Irish Rebel Songs
Whether singing about the famine, the 1916 Easter Rebellion or the atrocities committed during Ireland's Civil Rights movement of the early '70s, the Irish know how to craft a rebel song! With humor that belies an acerbic tone, tales of hardship, betrayal, murder and deceit -- as well as tales of heroic acts, solidarity and true, everlasting love -- have, for centuries, been the voice of Ireland's people.
The oral history of Ireland and its warriors had been passed down from generation to generation through its bards, whose job was to orally chronicle the traditions and historical contributions of the major clans of Eire. Although a few songs deal with such historical/mythological figures as Cú Chulainn, Irish Rebel songs generally fall under four umbrellas: songs about the famine, songs about the Easter Rising, songs about the resulting civil war, and songs about the '70s Civil Rights movement -- aka "The Troubles."
"The Fields of Athenry" is one of the famine songs. It tells the story of Michael -- a man imprisoned for stealing his landlord's corn to feed his child -- and his wife Mary. "Against the famine and the crown/ I rebelled, they ran me down/ Now you must raise our child with dignity," Michael croons. Today, this song can be heard at many European soccer matches (most particularly when Ireland's national team plays), or in Scotland, where Celtic and Ranger clubs still embody the Catholic-versus-Protestant dynamic.
The Easter Rising also inspired plenty of rebel songs. While England was preoccupied with World War I (and therefore had a smaller presence in Ireland), the Irish rebels planned to take Ireland back. After a week of fighting, the rebels surrendered and were subsequently executed. Many of those involved -- Padraig Pearse and James Connolly among them -- became martyrs for "the cause," and songs were written about them. The imprisonment and impending death of one such leader, Joseph Plunkett, is heartbreakingly told in the beautiful song "Grace," named for his fiancée, whom he married just hours before being executed.
The rebellion might have been suppressed, but the desire for home rule had not. In 1922, the Anglo-Irish treaty was signed, which made the Republic of Ireland a self-governing dominion of the British Empire. The country was split by this, and a civil war ensued. Kevin Barry, Sean Tracey and Sean South are among the rebels in Ireland's fight for complete independence to be immortalized in song.
The treaty gave Northern Ireland the option to continue to be a part of Great Britain (as opposed to being a part of the Irish Free State), which they exercised. Since then, the Catholic majority have been trying to overturn this. On January 30, 1972 in Derry, Northern Ireland, 26 unarmed Civil Rights protesters were gunned down by British soldiers; five were shot in the back. Sometimes called the Bogside Massacre, this event is better known as Bloody Sunday, as immortalized in the U2 song "Sunday Bloody Sunday." Songs such as John Lennon's "Give Ireland Back to the Irish" and Stiff Little Fingers' "Alternative Ulster" have also helped spread awareness of the plight of Ireland's rebels.
In the following decades, bands such as The Pogues, Flogging Molly and Dropkick Murphys have turned in revved-up, punk-ish versions of many Irish rebel songs, introducing them to a new generation. Hit play and enjoy some of the best rebel songs Ireland has to offer up ... just in time for St. Patrick's Day.