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Billy King


Nonviolence News


Musical musings on Irish history and culture
by Rob Fairmichael
(First published 2002 - Updated for AVP International Gathering, Maynooth, July 2014)

This paper, and the music played, are intended to both convey something of Irish history and culture in an entertaining way and to introduce people to a range of Irish musicians, singers and groups. It was originally designed for the 2002 War Resisters' International Triennial Conference in Dublin, to be presented in a couple of hours, and the content partly reflects the context – an international event of a nonviolent and antimilitarist organisation.

The format below is as follows: After the number, the title lists the performer and the name of the track. This is followed by historical and cultural comment and then information about the performer, including any website information, the name of the album the track comes from, and any comments on availability (including availability on You Tube – you should search by performer and song title). A couple of books are mentioned but this is primarily about music rather than literature. Some other musicians to watch out for in the music stores or online are mentioned at the end or underlined under other entries.

Horslips – Ferdia's Song and Cu Chulainn's Lament
(from 'The Táin')

Ireland has a rich culture or rather cultures stretching back literally thousands of years. Many of the early tales which have come down to us are warrior sagas which would have echoes or parallels in other ancient European cultures. The most famous of these early sagas is the Táin Bó Cuailnge (The Cattle Raid of Cooley – a peninsula near Dundalk) the story tells of Queen Mebd (Maeve) trying to steal the Brown Bull of Cooley and what follows.

But Irish prehistory is not all violent - see the reference to the Céide Fields in the 'Nonviolence in Irish history – a quiz'

The early 'folk rock' band Horslips, from the 1970s, produced an album telling the story of the Táin. The two tracks played from this album tell of the scene just before the killing of one friend by another in battle (Ferdia killed by Cu Chulainn); the deed is portrayed as tragic, and the second track is Cu Chulainn's lament at his friend's death.

Horslips, 'The Táin' album, 1973; the album should be available on CD.

Ferdia's Song and Cu Chulainn's Lament on Youtube.

An English translation of the Táin is available in an attractive English language translation by Thomas Kinsella, with brush drawings by Louis le Brocquy. Oxford Paperbacks, ISBN 0-19-281090-1.

2. Enya – The Celts theme

'The Celtic countries' include some of the most western parts of Europe - Ireland, Wales, Scotland, the Isle of Man (between Ireland and England), Cornwall (at the south-west corner of England) and Brittany (Bretagne/Breizh in France). These are the parts of Europe which retained Celtic languages the longest though in fact most of mainland Europe was heavily influenced by the Celts in the period a few thousand years ago. Irish mythology tells of successive waves of invasion in prehistory and while 'the Celts' may have come and conquered in Ireland two and a half thousand years ago or thereabouts, modern research disputes how much it was a mass invasion as opposed to a new ruling class or culture coming and their language and customs being adopted by the natives.

Enya (real name Eithne Ní Bhraonáin) is Ireland's most successful female artist if you define that in terms of international profile and financial rewards; she is from a Donegal family which also produced the fine traditional group Clannad. We don't know what kind of music the ancient Celts had but internationally the modern 'Celtic sound' has become particularly associated with the ethereal, syncopated sound made by Enya (she never plays live because she can't replicate the many-layered sounds of her music on a stage). This Celts theme is an early track by Enya (1983) made for a television series about the Celts. It's on 'The Celts' album (1987), also 'Best of Enya' (1997). is the official website, there are a number of others which a web search for 'enya' will reveal, none of which are particularly informative. Track available on YouTube.

3. Christy Moore – St Brendan

Some Scandinavians may imagine (!) that it was the Vikings who were the first Europeans to travel to North America. But Irish people know it was really St Brendan 'the Navigator'! When Ireland became Christian from the 5th century CE onwards, a great missionary zeal sent Irish monks to Britain and mainland Europe where they established monasteries in (what are now) Scotland, England, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland.

A beautiful musical telling of the story of St Brendan's travels is Shaun Davey's orchestral suite 'The Brendan Voyage', an atmospheric rendering of the story which I would recommend.

However the piece played here is sung by Christy Moore who is one of Ireland's greatest ballad singers. His interpretation of songs is first class and he has always been unafraid to be 'political' – over nuclear power, the North, or other issues. The track is off the 'Ordinary Man' album (1985). Track available on YouTube

Christy Moore has written a fascinating biography, "One voice – my life in song" (Hodder and Stoughton/Lir, 2000) which gives the lyrics to many of his songs and he tells what the song meant to him and experiences he identifies with.

