In many ways it’s a story of sporting Valentine romance for a couple who got married last Saturday in Limerick. Rugby and hurling are both games which are the very heart of the sporting impulse in Limerick for many the long time and the names of Mackey and Flannery came together for an appropriate bit of matchmaking celebration last Saturday at Thomand Park.
A crisis loomed for couple Paul Flannery and his bride-to-be Eilish Mackey – the former a first cousin of Ireland’s/Munster’s Gerry Flannery and the latter being granddaughter of the legendary Mick Mackey – when the local Castletroy Park Hotel announced immediate closure, putting their wedding reception in peril.
But the brand new facilities at the all-gleaming Thomand Park came to the couple’s rescue and so the romantic Valentine tie-up of two of Limerick’s great sporting traditions was thus celebrated in style. We brought you the story before of Mackey’s interest in and support of rugby in an era when Gaelic players dare not speak of or see the ‘foreign games’ as they would risk suspension if caught. Seems like the dark ages now!
The solution was to appoint Mick as a member of the ‘vigilante committee’ so he was able to attend games to see if anybody was there who should not be present! I’m sure Mick Mackey would have relished the romantic irony of it all last Saturday.
With the National Hurling League and the Six Nations Rugby now underway I think the story is an appropriate prelude to considering some aspects and history pertaining to our National Anthem – Amhran na bhFiann – which has borne witness to many a great sporting occasion. Some still refer to it as The Soldier’s Song, indeed it was written under that title and in English almost 100 years ago – in 1907 by Peadar Kearney (read a fuller account below). The music was by Patrick Heeney (I have seen this spelt Heaney, as well).
Like the tricolour, the popularity of The Soldier’s Song dates from the Easter Rising. After the insurrection, the Volunteers in the British interment camps used it to voice their defiance to their captors and it was quickly picked up back in Ireland to express the same sentiment. Strictly speaking it’s a marching song rather than an anthem per se, but it has evolved into one.
The Soldier’s Song in time supplanted both God Save Ireland, the Fenian song based on an American March and that rousing song by Thomas Davis, A Nation Once Again. Each had been used as an informal national anthem. There’s a fuller account of that below. So here’s the chorus of that original Soldier’s Song:
Soldiers are we, whose lives are pledged to Ireland;
Some have come from a land beyond the wave.
Sworn to be free, no more our ancient Ireland,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.
To-night we man the Bearna Baoil,
In Erin’s cause come woe or weal;
‘Mid cannon’s roar and rifles’ peal
We’ll chant a soldier’s song.
(The phrase Bearna Baoil is Irish for the ‘gap of danger’). The language of the lyrics today sounds very archaic and maybe just as well that the anthem is rarely now heard in anything except as Gaeilge.
Seo, a chairde, seasaig le haghaidh Amhran na bhFiann:
Sinne laochra Fáil,
Atá faoi gheall ag Éireann,
Buíon dár slua,
Thar thoinn do ráinig chugainn
Faoi mhóid bheith saor,
Seantír ár sinsear feasta
Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoi tráill;
Anocht a théam sa bhearna bhaoil,
Le gean ar Ghaeil chun báis nó saoil,
Le gunna-scréach faoi lamhach na bpiléar
Seo libh canaig’ Amhrán na bhFiann.
Here I am indebted to Dr Jane Lyons of Dublin for some fascinating insights into the writer/s of the original anthem, and its journey towards becoming the accepted anthem of the country.
Kearney was born at 68 Lower Dorset Street in Dublin in 1883, he grew up in the Dolphin’s Barn area. He was educated at The Model School, Schoolhouse Lane and by the Irish Christian Brothers in Marino. Leaving school at 14 years he worked mending punctured bicycles during the day, he carried meals to the artists of the Gaiety Theatre at night time, before becoming a house painter. He joined the Gaelic league in 1901 and was sworn into the Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1903.
Both he and Heaney became members of the Oliver Bond 1798 Club and it was for this club that the pair of them wrote the song, with Heaney composing the music while Kearney wrote the words as he said afterwards “in order to impress on Irishmen that they did not have to join the British army to be soldiers”. There is some evidence to suggest that Seán Rogan may have assisted with the music. Kearney was working in Wicklow at the time he composed the lyrics (1907) and he was teaching Irish at night, among his students was author and playwright Seán Ó Casey.
By 1911 Kearney had obtained employment in the Abbey Theatre as a props man and he toured England with the company in that year. Touring England again with the Abbey players in 1916, Kearney left the tour despite the wishes and advice of St John Irvine, who was the tour manager, to take part in the Easter Rising in April of that year, Apart from the author, the first man to sing it publicly was the playwright Patrick Bourke a relation of Kearney.
The song lyrics were published by Bulmer Hobson in ‘Irish Freedom’ in 1912. It became the marching song of the Irish Volunteers, replacing such older songs as T.D. Sullivan’s ‘God save Ireland’ and Thomas Davis’ A Nation Once Again’, both of which were identified with the Irish Parliamentary Party, but was not widely known outside the ranks of the military activists until after the Easter Rebellion of 1916, when the music was arranged and published by Victor Herbert in New York in December 1916.
The English National Anthem ‘God Save the King’ was used at all ‘official’ occasions at that time.
The Original Song Contest
When the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) was established in 1922 there was no national anthem, and it was not until 1924 that the lack of a national anthem was highlighted. It was Seán Lester, who was Director of Publicity in the Department of External Affairs, who it appears, first raised the issue, stating “but it is felt that while it (The Soldier’s Song) was excellent as a revolutionary song, both words and music are unsuitable for a National Anthem.” He emphasised that the absence of an official anthem “makes it easier for the pro-British elements to sing the British National Anthem at their functions,” and suggested that a competition be held to provide new words for a national anthem to the tune of Thomas Moore’s ‘Let Erin Remember the Days of Old’ The Executive Council declined to make a ruling but they informally agreed to continue using ‘The Soldier’s Song for the time being within the Free
State, while the air of ‘Let Erin Remember’ would be used when the state was being represented abroad, it being considered ‘more suitable from a musical point of view’.
The Government did not pursue Lester’s suggestion of holding a competition, however, on June 13th 1924! But The Dublin Evening Mail launched a competition to attract entries for a new anthem, worthy of the new state and a handsome prize of 50 pounds! So our first ever ‘song contest panel’ was comprised of novelist James Stephens, play-wright, Lennox Robinson and poet, William Butler Yeats. However no entry was deemed worthy of the prize by that august panel looking for Factor X!
The Executive Council in response to Seán Lestar raising the matter again in July 1926 decided that ‘The Soldier’s Song’ should be used both within the state and abroad. Deputy O.G. Esmonde asked a question in the Dáil about the national anthem which was answered by the Minister for Defence, whose draft reply stated ‘while no final decision has been come to’ The Soldier’s Song’ was ‘at present accepted as the national anthem’.
So the next time our team is playing for county or country honours, seasaigi le cheile agus canaigi Amhran na bhFiann. Here’s looking for an All-Ireland and a Grand Slam!
Go seachtain eile, slan.