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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Rebel Songs

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Peadar Kearney and another popular ballad writer, Brian O’Higgins (Brian na Banban), continued to use the cutting edge of sarcasm to great effect. They used some of their songs to mock the police who at that time were encouraged to learn the Irish language so that they might be able to charge the rebels with making seditious speeches. However, when it came to writing about the ‘Easter Rising,’ Peadar Kearney wrote not about a ‘glorious rebellion’ but in an understated, sarcastic Dublin fashion, referred to the Rising as a row in the town.

The Row in the Town

I’ll sing you a song of a row in the town,
When the green flag went up and the crown rag came down,
‘Twas the neatest and sweetest thing ever you saw,
And they played the best game played in Erin go Bragh.

God rest gallant Pearse and his comrades who died,
Tom Clarke, MacDonagh, MacDermott, McBride,
And here’s to Jim Connolly he gave one hurrah,
And he placed the machine guns for Erin go Bragh.

Big moments in history like the 1916 Rebellion do not always provide inspiration for a great ballad. Patrick Pearse, the iconic leader of 1916 is not celebrated in the popular song tradition, yet the labour leader James Connolly is. Why is there a ballad for Connolly but none for Pearse? Perhaps the manner of Connolly’s execution – still suffering from his wounds he was shot sitting in a chair – or perhaps his role as a trade union leader inspired the ballad maker to immortalise him in song.

James Connolly

Where oh where is our James Connolly,
Where oh where can that brave man be,
He has gone to organise the Union,
That working men might yet be free.

Where oh where is the citizen army,
Where oh where can that brave band be,
They have gone to join the great rebellion,
And break the bonds of slavery.
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