This comic song is one of my favourites. Saint Brendan wanders about the world in his boat with only an albatross for company;

'When he grew short on candles
He was forced to make a stop,
He tied up at Long Island, put America on the map.
Did you know that Honolulu was found by a Kerry man?
Who went on the find Australia, China and Japan…….'

But - 'When he was turning seventy
He began to miss the craic
And turning to his albatross,
Says he, I'm going back…..'

When he arrives back in Kerry he announces that
'His reason for returning
Was to try and set up house.
The girls were flabbergasted
At St Brendan and his neck,
To seek a wife so late in life
And him a total wreck' !!!!

Rejected by the women, St Brendan heads back out in his boat and meets his old friend the albatross who says –
'I knew you'd never stick it out,
It's great to see you, boss'

4. The Chieftains – Lily Bolero and The White Cockade

Once the Vikings were no longer attacking Ireland, or had settled down to found some of Ireland's towns, the next invaders, from 1169, were the Anglo-Normans from England. English control of Ireland was tenuous up until the 17th century which was a tumultuous one with various rebellions and wars. At the end of the 17th century, however, English control of Ireland was the strongest it had ever been and the Plantation of Ulster from 1609 (with English and Scots settlers) meant that what had been the most troublesome province of Ireland for the English, Ulster, became the one which tended to identify most with the English crown. It is the Plantation of Ulster which is the chief cause of the partition of Ireland into Northern Ireland and the Republic today, and of the divisions in Northern Ireland between Catholic and Protestant.
Interestingly, Irish music was very popular at the court of Queen Elizabeth 1 at the end of the 16th century despite the fact that her armies were trying to defeat the Irish! So Irish music was popular outside Ireland even then.

The Chieftains are one of the most acclaimed, accomplished and long-lived of Irish traditional groups with a long line of albums and many collaborations with musicians from abroad. The two tunes played are ones associated with two sides in the wars of the 17th century and are taken from 'Chieftains – an Irish evening' album. Lily Bolero and The White Cockade available on YouTube.

5. Bobby Hanvey and Houl Yer Whist – On Boyne's Red Shore

'1690' is perhaps the most famous date in Irish history, certainly in Northern Ireland where it appears on many walls. It is the date of the Battle of the Boyne (a river which flows through Drogheda) when the forces of the Protestant King William of Orange defeated the forces of the Catholic King James (but European politics was such that the Pope was praying for King William to win).

Bobby Hanvey is a well-known storyteller and personality in Northern Ireland. The song played is about the battle itself and is taken from an album which is a non-sectarian rendering of a number of Orange songs. The album was originally entitled 'On Boyne's Red Shore' and then relabelled 'Historical folk songs of Ulster'.

Available on iTunes.

6. Gráinne Yeats – Sí Bheag is Sí Mhór

Gaelic/Irish culture was in retreat from the 17th century onwards. A harp festival in Belfast in 1792 and the work of Edward Bunting preserved many Irish melodies which would otherwise have been lost. The old harpers who depended on the patronage of the Gaelic aristocracy were dying out; the old Gaelic order was at an end.

The harp had become a symbol of Ireland by the early 16th century; it was King Henry VIII of England who first placed it on Irish coins – and there is still a harp on Irish Euro coins today nearly five hundred years later.

Some of the greatest melodies of the time are compositions of the blind harper Turlough Carolan (1670 – 1738). The song played here is from an album which includes some of the music of the Belfast 1792 harp festival (from 'Belfast Harpers' Festival 1792' by Gráinne Yeats). It tells of the battle (!) between two groups of fairies ('Sí' is 'fairies') and is reputedly the first song Carolan composed.

Available at iTunes and elsewhere.

7. Míceál O'Rourke – Nocturne No.7 in C major ('Rêverie')
by John Field

The 18th century was generally a better century for Ireland than that which had gone before though there was some famine and starvation. It was an age of enlightenment in some ways and the ruling, Protestant, class in Ireland was gaining in confidence (Catholics were basically an under class and not included in the system).

Irish man John Field, who developed the musical form known as a nocturne, lived in Moscow most of his life where he died relatively early, in 1837, partly from alcohol abuse. Those who were beside him at his death bed wanted to know if he wanted a priest and what religious denomination he was; he replied "I am a pianist!'.

