Thursday 29 September 2016

Poetry: The splendid poet behind lacklustre Amhrán na bhFiann

Published 10/04/2016 | 02:30

Peadar Kearney
Peadar Kearney

The Easter Rising Commemorations have been a real success. The only drawback was that one had to listen so often to our awful national anthem.

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One could feel the muscles tightening in the face in expectation as the first bars of the 'The Soldiers' Song' broke out. We learn that "our ancient sireland will shelter no more the despot or the slave", whatever they are, and that some of our soldiers "have come from a land beyond the wave", wherever that is.

It's hard to think that 'The Soldiers' Song' replaced Thomas Davis's wonderful 'A Nation Once Again', which had been the anthem until it was replaced by 'Amhrán na bhFiann'.

What is even more difficult to understand is how Peadar Kearney, who was a key figure in the War of Independence and a splendid poet, could have written such a lacklustre piece. It was Peadar who wrote such marvellous ballads like 'The Tri Coloured Ribbon' and 'Down by the Glenside'.

His roots were deep in the fight for freedom and he was a vital figure in Michael Collins's squad. He was a brother of Kathleen Behan, Brendan's mother, who was a friend of mine and some evenings, if the mood was right, I would hear her sing her brother's beautiful songs in a voice that would silence even the drinkers in McDaid's. The third verse of 'The Tri Coloured Ribbon' has a wonderful image: "His bandolier round him, his bright bayonet shining". Very far indeed from the "The serried ranks of Innisfail" who adorn the current anthem.

The Tri Coloured Ribbon

I had a true love if ever a girl had one

I had a true love, a brave lad was he,

One fine Easter Monday with his ­gallant comrades

He started away for to make Ireland free

For all around my hat I wear a three coloured ribbon

All around my hat until death comes to me

And if anybody's asking me

why do I wear it

It's all for my own true love I never more will see.

His bandolier round him, his bright bayonet shining;

His short service rifle, a beauty to see;

There was joy in his eyes tho' he left me behind him

And started away for to set Ireland free

Peadar Kearney 1883-1942

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