Amhrán na bhFiann
National anthem of Ireland
|Also known as||"A Soldier's Song" (original)|
|Lyrics||English: Peadar Kearney, 1907
Irish: Liam Ó Rinn, 1923
|Music||Patrick Heeney, 1907|
"Amhrán na bhFiann" (instrumental)
"Amhrán na bhFiann" (Irish pronunciation: [ˈəuɾˠaːn̪ˠ n̪ˠə ˈvʲiːən̪ˠ]), called "The Soldier's Song" in English, is the Irish national anthem. The music was composed by Peadar Kearney and Patrick Heeney, the original English lyrics by Kearney, and the Irish language translation by Liam Ó Rinn. The song has three verses, but only the choral refrain has been officially designated the national anthem.
The song, as "A Soldier's Song", was composed in 1907, with words by Peadar Kearney, and music by his friend Patrick Heeney, who was assisted by Kearney in setting the refrain. Seán Rogan, later of the Irish Citizen Army, may also have helped with the music. The first draft of the text, handwritten on copybook paper, sold at auction in Dublin in 2006 for €760,000. Whelan and Son of Ormond Quay, Dublin, published the lyrics for sale as a flysheet. Bulmer Hobson's magazine Irish Freedom published them in 1912. It was used as marching song by the Irish Volunteers and was sung by rebels in the General Post Office (GPO) during the Easter Rising of 1916. Its popularity increased among rebels held in Frongoch internment camp after the Rising.
The sheet music was first published in late 1916 by Whelan and Son, in an arrangement by Cathal Mac Dubhghaill (Cecil Grange MacDowell). In December 1916 in New York City, Victor Herbert published his own piano and orchestral arrangements under the title "Soldiers of Erin, the Rallying Song of the Irish Volunteers". Herbert paid royalties to Kearney and Heeney with profits to the Gaelic League.
The Irish Volunteers allied with Sinn Féin in 1917 and evolved into the Irish Republican Army (IRA) during the Irish War of Independence (1919–21). The song's popularity led to its being called the "Sinn Féin anthem". Victor Herbert's version was well known to Irish Americans by 1919, when Éamon de Valera arrived as President of Dáil Éireann of the self-proclaimed Irish Republic. In the 1922–23 Civil War, the IRA split into the "National Army" of the nascent Irish Free State and the "Irregulars" loyal to the defunct Republic. Both sides continued to sing "The Soldier's Song". After the war, it remained popular as an Army tune, and was played at many military functions.
The Free State did not initially adopt any official anthem. The delicate political state in the aftermath of the Civil War provoked a desire to avoid controversy. Ex-unionists continued to regard "God Save the King" as the national anthem, as it had been for the rest of the British Empire. The fact that "The Soldier's Song" described Irishmen fighting a foreign foe allowed it to overlook the painful memory of the Civil War. W. T. Cosgrave, 1922–32 President of the Executive Council, avoided explicitly making it the national anthem for fear of exacerbating the antipathy for the Free State held by unionists in Northern Ireland. As with the Irish tricolour, the government did not want to disassociate the state from the anthem for fear of leaving a potent symbol available for its republican opponents to claim.
"The Soldier's Song" was widely if unofficially sung by nationalists. Public perception that "The Soldier's Song" was officially recognised sprang from a concert on 3 February 1924 at the Theatre Royal, Dublin by the Irish Army music school under its German-born director, Colonel Fritz Brasé. As an encore to the concert, Brasé conducted "Irish March, no.1", his medley of Irish patriotic airs, which ended with that of "The Soldier's Song". Most dignitaries present stood up at this point, including Governor-General Tim Healy, Cosgrave and most of the Executive Council, although Richard Mulcahy remained seated. On 28 April 1924, Cosgrave expressed opposition to replacing "The Soldier's Song", which was provisionally used within the State. Sean Lester, Publicist at the Department of External Affairs considered "The Soldier's Song" to be "hardly suitable in words or music" and favoured the music, though not the words, of "Let Erin Remember". This was used as the anthem for the state at the 1924 Olympics in Paris,[n 1] and other events abroad for the next two years. The Dublin Evening Mail held contests in 1924 and 1925 to find verses for a new anthem; the first produced no sufficiently good entry, and the second's winning entry was soon forgotten.