While Ireland is known more for musical forms other than the classical, John Field is arguably Ireland's finest classical musician/composer. The track is from 'John field – The complete nocturnes' played by Míceál O'Rourke on piano (CHAN 8719/20)

Available from here and on YouTube with other pianists.

8. Jimmy Crowley and Stokers Lodge – Bantry Girls' Lament

Following 'the Flight of the Earls', of the Gaelic aristocracy into exile on mainland Europe in 1607, many Irish fought in the armies of France and Spain and further afield. However increasingly Irish people fought in the British forces in whatever wars England was fighting.

This song is my favourite Irish lament, sung by the Cork singer Jimmy Crowley. It tells of the death of a young man from Bantry, in the British forces during the Peninsular/Napoleonic wars:

'We'll resign ourselves to our sad lot
And we'll die of grief and pain
Since Johnny died for freedom's sake
In the foreign land of Spain'.

The ''for freedom's sake'' may be a dirty lie but the song itself is full of humanity and loss. It's from a 1979 album 'Camp House Ballads' (also on 1998 CD 'Jimmy Crowley Uncorked'). Track available on iTunes and elsewhere online.

9. Sinéad O'Connor – There was no famine

After the 1798 rebellion against British control of Ireland (when around 30,000 people were killed), England forced through the unification of the kingdoms of Great Britain and Ireland into one 'United Kingdom' in 1801. Irish poverty was increasing for a variety of reasons (including the subdivision of land among all the children in a family rather than it going to the eldest) and the dependence on the potato for the peasant's food was a potential disaster; that disaster struck in 1846 with the potato harvest almost completely wiped out by rot caused by potato blight. It is generally accepted that about 1 million people died in the first year, and 1 million emigrated within 10 years (mainly to the USA) out of a population of 8 million. The population of the area of the Republic of Ireland only began to grow again in the 1960s because emigration took such a hold as a way of life and survival.

It is only in recent years (particularly around the 150th anniversary) that the Great Famine of 1846 could be rationally dealt with; Dublin-based peace and justice group Afri/Action from Ireland played a significant part in helping people commemorate the Great Famine coming up to the 150th anniversary and linking the causes of the Irish famine with the causes of starvation in the poor world today (i.e. peasants having to grow cash crops to pay rent and being unable to keep food they needed for themselves). The Famine is still controversial; between those who blame British policies for allowing a million people to starve to death and 'revisionist' historians who say Britain did as much as it could in the context of the times to help people.

Sinéad O'Connor has been one of Ireland's more controversial – and at times anguished – performers. Nevertheless a gutsy, intelligent and brave performer and songwriter. This rap (which doesn't necessarily do justice to her unique singing voice) says there was no 'famine' – there was food available but the peasants who were starving couldn't afford it or had to pay their rent with it. It's from her 'Universal Mother' album. Track available on YouTube.

10. Paddy Reilly – The Fields of Athenry

This hit song from the end of the 1970s (now an Irish classic often sung at sporting events) tells the story of a man being transported as a prisoner to Australia because he 'stole Trevelyan's corn' (Charles Edwards Trevelyan was head of the British Treasury and in charge of famine relief, he favoured a very limited approach to helping starving people).

'Against the famine and the Crown
I rebelled, they shot me down,
It's so lonely around the fields of Athenry.'

Athenry is in Co Galway. This song can be read in different ways – as a sentimental song about an imprisoned man being sent thousands of miles away from his family and loved ones, and/or as a song blaming the British for the Famine. As with many such songs, we are given a particular picture without all the detail – we don't know, for example, what if anything he did to rebel 'against the famine and the Crown' beyond stealing corn to feed his starving children. But it is a powerful song. Although the music and this version of the lyrics are by Pete St John, it is allegedly based on an 1880s ballad; it's on Paddy Reilly's "The Fields of Athenry" album (among many others).

This song is at one end (the pretty benign) of a spectrum of songs which might be considered 'anti-British' or critical of Britain's involvement in Ireland (the two things are not necessarily the same). A group like the Wolfe Tones specialised in republican and anti-British songs as well as other Irish ballads, sometimes whipping audiences up into a nationalistic fervour. If Sinn Féin's strategy in the early 1980s was 'the armalite and the ballot box' ('armalite' is a rifle, 'ballot' is to do with voting), then the Wolfe Tones might be described as 'the armalite and the ballad'.

