Foggy Dew (Irish songs)

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"Foggy Dew" is the name of several Irish ballads, and of an Irish lament. The most popular song of that name (written by Charles O'Neill) chronicles the Easter Rising of 1916, and encourages Irishmen to fight for the cause of Ireland, rather than for the British Empire, as so many young men were doing in World War I.

Earlier songs called "Foggy Dew"[edit]

Apart from the English song titled "Foggy Dew," "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 different from that mostly sung today. 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]

Charles O'Neill's "Foggy Dew"[edit]

Another song called "Foggy Dew" was written by Fr (later Canon) Charles O’Neill (1887–1963) from Portglenone, County Antrim, a priest of the Diocese of Down and Connor who was then a curate at St. Peter's Cathedral, Belfast, and later in life was parish priest of Kilcoo and later Newcastle, County Down.[3][4] O'Neill was ordained in St. Patrick's College, Maynooth in 1912.[5]

The music is from a manuscript that was in possession of Kathleen Dallat, sister of Michael 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.

"The Foggy Dew" is a product of the political situation 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.[8] The 1915 Battle of Gallipoli, in which many young and mainly middle-class Irishmen who had joined up in response to John Redmond's call were killed, turned many people against the war.

In 1916, Irish patriots led by James Connolly and Patrick Pearse, taking advantage of Britain being preoccupied by World War I, seized some of the major buildings in Dublin including the General Post Office, while others came out in Ashbourne and Galway in the Easter Rising.

The brutal response to the Rising, and the execution of its leaders that followed, marked a turning point for many Irish people. The public revulsion at the executions added to the growing sense of alienation from the British government.[8]

Canon O'Neill reflected this alienation when he wrote The Foggy Dew commemorating the few hundred brave men who had risen out against what was then the most powerful empire in the world. In 1919, he attended the first sitting of the new Irish Parliament, Dáil.[9] 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 – "locked up by the foreigner".[9]

These events had a profound effect on O'Neill and some time after this he wrote The Foggy Dew telling the story of the Easter Rising and reflecting the thoughts of many Irish people at the time who now believed 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 line, "Twas far better to die ‘neath an Irish sky / Than at Suvla or Sud el Bar".[9]

Soldiers of ’22[edit]

During the Irish Civil War, a version of The Foggy Dew (a song about the 1916 Easter Rising) was written with the same melody, but with lyrics about the new rebellion in 1922, almost as a sequel to the older song.[10]

Recorded versions[edit]

The song (also sometimes known as Down the Glen) has been performed and recorded by many Irish traditional groups, including The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem, The Dubliners, The Chieftains, Shane MacGowan and The Wolfe Tones among others. The verse that begins "Oh the night fell black and the rifles' crack" is almost always omitted in recordings of the song.


  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. ^ O'Boyle, Cathal (1973). Songs of the County Down. Skerries, Co. Dublin: Gilbert Dalton. ISBN 0-86233-012-2.
  4. ^ Down & Connor Diocesan Archives in Belfast, record for Father Charles O'Neill
  5. ^ "Unknown" – via British Newspaper Archive.
  6. ^ Harte, Frank (1978). Songs of Dublin. Skerries, Co. Dublin: Gilbert Dalton. ISBN 0-946005-51-6.
  7. ^ Keith Jeffery. Ireland and the Great War. (Cambridge University Press, 2000)
  8. ^ a b "History – British History in depth: Ireland and World War One". BBC. Retrieved 11 August 2012.
  9. ^ a b c "History – 1916 Easter Rising – Rebel Songs (Part 4)". BBC.
  10. ^ Soldiers of '22 - Irish Rebel Song (Lyrics), retrieved 9 February 2024

External links[edit]