Foggy Dew (Irish ballad)

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Foggy Dew is the name of several Irish ballads, and of an Irish lament.

Early title[edit]

"The Foggy Dew" as the name of an Irish traditional song first appears in Edward Bunting's The Ancient Music of Ireland (1840),[1] where the tune is a different one than that mostly sung today (also different from the lament and the rebel song below). Bunting's source for the tune was a "J. Mc Knight, Belfast, 1839", but the same melody already appears in O'Farrell's Collection of National Irish Music for the Union Pipes (London, 1804), where it is called "Corraga Bawn".[2]

Irish lament[edit]

This tune and the lyrics are from the second edition of The Home and Community Songbook (Boston: E.C. Schirmer Music Co., 1931).

Oh, a wan cloud was drawn o'er the dim weeping dawn
As to Shannon's side I return'd at last,
And the heart in my breast for the girl I lov'd best
Was beating, ah, beating, how loud and fast!
While the doubts and the fears of the long aching years
Seem'd mingling their voices with the moaning flood:
Till full in my path, like a wild water wraith,
My true love's shadow lamenting stood.

But the sudden sun kiss'd the cold, cruel mist
Into dancing show'rs of diamond dew,
And the dark flowing stream laugh'd back to his beam,
And the lark soared aloft in the blue;
While no phantom of night but a form of delight
Ran with arms outspread to her darling boy,
And the girl I love best on my wild throbbing breast
Hid her thousand treasures with cry of joy.

A version of this with different lyrics (by L.F. Milligan) was recorded by John McCormack for RCA Victor records 3 January 1913 in their Camden, New Jersey facility.[3] He was accompanied by pianist Spencer Clay.

Easter Rising[edit]

Instrumental version performed by Dancing Willow, featuring the viola da gamba and the low whistle

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Another song called “Foggy Dew” was written by Canon Charles O’Neill (1887-1963), a parish priest of Kilcoo and later Newcastle, County Down, sometime after 1919.[4][5]

The music is from a manuscript that was in possession of Kathleen Dallat of Ballycastle. That manuscript gives Carl Hardebeck as the arranger.[6] It is the same air as the traditional love song The Moorlough Shore.

This song chronicles the Easter Uprising of 1916, and encourages Irishmen to fight for the cause of Ireland, rather than for the British, as so many young men were doing in World War I.

The Foggy Dew needs to be seen against the political background in Ireland in the aftermath of the Easter Rising and World War I.

Approximately 210,000 Irishmen joined up and served in the British forces during the war.[7] This created mixed feelings for many Irish people, particularly for those with nationalist sympathies. While they broadly supported the British war effort, they also felt that one of the moral justifications for the war, "the freedom of small nations" like Belgium and Serbia, should also be applied to Ireland, which at that time was under British rule.

In 1916, Irish nationalists led by James Connolly and Patrick Pearse decided to take advantage of the fact that Britain was pre-occupied by the war and stage a rebellion. In what became known as the Easter Rising, the rebels seized some of the major buildings in Dublin including the General Post Office.

The rebellion was quickly put down by British forces, but the rebellion and the execution of the leaders that followed, marked a turning point for many Irish people. Some had opposed the action of the rebels, but the public revulsion at the executions added to the growing sense of alienation from the British Government.[8]

Canon O'Neill was reflecting this sense of alienation when he wrote The Foggy Dew. In 1919, he[9] attended the first sitting of the new Irish Parliament, known as the Dail. The names of the elected members were called out, but many were absent. Their names were answered by the reply "faoi ghlas ag na Gaill" which means "locked up by the foreigner".

It had a profound effect on O'Neill and some time after this he wrote the Foggy Dew. The song tells the story of the Easter Rising but more importantly, it tries to reflect the thoughts of many Irish nationalists at the time who had come to believe that the Irishmen who fought for Britain during the war should have stayed home and fought for Irish independence instead.

O'Neill sums up this feeling in the lines: ‘Twas far better to die ‘neath an Irish sky, Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar."