Track available on YouTube.

11. De Danann – I'm leaving Tipperary

Emigration has been a fact of life for Ireland, a painful fact which saw families torn apart as children headed for the United States or to Britain or Australia at a time when return was highly improbable. Some prosperity late in the 20th century made emigration a choice rather than a necessity, and perhaps 100,000 Irish people who emigrated returned home to Ireland in the 1990s and before the recession of 2008. More recently with difficult economic times in Ireland young people have again moved abroad in considerable numbers – whether temporarily or for good remains to be seen.

In the period 1851 – 1911, over 4 million people emigrated from Ireland – nearly as many as lived on the whole island at the latter date (4,390,219 in 1911). In 1901, 64% of Irish emigrants lived in the USA, 25% in Britain, 7% in Australia and 4% in Canada.

De Danann, another renowned Irish traditional group (named after the Tuatha De Danann, an ancient mythological people in Ireland, the 'People of the goddess Danu') play something which is very unusual – a happy emigration song! It's off the album 'Star Spangled Molly' (1981).

Track available on YouTube, you can also search for information on the group.

12. Dermot O'Brien – Off to Dublin in the Green (The Merry Ploughboy)

Despite periodic setbacks, the Irish constitutional nationalist movement for 'Home Rule' (limited independence still under the British crown) gradually built up during the 19th century so that by the time of the First World War it looked like it was successful, despite increasingly militant (and military) opposition from unionists. However a rebellion by military republicans at Easter 1916 changed the context completely; the British execution of the leaders of the Easter Rising led to popular opinion, certainly among Catholics, going to support complete separation from Britain. By 1921, and following a War of Independence with guerrilla tactics used against the British forces, the '26 Counties' became the Irish Free State (and subsequently becoming the Republic of Ireland) leaving the 'Six Counties' of Northern Ireland to stay in the United Kingdom. Ironically, Northern Ireland got its own 'Home Rule' parliament at Stormont which was controlled by the Unionist Party until it was ended in 1972.

This song, one of the best known republican songs, fits into the heroic militarist tradition;

'So we're off to Dublin in the green, in the green
Where the helmets glisten in the sun
Where the bayonets flash, and the rifles crash
To the echo of the Thompson gun.'


'I'm tired of civilian life
Since the day that I was born
So I'm off to join the IRA (the Irish Republican Army)
And I'm off tomorrow morn.'

This song is sung by Dermot O'Brien and it is off a compilation album 'Songs of Ireland's 1916'.

Track available on YouTube

13. Donaghadee Fusiliers Flute Band – The Sash My Father Wore & No Surrender (Derry's Walls)

Northern Ireland became a largely self-governing statelet under the British crown in 1921. The ongoing division between Protestants and Catholics, and discrimination against the latter, led to a civil rights movement at the end of the 1960s. Reaction from some Northern Ireland Protestants, over-reaction by British 'security forces', and the ongoing physical force tradition among republicans, led to the little 'Thirty Years War' of the Troubles which partly came to an end with the Good Friday Agreement of 1998 (also known as the Belfast Agreement) which retained the British link but gave guarantees of equality. However, fortunately or unfortunately, 'history' will continue in Northern Ireland for a long time to come!

The marching Orange Order exists in Northern Ireland to promote Protestantism and unionism; it is pro-British or pro-loyalist and often anti-Catholic, but as with any group contains the good and the bad and the middling. Some bands that would accompany loyalist marching are known as 'blood and thunder' or 'kick the Pope' bands (recognised genres). 'The sash my father wore' is the archetypal loyalist song in Northern Ireland, to be heard sung around many bonfires on the evening of 11th July or played loudly on the 'Twelfth' and around the streets at other times;

'It was old but it was beautiful
And its colours they were fine
It was borne at Derry, Aughrim, Enniskillen and the Boyne….
[battle sites of the 17th century]
My father wore it as a youth,
In bygone days of yore

And it's on the 12th [July, anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne] I love to wear
The Sash my father wore.

Strictly speaking it's a collarette rather than a sash (worn down the front looped over the head, rather than to the side as a sash). This version is an instrumental one (no words), along with another well known loyalist tune.