There was concern that the lack of an official anthem was giving Unionists an opportunity to persist with "God Save the King". Ewan Morris writes, "While some, perhaps many, nationalists undoubtedly disliked 'The soldier's song', few would have objected so strongly as to refuse to honour it as the national anthem. But for ex-unionists 'The soldier's song' remained anathema, and 'God save the king' continued to be the national anthem they honoured." By 1926 foreign diplomats' protocol offices were requesting copies of the anthem's score. On 12 July 1926, the Executive Council decided to adopt it as the National Anthem, with Cosgrave the driving force in the decision. He wrote to Lester, "there must be uniformity in regard to the national anthem and that for the present the 'Soldier’s song' is to be used for this purpose both at home and abroad". The decision was not publicised. On 20 June 1926, Osmond Esmonde asked President Cosgrave what the National Anthem was, but the Ceann Comhairle Michael Hayes ruled 'If the Deputy desires to investigate any problem in regard to the National Anthem, he cannot ask a question of the President. The President cannot be asked to define what is the National Anthem. It is not part of his functions.' Esmonde instead asked Minister for Defence Peter Hughes what 'as far as the Army is concerned' was the National Anthem. The draft response provided for Hughes stated that 'while no final decision has been come to', "The Soldier's Song" was 'at present accepted as the National Anthem', However, this wording was vetoed by Cosgrave, and in the Dáil chamber Hughes responded simply 'The "Soldier's Song."'
In 1928, the Army band established the practice of playing only the chorus of the song as the Anthem, because the longer version was discouraging audiences from singing along. Also in 1928, Chief Justice Hugh Kennedy, returning from an official trip to North America, reported that an official arrangement of the music was "very badly needed" for circulation abroad. This was produced in July 1929 by Colonel Fritz Brasé, director of the Army band. This consisted only of the chorus, and was published under the title "The Soldier's Song" rather than "A Soldier's Song", although variants such as the "Soldiers' Song" continued to occur in later official documentation.
The anthem was played by Radio Éireann at closedown from its inception in 1926. Cinemas and theatres did so from 1932 until 1972. Peadar Kearney, who had received royalties from sheet music publishers, issued legal proceedings for royalties from those now performing the anthem. He was joined by Michael Heeney, brother of Patrick Heeney, who had died in 1911. In 1934, the Department of Finance acquired the copyright of the song for the sum of £1,200 (£980 to the copyright holders plus £220 expenses). Copyright law changed in the 1950s,[n 2] such that the government had to reacquire copyright in 1965, for £2,500. While the state held the copyright, most requests for publication were accepted, "although several of a purely commercial nature, such as its use in advertisements, were refused". As per EU copyright law, the copyright expired on 1 January 2013, following the 70th anniversary of Kearney's death.[n 3] In 2016, three Fianna Fáil senators introduced a private member's bill intended to restore the state's copyright in the anthem. The ending of copyright also encourage the Seanad to announce a public consultation on the anthem.
The Governor-General of the Irish Free State was the King's representative and, as such, unionists considered that the appropriate official salute to play was "God Save The King" rather than the Free State Anthem. At James McNeill's 1928 inauguration, the Army band played "The Soldier's Song", but that summer, at two events with unionist organisers, he was greeted by "God Save The King". The Executive Council advised him that in future the Free State anthem must be played. McNeill declined a June 1929 invitation to the Trinity College sports when the college insisted that the British anthem was its tradition. Unionists and people in Great Britain took this as a snub, while for republican commentators it encapsulated the Free State's attempts to suppress the truth about its subservience to Britain. A compromise adopted in 1931 was that "The Soldier's Song" would mark the Governor General's arrival and he would leave before the end of the sports, when "God Save The King" would be played. In 1932, Éamon de Valera became President of the Executive Council; as part of his campaign to abolish the office of Governor-General, he forbade the Army band from playing "The Soldier's Song" in McNeill's presence.