As down the glen one Easter morn to a city fair rode I
There Armed lines of marching men in squadrons passed me by
No pipe did hum, no battle drum did sound its loud tattoo
But the Angelus Bell o'er the Liffey's swell rang out in the foggy dew

Right proudly high over Dublin Town they hung out the flag of war
'Twas better to die 'neath an Irish sky than at Suvla or Sud-El-Bar
And from the plains of Royal Meath strong men came hurrying through
While Britannia's Huns, with their long range guns sailed in through the foggy dew

Oh the night fell black, and the rifles' crack made perfidious Albion reel
In the leaden rain, seven tongues of flame did shine o'er the lines of steel
By each shining blade a prayer was said, that to Ireland her sons be true
But when morning broke, still the war flag shook out its folds in the foggy dew

'Twas England bade our wild geese go, that "small nations might be free";
Their lonely graves are by Suvla's waves or the fringe of the great North Sea.
Oh, had they died by Pearse's side or fought with Cathal Brugha*
Their graves we'd keep where the Fenians sleep, 'neath the shroud of the foggy dew.

Oh the bravest fell, and the Requiem bell rang mournfully and clear
For those who died that Eastertide in the spring time of the year
While the world did gaze, with deep amaze, at those fearless men, but few,
Who bore the fight that freedom's light might shine through the foggy dew

As back through the glen I rode again and my heart with grief was sore
For I parted then with valiant men whom I never shall see more
But to and fro in my dreams I go and I kneel and pray for you,
For slavery fled, O glorious dead, when you fell in the foggy dew.

*Other version mention "Valera true" or "Valera too", another leader in 1916 and later Taoiseach and, subsequently, President of Ireland, (rather than "Cathal Brugha"). "Britannia's Huns" is sometimes toned down to "Britannia's sons".

Recording artists[edit]

The song (also sometimes known as "Down the Glen") has been performed and recorded by most well-known Irish folk groups, including The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, The Chieftains, Shane MacGowan, the Wolfe Tones, the Young Dubliners among others.

  • The Italian Epic Metal band Wotan in their second studio album Epos.
  • The song "Livin' in America" by the Celtic rock band Black 47 is played and sung to the tune of the Foggy Dew.
  • Houston-based Celtic rock band Blaggards on their 2005 album "Standards."
  • German Celtic metal band Suidakra on the album "Lays From Afar" (1999) as the album closer. It features only the first verse.
  • Alaska based Celtic rock band Fire on McGinnis covered it on their debut album Fire on McGinnis (2012).
  • Tartanic on their album Uncivilized (2008).
  • Pete Seeger recorded this song with his own lyrics, calling it "Over the Hills".
  • Shannon - Celtic-folk band, Poland.
  • Irish metal band Primordial on the compilation One and All, Together, for Home (2014).
  • Gilles Servat in a duet with Ronnie Drew, in Servat's album Sur les quais de Dublin (On the Quays of Dublin) (1996) including a verse written by Servat
  • The Wallace band, Russian folk rock band, album "Volosataya banda is back"(2011), song named "Iz proshlogo son", a poetical translation to Russian by M.Nizhegorodov


  1. ^ Bunting, Edward: The Ancient Music of Ireland (Dublin: Hodges & Smith, 1840), tune no. 150, p. 109; facsimile reprint, Dublin: Waltons, 1969.
  2. ^ Fleischmann, Aloys (ed.): Sources of Irish Traditional Music c.1600–1855, 2 volumes (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), ISBN 0-8240-6948-X, vol. 2, p. 717 and 1106, tunes no. 3913 and 6068.
  3. ^ "Victor Discography: Matrix B-12767. The foggy dew / John McCormack". Retrieved 2012-08-11. 
  4. ^ O'Boyle, Cathal (1973). Songs of the County Down. Skerries, Co. Dublin: Gilbert Dalton. ISBN 0-86233-012-2. 
  5. ^ Down & Connor Diocesan Archives in Belfast, record for Father Charles O'Neill
  6. ^ Harte, Frank (1978). Songs of Dublin. Skerries, Co. Dublin: Gilbert Dalton. ISBN 0-946005-51-6. 
  7. ^ Ireland and the Great War by Keith Jeffery (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  8. ^ "History - British History in depth: Ireland and World War One". BBC. Retrieved 2012-08-11. 
  9. ^ rs04.shtml

External links[edit]