Stories can be changed; the tune of 'The Sash' was well known around Europe and before the words of the 'The Sash' were put to it, there was another song, a love song which lamented division between people; this song ('Irish Molly-O') was rediscovered and is sung by Tommy Sands. Instead of 'it was old and it was beautiful' the words were 'she was young and she was beautiful'.

'The sash' (as it is usually known in Ireland) can be easily found online

14. Joni Mitchell and the Chieftains – The Magdalene Laundries

During the mid-nineteenth century Ireland became a more conservative place in many ways, including regarding sexual behaviour. In 1966 Oliver J Flanagan, a member of the Dáil (parliament in Dublin) could say "Sex never came to Ireland until Teilifís Éireann* went on the air" (*the state television broadcasting agency, now RTÉ) – an obviously ludicrous comment but one which he felt he could state at the time. Severe penalties – including ostracism and social rejection – could be meted out to people, particularly women, who did not meet a very conservative sexual moral code. Women pregnant out of marriage, and others, could be sent to an institution like the Magdalene Laundries. The mistreatment of many women in such institutions, and of children sent to institutions by the state, has been a shocking discovery within the last few decades.

This song tells of some of the women in 'the Magdalene Laundry'. It's from the Chieftains' 'Tears of Stone' album (1999) and sung by North American singer Joni Mitchell. Track available on YouTube

Bonus track (!) for AVP International Gathering

14a. The Dubliners – The Auld Triangle

This is the best known Irish prison song ('Auld' = 'Old', the 'auld triangle' being a large metal triangle beaten to wake prisoners). The song is often attributed to Brendan Behan and appears in his play 'The Quare Fellow' (1954) but is also attributed to his brother Dominic Behan. The song is about life in Dublin's Mountjoy Prison. It has been recorded by many performers. Track available on YouTube.

15. Saw Doctors – I used to love her

But opinion on various issues has changed rapidly in Ireland. Catholics in the Republic are now more liberal on issues such as divorce or women priests than Catholics in the USA or France. Changes arising from 'Vatican ll' (the Second Vatican Council), secularisation, youth culture, shock at sex abuse of children by a number of priests, all have had an effect. While attendance at mass is still relatively high by western European standards – though continually decreasing - the moral authority of the Catholic Church in Ireland has declined very markedly in just a couple of decades. It is now quite normal for couples to live together without being married – something which would have been almost unthinkable (or at least kept secret) thirty years ago, and people feel able to ignore what the church says if they don't agree with it.

The Saw Doctors are an enjoyable 'country and rock' band from the west (Tuam, Co Galway) who sing about many different aspects of life (including country town life and unemployment). This must be the first song ever in Ireland to rhyme 'mass' and 'ass';

'I used to see her up the chapel
When she went to Sunday Mass,
When she'd go up to receive
I'd kneel down there and watch her pass,
The glory of her ass'

Depending on your interpretation, this may be sexist, sacrilegious or just forthright but certainly indicative of a sea change in Irish culture. This song became a youth anthem for a period. It's off the Saw Doctors' first album 'If this is Rock and Roll, I want my old job back' (1991). Track available on YouTube

16. Paddy Reilly - The crack was ninety in the Isle of Man

The Isle of Man, in between Ireland and Britain, was the holiday destination for many from both islands throughout the Twentieth century until cheap holidays in the sun took off from the 1960s onwards. The Isle of Man was the Ibiza of its day for Britain and Ireland. This song tells the story of a group of young men heading off from Dublin and eventually being deported (unjustly of course!) after a fight which they did not start – fighting over a woman one of them had met there. The high spirits indicated in the song, the fact that it portrays our recent ancestors as not any different to today's young people, and the frenetic pace of the song itself make it difficult to dislike.

Written by Barney Rushe, this is sung here by Paddy Reilly (the Dubliners and others have also recorded it) off his album 'The fields of Athenry' (1982).

Track available on YouTube.

17. The Dubliners - The Irish Navy

Since the foundation of the Southern state the Irish armed forces have posed no threat to anyone outside the island of Ireland (although whether this will continue to be the case in future is open to debate). Since the 1950s Ireland has played a strong military peacekeeping role with the UN, including in the Lebanon. But 'Irish neutrality' is now hardly worth the paper it isn't written on between the use of Shannon Airport by the US military for the Iraq and other wars, the increasing militarisation of the EU and involvement in NATO's 'Partnership for Peace'. When the voters of the Republic put a spanner in the works of the EU's Nice Treaty by rejecting it in a referendum in June 2001, the Irish government asked the same question again in autumn 2002 and got a 'yes' that time.