The Irish translation was written by Liam Ó Rinn (1886–1943), later the Chief Translator of the Oireachtas, who was involved in the Irish versions of both the 1922 Constitution and the 1937 Constitution. Although Sherry says the Irish version was first published in An tÓglach (the magazine of the Irish Defence Forces) on 3 November 1923, an almost identical text was printed in the Freeman's Journal on 3 April 1923, under Ó Rinn's pen name "Coinneach". It may have been written as early as 1917. Several earlier translations had been made, which Ó Rinn criticised as unreadable. These were in literary Classical Irish, whereas Ó Rinn favoured the living vernacular spoken in Gaeltacht areas. Other Irish translations were made, including one sung by Claisceadal in University College Galway in December 1931. From the 1930s, the Gaelic Athletic Association encouraged singing the anthem in Irish at its matches. The text of the Ó Rinn version was printed in the 1933 edition of An Camán, and in the programs of matches at Croke Park, and the crowd was led via the public address system by singers from St Patrick's College of Education and Conradh na Gaeilge.
Ruth Sherry states that it is unclear whether the official anthem is the music alone or the text also; however, the official 1934 Estimate of the amount required ... for the acquisition by the state of copyright in the national anthem includes the line item, 'Payment to the holders of copyright in the words and music of the "Soldier's Song"' [emphasis added]. Both the English and Irish texts appeared in various editions of Facts about Ireland, published by the Department of Foreign Affairs, and on the official website of the Department of the Taoiseach. However, no Irish version has been officially adopted, the state does not hold the copyright to any Irish version, and Ó Rinn, unlike Kearney and Heeney's estate, never received royalties. A memorandum in the Department of the Taoiseach on 5 April 1958 discussed five distinct Irish translations, noting that Ó Rinn's was the best known; it suggested that, if it were to be officially endorsed, the spelling and grammar should be standardised and the words "Fianna Fáil" changed to "laochra Fáil" to avoid party-political associations.
The English version has been almost totally eclipsed. It is sung at home matches of Celtic F.C., a Glasgow Irish-Scots football club. It was sung in Canada during a state visit by President Mary McAleese in 1998, and at the 2004 Ryder Cup in the United States. The latter prompted objections from Fáilte Ireland, and what Gaeltacht Minister Éamon Ó Cuív called "an outcry" from viewers in Ireland. Some foreign-born Irish international sportspeople have learned the Irish words via phonetic respelling, including Mick McCarthy of the association football team and C. J. Stander of the rugby union team.
In 1987, the anthem was recommended, but not required, to be taught as part of the civics syllabus in national schools. Fianna Fáil's manifesto in the 2007 general election promised to "[i]nclude the national anthem in the primary school curriculum". As of 2017[update] the primary school Social Personal and Health Education curriculum includes being "aware" of the anthem in third/fourth class, and "respecting" it in fifth/sixth class. Richard Bruton, the Minister for Education stated that it was "not Departmental policy to impose regulations on schools regarding national expression", but that it had supported several initiatives which included the national anthem. A 2017 opinion poll found 82% supported teaching the anthem in school; 40% claimed to know all the words and 40% "some" of them.
Although only the chorus forms the official national anthem, the music of both verse and chorus has often been played at sports events outside Ireland. The text of the first verse appears as well as the chorus in early (1960s) editions of the Department of External Affairs's book Facts About Ireland. Later editions include only the chorus.
There is no protocol specified for the anthem; however, the flag protocol issued by the Department of the Taoiseach states that when the anthem is played in the presence of the national flag, all present should face the flag and stand to attention, and Defence Forces personnel should salute the flag, "until the last note of the music". History professor Caoimhín De Barra comments, "I don't think I have ever seen anyone salute the flag during Amhrán na bhFiann. Certainly, nobody is standing to attention until the last note of music, given that we have effectively replaced the last line of the song with collective freestyle screaming and roaring."
