Come Out, Ye Black and Tans

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"Come Out, Ye Black and Tans" (sometimes "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' Battlecry of Munster (Irish) By Piaras Mac Gearailt (Pierce McGerald c.1709-c.1792) also used for the loyalist song "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 Sean 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.

"Black and Tans"[edit]

The actual term "Black and Tan" originated from the uniforms worn by the troops temporarily sent to pacify the growing Rebellion 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.

Celtic FC[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'." [1]


The song begins, "I was born in Dublin street, where the royal drums did beat and the loving English feet they walked all over us". The narrator's father, coming home from the pub, "would invite the neighbours out" with this chorus:

Come out, ye Black and Tans;
Come out and fight me like a man;
Show your wife how you won medals out in Flanders
Tell her how the I.R.A. made you run like hell away
From the green and lovely lanes in Killeshandra.

The reference to Flanders alludes to the fact that some Black and Tans were unemployed British Army veterans from the First World War. Killeshandra is a town in West Cavan that may have been the location of one of the many successful I.R.A operations during the War of Independence, though this has never been proven. The service of the British Army in colonial wars against the Arabs and Zulus is also mocked, noting that the "natives" had "spears and bow and arrows" while the British "bravely faced each one, with [their] 16-pounder gun". The Anglo-Zulu War was in 1879. The line about "Arabs" refers to the Iraqi revolt against the British in 1920.

The song goes on to describe the neighbour's previous gloating at the defeats of Irish nationalism, "when you thought us well and truly persecuted", for instance, when they "slandered great Parnell" - the Behans in fact lived very close to the Mountjoy Square home of Robert Anderson who was partly responsible for the Piggott forgeries (see Charles Stewart Parnell#Pigott forgeries). However, alongside the bitterness evoked in such sentiments is a triumphalism, borne of the fact that loyalists are a small minority in post-independence Ireland. The narrator asks, "where are the sneers and jeers, that you loudly let us hear, when our leaders of '16 were executed". The implication is that the neighbours, no longer backed by the British state, no longer have confidence to express such sentiments in public.

The song closes on a hopeful note, promising that the time is coming when "all traitors will be cast aside before us". The narrator promises that his children will say "God Speed" (i.e., go home), with the same song that his father used to sing to his loyalist neighbours.

In popular culture[edit]

The song was sung by Spider Stacy of The Pogues in Treme Season 2 Episode 9.

A version of the song was included as the second track on the album "The Cannon" by Calgary, Alberta based Celtic rock band, Craic The Lens.

Northern California folk group Green Fields does a rendition of the song on their album Harvest (2015).


External links[edit]