The Wearing of the Green

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The Wearing of the Green is an Irish street ballad lamenting the repression of supporters of the Irish Rebellion of 1798. It is to an old Irish air, and many versions of the lyric exist, the best-known being by Dion Boucicault.[1] The song proclaims that "they are hanging men and women for the wearing of the green".

The revolutionary Society of United Irishmen adopted green as its colour, and supporters wore green-coloured garments, ribbons, or cockades. This was considered sedition by the Dublin Castle administration according to Poynings' Law[citation needed], and often resulted in prosecution by the authorities or violent reprisals by loyalist mobs. In some versions, the "green" being worn is shamrock rather than fabric.[1]


Many versions of the lyric exist.[2] The general format is that the narrator is a rebel who has left Ireland for exile and meets a public figure, who asks for news from Ireland, and is told that those wearing green are being persecuted.

Halliday Sparling's Irish Minstrelsy (1888) includes the anonymous "Green upon the Cape", dated to 1798.[3] This longer poem describes the narrator's journey into exile before reaching the elements common to later versions.[4] The narrator is a croppy from Belfast who arrives in Paris and is questioned by "Boney" (Napoleon Bonaparte).[4]

In an 1802 version published in Dundalk entitled "Green on my Cape", it is Robert Emmet who meets the narrator, in Brest.[5] Versions from the 1840s and 1850s feature Napoleon.[6][7]

The best-known version is by Dion Boucicault, adapted for his 1864 play Arragh na Pogue, or the Wicklow Wedding, set in County Wicklow during the 1798 rebellion.[1][8] In the second verse, Boucicault's version recounts an encounter between the singer and Napper Tandy, an Irish rebel leader exiled in France. Boucicault claimed to have based his version on a half-remembered Dublin street ballad.[1][9] His addition of the third and last verse is in notable contrast to the middle verse, in advocating emigration to America rather staying in defiance. Boucicault himself fled to New York after leaving his wife for a young actress.

Henry Grattan Curran (1800–76), son of John Philpot Curran, wrote a version of his own,[10] and claimed the original was written in County Tipperary.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

Gerald O'Hara sings this tune while escorting his daughters to the barbecue at Twelve Oaks in Chapter 5 of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind. The stranger known as "Namgay Dooly" sings something like these words in the novel "Namgay Doolyat" , part of Rudyard Kipling's Life's Handicap.[11]


Artists and groups to have recorded the song include John McCormack (1904, again in 1912), Judy Garland (1940), Patrick O'Malley (1961), The Wolfe Tones (1985), Orthodox Celts (1997), and Irish Moutarde[12]


Other songs which refer to "The Wearing of the Green" include "Monto", popularised by the Dubliners; and "Each Dollar A Bullet", by Stiff Little Fingers. Another 1798 ballad also entitled "The Wearing of the Green" references the more famous song in its chorus: 'Her faithful sons will ever sing "The Wearing of the Green."'[13]

Songs sung to the same air include "The Rising of the Moon", whose subject is the same 1798 rising; "The Orange and the Green", about a mixed (Protestant–Catholic) marriage; and "Sae Will We Yet" by Scottish folk group The Corries. "The Wearing of the Grey", a lament for the Confederate States Army, was published to the same tune in 1865, at the end of the American Civil War.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d e Curtis, William Eleroy (1909). "The land of ruined castles". One Irish summer. New York: Duffield. pp. 298–299. 
  2. ^ Blaisdell, Robert (2002). Irish Verse: An Anthology. Courier Dover. p. 84. ISBN 0-486-41914-2. 
  3. ^ Sparling 1888, p.15
  4. ^ a b Carpenter, Andrew (1998). Verse in English from Eighteenth-Century Ireland. Cork: Cork University Press. pp. 573, 613. ISBN 1-85918-103-1. 
  5. ^ Zimmermann 2002
  6. ^ "The Ballad Poetry of Ireland". The Living Age: p.107. 1845-10-18. 
  7. ^ "Celtic Gossip". The Celt: p.94. April 1858. 
  8. ^ Vance, Norman (2002). Irish Literature Since 1800. Pearson Education. pp. 81–2. ISBN 0-582-49478-8. 
  9. ^ Sparling 1888, p.11
  10. ^ Sparling 1888, p.13
  11. ^
  12. ^ "The Wearing of the Green". Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  13. ^ Hayes, Edward (1855). The Ballads of Ireland (4th ed.). New York: Fullarton. Vol I, p.271. 
  14. ^ "Wearing of the Grey! and Wearing of the Green.". The Lester S. Levy Collection of Sheet Music. Johns Hopkins University. pp. Box 094, Item 173. Retrieved 25 July 2012. [dead link]

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