In 2017, the Seanad Public Consultation Committee invited comments on "the most appropriate way the State should treat the National Anthem". Its chair, Mark Daly, said, "The debate around this issue includes aspects of copyright law, cultural tolerance, respect for national symbols, public opinion, free speech and a range of other factors." The committee heard public submissions from selected commenters on 5 December 2017.
In the 1933 Dáil debate on the state's acquisition of the song's copyright, there was discussion of the its merits or lack thereof. Frank MacDermot said, 'Leaving out sentiment, I must confess, from both a literary and a musical point of view, I would regard the "Soldier's Song" as, shall we say, a jaunty little piece of vulgarity, and I think we could have done a lot better.' Thomas F. O'Higgins responded, "National Anthems come about, not because of the suitability of the particular words or notes, but because they are adopted generally by the nation. That is exactly how the "Soldier's Song" became a National Anthem in this country. It happened to be the Anthem on the lips of the people when they came into their own and when the outsiders evacuated the country and left the insiders here to make the best or the worst of the country. It was adopted by the people here before ever it was adopted by the Executive Council". The Irish Independent in 2016 found it "difficult to understand ... how Peadar Kearney, who was ... a splendid poet, could have written such a lacklustre piece."
The Irish version is a free translation of the English; in particular, "Sinne Fianna Fáil" is not a literal translation of "Soldiers are we". Fianna Fáil, variously translated as "Soldiers of Destiny", "Warriors of Destiny" or "Soldiers of Ireland", is from the Irish Fianna ("band of warriors") of Fál (a coronation stone, and metonymically "Ireland"). As an Irish name for the Irish Volunteers, it was an alternative to Óglaigh na hÉireann. The initials "FF" appeared on the Volunteer badge, and subsequently on that of the Irish Army. On 2 April 1926, "Fianna Fáil" was chosen as the name of Éamon de Valera's new political party. Since the Irish version of the anthem became popular in the 1930s, there has been intermittent resentment of the party name's occurring in it. Publishers Browne & Nolan printed a version in 1938 substituting "Sinne laochra Fáil" for "Sinne Fianna Fáil" (laochra = "heroes", "warriors"), which is occasionally heard instead. In the Dáil in 2011 and 2012, Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan whether "Sinne Fianna Fáil" was "appropriate and correct" or had "party political connotations"; Noonan stated it was appropriate and had no such connotations, given that the translation predated the party's founding. O'Sullivan likewise favoured changing to "laochra Fáil".
Ulster unionists regard the anthem as specific to the Republic of Ireland, not symbolic of the whole island of Ireland, and deprecate its use with United Ireland symbolism as irredentism. (The symbolism of flags in Northern Ireland raises similar issues.) In 1933, the unionist government invoked its Special Powers Act to ban public display of the tricolour when "representing the Irish Republican Army ... an Irish Republic ... or... any ... unlawful association"; the order was interpreted as a ban in all circumstances unless flown explicitly to represent the Free State. Similar orders specifically banning "The Soldier's Song" were drafted before the 1935 Westminster and 1938 Stormont elections, but the government felt they were too controversial to implement; a general order against music "likely to lead to a breach of the peace" was often invoked when "The Soldier's Song" was played.
F. Gunther Eyck's survey of national anthems classifies "Amhrán na bhFiann" under "resistance anthems", alongside "La Marseillaise", "A Portuguesa", and "Poland Is Not Yet Lost". The lyrics been criticised by some commentators for alleged outdatedness, militarism, and anti-British sentiment. Others deny such faults or attribute them to national anthems generally. Kevin Myers described calls for it to be amended or replaced as "seasonal as spring". Questions in the Dáil have been asked by Frank MacDermot in 1932; Trevor Sargent in 1993; Derek McDowell in 1995; and John Browne in 2000. Commentators on the 1929 Trinity College incident suggested "The Soldier's Song" would be an impediment to closer ties between the Free State and Northern Ireland. In 1995, during the Northern Ireland peace process, the Forum for Peace and Reconciliation drafted an unpublished report on "obstacles to reconciliation in the Republic"; 1998 newspaper articles summarising the draft claimed it suggested "the government could commission alternative anthems for sporting and other non-official occasions" which were not "excessively militaristic". Fergus Finlay in 2007 suggested "retiring [the anthem] with honour". A 2017 opinion poll found 84% supported retaining the anthem, while 10% favoured replacing it.
