale
Of Queen's College colours, boys, the ones that seldom fail,
Remember Captain Curtis and the conquerors of Yale,
So, Gaels, go in and win!

Chorus: Oil thigh, na Banrighinn...

Western's White and Purple have come down to Queen's to score,
We sent them back to London as they'd ne'er been sent before.
And Queen's again were victors as they were in days of yore,
So, Gaels, go in and win!

There may be other colours to the breezes oft unfurled,
And many another college yell by student voices hurled;
Queen's College colours are the dearest in the world,
So, Gaels, go in and win!

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