Irish rebel song

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In Ireland, a rebel song is a folk song whose lyrics extol the deeds of factual events/participants in any of the various armed rebellions against English, and later British, of unwanted rule in Ireland. Songs about older rebellions were long popular with most Irish nationalists; more recent songs are associated with supporters of physical force Irish republicanism.


Republican Prisoners have used music as a form of protest during The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The tradition of rebel music in Ireland dates back many centuries, dealing with historical events such as uprisings, describing the hardships of living under oppressive British rule, but also strong sentiments of solidarity, loyalty, determination, as well as praise of valiant heroes.

As well as a deep-rooted sense of tradition, rebel songs have nonetheless remained contemporary, and since 1922, the focus has moved onto the nationalist cause in Northern Ireland, including support for the IRA and Sinn Féin. However, the subject matter is not confined to Irish history, and includes the exploits of the Irish Brigades who fought for the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and also those who fought during the American Civil War. There are also some songs that express sorrow over war (from a Republican perspective), such as Only our rivers run free, and some have been covered by bands that have tweaked lyrics to be explicitly anti-war, such as the cover of The Patriot Game by Scottish group The Bluebells.

Over the years, a number of bands have performed "crossover" music, that is, Irish rebel lyrics and instrumentation mixed with other, more pop styles. Damien Dempsey is known for his pop-influenced rebel ballads and bands like Seanchai and the Unity Squad and Beltaine's Fire combine Rebel music with Political hip hop and other genres.[citation needed]

Contemporary music[edit]

Irish rebel music has occasionally gained international attention. The Wolfe Tones' version of A Nation Once Again was voted the number one song in the world by BBC World Service listeners in 2002.[1] Many of the more popular acts recently such as Saoirse, Éire Óg, Athenrye, Shebeen,Mise Éire and Pádraig Mór are from Glasgow. The Bog Savages of San Francisco are fronted by an escapee from Belfast's Long Kesh prison who made his break in the September 1983 "Great Escape" by the IRA.

Music of this genre has often courted controversy with some of this music effectively banned from the airwaves in the Republic of Ireland in the 1980s. More recently, Derek Warfield's music was banned from Aer Lingus flights, after the Ulster Unionist politician Roy Beggs Jr compared his songs to the speeches of Osama bin Laden.[2] However, a central tenet of the justification for rebel music from its supporters is that it represents a long-standing tradition of freedom from tyranny.[3]

List of notable artists[edit]

List of notable songs[edit]


Sunday Bloody Sunday (U2 song)[edit]

The 1983 U2 album War includes the song "Sunday Bloody Sunday", a lament for the Northern Ireland troubles whose title alludes to the 1972 Bloody Sunday shooting of Catholic demonstrators by British soldiers. In concert, Bono began introducing the song with the disclaimer "this song is not a rebel song".[10] These words are included in the version on Under a Blood Red Sky, the 1983 live album of the War Tour. The 1988 concert film Rattle and Hum includes a performance hours after the 1987 Remembrance Day bombing in Enniskillen, which Bono condemns in a mid-song rant.

In response, Sinéad O'Connor released a song with the title of 'This is a Rebel Song',[11] as she explains in her live album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)?.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "The Worlds Top Ten". BBC World Service. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  2. ^ "Wolfe Tones pulled from Aer Lingus flights". 24 March 2003. Archived from the original on 10 March 2007. Retrieved 2 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Irish Rebel Songs". Globerove. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  4. ^ "The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem". Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  5. ^ Christy Back home in Derry Archived 2009-12-16 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Celtic Wonder Beads". Archived from the original on 20 July 2015. Retrieved 24 June 2015.
  7. ^ Rory Warfield. "The Wolfe Tones' Official Site". Archived from the original on 2012-08-29. Retrieved 2012-12-22.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Ballad Of Gerard Casey". 1989-04-04. Archived from the original on 2001-12-25. Retrieved 2012-12-22.
  10. ^ Thrills, Adrian (26 February 1983). "War & Peace". NME. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 7 November 2007.
  11. ^ Rolston, Bill (2011). "Political Song (Northern Ireland)". In Downing, John Derek Hall (ed.). Encyclopedia of Social Movement Media. SAGE Publications. p. 415. ISBN 9780761926887. Retrieved 20 May 2016.