In a debate during the 2011 presidential election, candidates were asked whether the anthem was "fit for purpose". Most acknowledged strong public attachment to it. Martin McGuinness and Dana Rosemary Scallon opposed any change. Mary Davis said people "shouldn’t consider changing it lightly". Michael D. Higgins suggested the Constitutional Convention could discuss the matter. Seán Gallagher had "mixed views" and was "open to explore revising it". David Norris said other anthems were more "blood-thirsty".
The previous anthem used by Irish nationalists was "God Save Ireland", with words written by Timothy Daniel Sullivan in 1867 to the tune of "Tramp! Tramp! Tramp!", an American Civil War song written in 1864 by George Frederick Root. "God Save Ireland" commemorated the Manchester Martyrs, executed in 1867 for felony murder for their part in an Irish Republican Brotherhood ambush, and it quickly replaced the previous unofficial anthem, "A Nation Once Again", written in 1845 by Thomas Davis of the Young Ireland movement. "God Save Ireland" was associated with the Irish Parliamentary Party and its eclipse by "The Soldier's Song" after 1916 mirrored the party's eclipse by Sinn Féin.
The Irish Rugby Football Union (IRFU) and Ireland national rugby union team are all-island bodies with many unionist supporters; although "Amhrán na bhFiann" is played at Ireland matches in the Republic, it is not played elsewhere, and unionist players are not expected to sing it. "God Save the Queen" was played at international matches in Northern Ireland. At a 1954 match in Ravenhill, Belfast, players from the Republic threatened to strike unless "The Soldier's Song" was played as well, so the IRFU decided to hold future senior home matches in Dublin. Des Fitzgerald declined to play a 1982 B international in Belfast as "God Save the Queen" would be played. During the Troubles, no anthem was played at matches outside Ireland. In Paris, "The Last Rose of Summer" was played in 1929, and before the 1931 match the Department of External Affairs advised ambassador Gerald O'Kelly de Gallagh that, if the organisers refused to allow "The Soldier's Song", then "appropriate Irish airs would be 'St. Patrick's Day', 'The Last Rose of Summer' or 'Let Erin Remember'". At the inaugural Rugby World Cup, captain Donal Lenihan objected that all other teams would have an anthem. At the last minute the side's opening match in Athletic Park, Wellington, a James Last cassette recording of "The Rose of Tralee" was borrowed from Phil Orr; the music and poor recording quality attracted much criticism and no anthem was played for later matches. At the 1991 World Cup, there was no anthem away to Scotland, Ireland's only game outside Dublin. For the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, the IRFU decided to commission a song from Phil Coulter. His composition, "Ireland's Call", has since been played alongside "Amhrán na bhFiann" at matches within the Republic, and on its own elsewhere, including in Northern Ireland.
Other all-island teams have adopted "Ireland's Call" for similar reasons to the IRFU's. The men's and women's hockey teams adopted it in 2000, having previously used the "Londonderry Air". Some sports use no anthem, including badminton and bowls.
A recording of "O'Donnell Abú" was played for the Irish showjumping team at a 1937 competition in Paris; ambassador Art O'Brien threatened a diplomatic incident since the other teams' anthems had been played by a military band. The organisers had been unable to locate a copy of the score, and the Irish embassy had only a piano arrangement.