This is a gentle satire on the Irish navy, naming the naval vessels that existed and saying that at the end of the day's work everyone went home for their tea! The Dubliners – believe it or not from Dublin – are one of the original 'sixties folk acts – with a great repertoire of ballads and songs over the years. The song is from the 1968 album 'Seven Deadly Sins' (also on the 1969 album 'A drop of the Dubliners' and a couple of compilation albums). Track available on YouTube. 'The Dubliners' as a group are no more but surviving members of the group tour as 'The Dublin Legends'.

18. Tommy Sands – There were roses

Tit-for-tat killings, revenge attacks, settling of scores, attempts to cause retaliatory attacks, even attacks which people knew would be blamed on 'the other side', and also mistaken attacks on their 'own' side, all these have been features of the 'Thirty Years War' of 'the Troubles' in Northern Ireland from 1969 onwards.

Tommy Sands here sings what is for me the most poignant song to come out of the recent Troubles in the North. It tells of two friends who were killed, a Catholic who is shot dead in retaliation for the death of a Protestant;

'I wonder just how many wars
Are fought between good friends,
And those who give the orders
Are not the ones to die,
It's Bell, and O'Malley
And the likes of you and I'

For me, Tommy Sands is the finest songwriter to come from the 'the Troubles' in the North. This song first appeared on 'Singing of the Times' (1985). Track available on YouTube.

19. Alanna O'Kelly – One breath

Here from the album 'Lament' (for the Troubles in the North) is an Irish 'keen' (from 'caoineadh', a lament) for the death and destruction suffered. The title of the song becomes obvious, and it is a case also of the local being universal in that it could come from many cultures. The album includes a variety of traditional musicians (Realworld CDRW27).

Track available on YouTube.

20. Dolores Keane - The Island

This song, written by singer/songwriter Paul Brady who you can also look out for, is one of the best of the Troubles, written early on when civil war was raging in the Lebanon;

They say the skies of Lebanon are burning,
Those mighty cedars bleeding in the heat.
We're still at it in our own place,
Still trying to reach the future through the past,
Still trying to carve tomorrow from a tombstone…
The contrast is with love;
I want to take you to the island
Trace your footprints in the sand
And in the evening when there's no one around
We'll make love to the sound of the ocean.
The song continues:
Up here we sacrifice our children
To feed the worn out dreams of yesterday.
And teach them dying will lead us into glory,
But hey don't listen to me…

Now I know us plain folks don't see all the story
I know that peace and love's just copping out,
I guess those young boys just dying in the ditches
Is just what being free is all about.
That twisted wreckage down on Main Street
Will bring us all together in the end,
And we'll go marching down the road to freedom…

The song is off her 'Lion in a cage' album (1990). Track available on YouTube.

21. Colum Sands - Whatever you say, say nothing

There are ways of coping in divided societies, ways of talking and not talking, ways of putting out feelers as to who is what, ways of avoiding anything substantial, or saying things in a roundabout way if you do say something.

While the 1998 'Good Friday Agreement' provided a settlement in Northern Ireland it would be wildly optimistic to say that Northern Ireland is 'settled' – many problems remain. The governmental system in place does not encourage decision making and it is not in the interests of some of the political parties to make changes which would, in the long term, probably undermine their own support. If you were to update the theme of Colum Sands' song today it might be to add 'Whatever you say, do nothing'.

Colum Sands' song is from his first album, 'Unapproved Road' (1981), but a brilliant summation of how people talk in divided and risk-filled societies. Northern Ireland may have moved beyond killing but it has not yet moved beyond division. Tommy and Colum Sands are brothers. Track available on YouTube.

22. Christy Moore – The Siren's Song

It was only in the mid-1990s with the advent of economic prosperity that the Republic of Ireland started getting an appreciable number of refugees and asylum seekers, along with other immigrants, although numbers have declined in the last few years. The Republic is now around the EU average in terms of income per head (though a lot is repatriated out of the country in multinational profits). With EU expansion, and a vibrant economy up to 2008, many economic migrants have come from Poland and the Baltic countries to enlarge the workforce, making in total around 12% of inhabitants born outside Ireland (a percentage achieved in a couple of decades from only 2% or 3%).

