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How 'The Fields of Athenry' became our new national anthem

We might not have had dreams -- but we still had songs to sing. And so it was that just as Cesc Fabregas slotted home Spain's fourth goal of the night and ended Ireland's Euro dream beyond all doubt, the Green Army began to roar out a familiar anthem.

"Low lie the fields of Athenry, where once we watched the small freebirds fly."

Some 10 minutes after full time, the music still had not stopped -- and The Fields of Athenry moment had become a rare highlight from a very grim few days.

But why this song, and how did it become our de facto national sporting anthem?

"When I wrote it (in the 1970s), I thought I'd written another ballad," its composer Pete St John told Weekend Review.

"Dublin in the Rare Auld Times was my calling card at that point, along with The Ferryman. I suppose this was something for the culchies.

"But then Packie Bonner brought it to Celtic -- in the late 1980s I think -- and it went from there."

Having made its way over to Glasgow, it was only a matter of time before it moved back to the Irish terraces -- and in 1990, the song became a hit among the huge travelling contingent at the World Cup in Italy.

And as the popularity of soccer exploded here in the wake of that tournament, it took its new anthem along with it. Galway's football and hurling fans made it into a county anthem -- a rarity in GAA, where singing was viewed as a 'soccer thing' -- while Munster rugby fans also picked it up and shared it with the national side.

This made it the first (and still the only) song to be shared across all of Ireland's four major sports. And while its famine theme may have given it traction with Celtic fans more than 20 years ago, St John believes the reasons for its enduring popularity are musical.

"There's a simplicity about the song," says St John. "I have a basic, melodic chorus and then a lyric (the verse of a ballad). That part is for the singer, who needs to be a good storyteller. But the chorus -- that's for the punter.

"For me, having something like that is just great, no matter who wrote it," says the Dubliner, who watched the singalong in Gdansk. "I really want to thank the fans for that. I'm delighted I have a song -- we have a song -- that can be sung with pride."

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