"Amhrán na bhFiann" is usually sung or played in march time. Different tempos may be used, however, and the verse and chorus are occasionally played. Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ), the Irish national broadcasting company, played an orchestral version in a slow tempo at the close of transmission from 1962 onwards. This was produced by Gerard Victory and arranged by Brian Boydell on the advice of a Canadian consultant who said, "I wan’ it BIG! I envisage the kind of music that will stir the hearts of the Irish people". Boydell disliked the tune. A special arrangement incorporating traditional Irish instruments was played instead during Easter Week 1966, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Easter Rising. At the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta, when Michelle Smith won three gold medals in swimming, the verse and chorus were played in a lively tempo.
The lyrics are those of an Irish rebel song, exhorting all Irish people to participate in the struggle to end the hegemony ("despot" over "slave") of the English ("Saxon foe") in Ireland ("Inisfail"). There are allusions to earlier Irish rebellions, and to support from Irish Americans ("from a land beyond the wave").
"Amhrán na bhFiann"
"The Soldier's Song"
Sinne Fianna Fáil,[fn 1]
Soldiers are we,
The anthem consists only of the chorus of the song. The original has three verses, set to a slightly different tune. In 1937, probably motivated by the enactment of the Constitution of Ireland and its inclusion of Northern Ireland within the "national territory", Kearney wrote an extra verse "in answer to a request that the Irish of the Six North-Eastern Counties [i.e. Northern Ireland] could register a protest against the British-planned Partition of Ulster". As of 1998[update], no recorded version included the extra verse. The lyrics of the original verses are as follows:
|Seo dhíbh, a chairde, duan Ógláigh||We'll sing a song, a soldier's song|
|Caithréimeach bríomhar ceolmhar||With cheering rousing chorus|
|Ár dtinte cnámh go buacach táid||As round our blazing fires we throng|
|'S an spéir go mín réaltógach||The starry heavens o'er us|
|Is fonnmhar faobhrach sinn chun gleo||Impatient for the coming fight|
|'S go tiúnmhar glé roimh thíocht don ló||And as we await the morning's light|
|Fé chiúnas chaomh na hoíche ar seol||Here in the silence of the night|
|Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann||We'll chant a soldier's song|
|Sinne Fianna Fáil...||Soldiers are we...|
|Cois bánta réidhe, ar ardaibh sléibhe||In valley green, on towering crag|
|Ba bhuadhach ár sinsir romhainn||Our fathers fought before us|
|Ag lámhach go tréan fén sárbhrat séin||And conquered 'neath the same old flag|
|'Tá thuas sa ghaoth go seolta||That's proudly floating o'er us|
|Ba dhúchas riamh dár gcine cháidh||We're children of a fighting race|
|Gan iompáil siar ó imirt áir||That never yet has known disgrace|
|'S ag siúl mar iad i gcoinne námhad||And as we march, the foe to face|
|Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann||We'll chant a soldier's song|
|Sinne Fianna Fáil...||Soldiers are we...|
|A bhuíon nach fann d'fhuil Ghaeil is Gall||Sons of the Gael! Men of the Pale!|
|Sin breacadh lae na saoirse||The long-watched day is breaking|
|Tá sceimhle 's scanradh i gcroíthe námhad||The serried ranks of Inisfail|
|Roimh ranna laochra ár dtíre||Shall set the tyrant quaking|
|Ár dtinte is tréith gan spréach anois||Our camp fires now are burning low|
|Sin luisne ghlé sa spéir anoir||See in the east a silv'ry glow|
|'S an bíobha i raon na bpiléar agaibh||Out yonder waits the Saxon foe|
|Seo libh, canaídh Amhrán na bhFiann||So chant a soldier's song|
|Sinne Fianna Fáil...||Soldiers are we...|
- The state did not win any medals, but "Let Erin Remember" was played before the football team's matches.
- The year 1959 is given by Sherry, citing minister Seán Ryan when introducing the 1965 change. However, Eoin O'Dell surmises that the change referred to was section 9 of the Industrial and Commercial Property (Protection) (Amendment) Act, 1957.
- The copyright in the Irish translation has also expired: either on 1 January 2014, being 70 years after Ó Rinn's death, or on 1 January 1974, being 50 years from its publication; the latter applies if Ó Rinn translated it in his capacity as a public servant.
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