But a people – the Irish - who have been so dependent on foreign hospitality or at least grudging acceptance as emigrants did not necessarily rush to welcome those who were, like themselves, economic migrants, or fleeing persecution and ill treatment. The Irish phrase most frequently used for welcoming visitors is 'céad míle fáilte' (a hundred thousand welcomes) and Ireland has thought of itself as a welcoming place. There are many people working to welcome and assist refugees and migrants; there is also a lot of rejection and racism.

Some of the negative reactions have been boosted by economic recession and the substantial cuts which faced the Republic following the bailing out of the banks by the state – and guaranteeing their debts (much of it to European banks and institutions who will be paid by Irish taxpayers who had no responsibility for that debt which was substantially due to property developers, speculators and, indeed, the banks themselves, assisted by a government who thought that massive property price increases was wealth creation).

This song, sung by Christy Moore, contrasts the old images of Ireland, 'land of saints and scholars, a hundred thousand welcomes' with current realities, 'céad míle fáilte my arse', when someone from Somalia does respond to ''The Siren's Song'' about how great Ireland is. It's off the 'Traveller' album (1999). Track available online.

23. Tommy Sands – Daughters and Sons

Hope for the future – you have sowed the seeds of peace, freedom, justice, in your daughters and your sons. This is a great, optimistic song despite the terrors named in it. Different versions exist since it appeared on 'Singing of the Times' (1985) and it's included on the 1999 CD 'Hope is in the morning' by the Sands Family. Track available on YouTube.

24. Pogues – Broad Majestic Shannon

This selection ends with an atmospheric piece from the Pogues, written by the great songwriter Shane McGowan. He was at one stage kicked out of the Pogues for being out of his mind on drink and drugs but has been back with them for some time now. I have included it as it links the past (an old Irish march tune) and the present and reminds me of my home county, Offaly in the midlands, which has at its boundary the 'broad majestic Shannon', Ireland's longest river. It's off the Pogues' 'If I should fall from grace with God' album (1988). Track available on YouTube.

Some* other Irish musicians to look out for:

*there are many others! A useful website for information on 'Celtic musicians' is

Frances Black and

Mary Black

Frances and Mary Black are solo performing sisters, playing mainly contemporary folk.

Boomtown Rats and Bob Geldof
Geldof fronted this 70s/80s group who didn't like Mondays.

Mary Coughlan
This lady sings the blues.

Phil Coulter
Singer/songwriter best known now for orchestral arrangements of Irish (and other melodies). One album that has a bit more 'story' to it is 'Lake of Shadows', about Lough Swilly in the north of County Donegal: the album is a mixture of geography, history and family tragedy.

Damien Dempsey
T he strong voice of the uncommon man.

Rory Gallagher
acclaimed Irish rock star who died in 1995.

Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy
Intelligent lyrics with a number of albums available. (new website promised)

Seán Keane
If you're looking for a sexy Irish male voice singing in more traditional/folk style, this is your man, e.g. 'No Stranger' (1998). See Facebook

Van Morrison
(first name shortened from 'Ivan') is Ireland's grand old man of rock/R&B who has literally dozens of albums to his credit. is the official site but web search will throw up plenty more.

Nóirín Ní Riain has a beautiful voice for old Irish and traditional religious and other songs; she has a number of albums including 'Caoineadh na Maighdine' sung with the monks of Glenstal Abbey.

Mícheál Ó Suilleabhán – excellent contemporary orchestral composer. Use 'search' on the web. Try, for example, 'Gaiseadh/Flowing' or 'Between two worlds'.

Thin Lizzy (with Phil Lynott), 1970s rock band, with whiskey in the jar.

Juliet Turner; an intelligent contemporary singer/songwriter.

U2 Nothing compares to U2 as a worldwide rock phenomenon emanating from Ireland, with Bono having a high profile on the world stage – but very mixed views both at home and abroad about his role. Available everywhere in the known universe. will give you the (official site) works.

The best place to buy Irish traditional music and ballads is Claddagh Music, online or their shop in Dublin's Temple Bar area at 2 Cecilia Street (not far from Trinity College).

If you want to listen to Irish folk and traditional music, the online station LiveIreland plays it 24/7 (no, it's not live, it's on a loop);

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