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24 September 2014
Wars and Conflict - Rebel Songs

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The inspiration for a ballad is many and varied. Sometimes it can be a great tragedy, an ambush, a murder or just a simple phrase that sets a chord vibrating. A parish priest from Kilcoo in Co.Down, Canon Charles O’Neill, attended the first sitting of the new Dáil, or parliament, in Dublin in 1919. As the names of the elected members were called out he was moved by the number of times the names were answered by "faoi ghlas ag na Gaill" (locked up by the foreigner). On returning home he wrote one of the finest songs that recounts the story of the 1916 Rebellion.


The Foggy Dew

As down the glen one Easter morn
Through a city fair rode I.
There armed lines of marching men,
In squadrons did pass me by.
No pipe did hum, no battle drum,
Did sound out its loud tattoo.
But the angelus bell o’er the Liffey’s swell,
Rang out through the foggy dew.

Right proudly high over Dublin town
They flung out the flag of war.
‘Twas far better to die ‘neath an Irish sky,
Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar.
And from the plains of royal Meath,
Brave men came hurrying through,
While Britannia’s Huns with their long-range guns,
Sailed into the foggy dew.
 

Perhaps the best known and most widely sung of all the songs of Irish resistance is the one which commemorates the execution of Kevin Barry in Dublin’s Mountjoy Jail on 1st November 1920. Barry was an 18 year-old medical student who joined the Irish Volunteers and was sentenced to death by hanging after he was convicted of the killing of a British soldier. The execution received international attention and many appeals for a reprieve were turned down. The song was written by an anonymous exile in Glasgow and later was heard by a worldwide audience when the great American singer Paul Robeson recorded it.


Kevin Barry

In Mountjoy Jail one Monday morning,
High upon the gallows tree,
Kevin Barry gave his young life
For the cause of liberty.
Just a lad of eighteen summers,
Yet no one can deny,
As he walked to death that morning
He proudly held his head on high.

Just before he faced the hangman,
In his dreary prison cell,
British soldiers tortured Barry
Just because he would not tell
The names of his brave comrades,
And other things they wished to know,
‘Turn informer or we’ll kill you!’
Kevin Barry answered ‘No!’
 
 
 
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