Come Out, Ye Black and Tans

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"Come Out, Ye Black and Tans" (sometimes "Come Out, Ye Black and Tan") is an Irish rebel song referring to the Black and Tans, the British paramilitary police auxiliary force in Ireland during the 1920s. The song was written by Dominic Behan as a tribute to his father Stephen, although authorship of the song is often attributed to Stephen. The melody was adapted from an old air, "Rosc Catha na Mumhan" (Irish for "Battlecry of Munster") by Piaras Mac Gearailt (Pierce FitzGerald, c.1709-c.1792), which is also used for the loyalist song, "The Boyne Water," as well as several other songs in English and Irish.

Background and context[edit]

The lyrics are rich with references to the history of Irish nationalism and the activities of the British Army throughout the world. The song ties Irish nationalism to the struggles of other peoples against the British Empire across the world.

While the title of the song refers to the Black and Tans of the War of Independence era, the specific context of the song is a dispute between Irish republican and loyalist neighbours in inner-city Dublin in the 1920s. For centuries, Dublin was the centre of The Pale, an area fully under control of the Crown, even when England had little control of the rest of Ireland. It was only with the arrival of Protestant settlers in Ulster in the Plantation of Ulster of the 17th century that the north of Ireland became an alternative centre of loyalism to Britain. Dublin continued to elect unionist politicians, and voluntary service in the British Army was a popular career choice amongst working-class Dubliners, both Catholic and Protestant. The perceived loyalty of Dublin was emphasised by its policing. The rest of Ireland was policed by the militarily organised Royal Irish Constabulary, a form of gendarmerie, whereas Dublin had its own police force, the Dublin Metropolitan Police, which was a civilian force similar to that found in any large British city.

Supporting this tradition was the existence of a relatively large, and now generally forgotten and disappeared, Dublin Protestant working class. It is this pro-British loyalist working class of both religions who the composer is confronting in the song. One of the few representations of this cultural group is Bessie Burgess in the Seán O'Casey play The Plough and the Stars.

Therefore, the song is not only an indication of the bitterness which the Behans felt for the way they were treated by the Free State after freedom was attained but an indication that the bitternesses caused by the Irish War of Independence endured in Dublin for many years, just as those of the Irish Civil War endured in the countryside.

A group of Black and Tans and Auxiliaries outside the London and North Western Hotel in Dublin following an attack by the IRA, April 1921

"Black and Tans"[edit]

The actual term "Black and Tan" originated from the uniforms worn by the troops sent by Churchill in 1920 to violently put down the growing republican movement in Ireland. Although often ex-British soldiers, the Black and Tans were not a part of the military, but rather an auxiliary unit to the police force. They were created and sent to Ireland as the British administration deemed the Irish Rebellion as a civil, internal matter, to be handled by the police, and to use the military would give the impression that they accepted it was in fact a war of independence. As the force was hastily put together, they often ended up wearing a mixture of dark green Royal Irish Constabulary and khaki army uniforms. This combination led to them being called the 'Black and Tans' after the Scarteen Black and Tans, a well known pack of foxhounds. The Black and Tans became infamous for their brutality against citizens and suspected IRA members. The infamy produced by the force became part of the push for Irish Home Rule, achieved in 1922, and an independent Irish Republic, established in 1937.[1]

Celtic F.C.[edit]

In an article about the violence and bigotry surrounding Old Firm football matches, the Irish Independent said: "Then there's the stereotypical image of the Celtic supporters wearing T-shirts of 'undefeated army' and having their phones ringing to the sound of 'Come out ye black and tans'." [2]


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  2. ^ "'If people want to hit their wives, not watching Scott Brown or El-Hadji Diouf won't make much difference'". Irish Independent. 14 March 2011.